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MinistryPublic and Private

How Christ Changes Us


By His Grace

B y T i m o t h y S . L a n e a n d P a u l D a v i d Tr i p p

The Bible calls you to live a Christ-like life. futurein fact to eternity.
But how can you do this in the midst of One of the many amazing things Christ is
seemingly impossible daily challenges? Everyday doing right now is changing each and all of His
entanglements bind you or preoccupy you. people by the power of His Holy Spirit into
Perhaps you struggle to get through each day. people worthy of honor in His kingdom.
Worries, emotions, relationship struggles, Someday we will receive a crown of
financial problems, perhaps even addictions righteousness, a crown of life, and a crown of
keep a person in a constant state of anxiety. It is glory from His powerful and gracious hands.
so easy to be too tired, too frantic, or too lazy to When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will
even consider a closer relationship with Christ, receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:4).
let alone to live like Him. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then
How can you change? How can any one of you also will be revealed with Him in glory
us even attempt to live Christ-like lives? The (Col. 3:4).
answer is that you cannot do it by yourself. Nor
can you do it quickly. Instead, you are called to How People Change1
a personal commitment to a lifelong process of Living a Christ-like life and discipling
transformation into the image of Christ. others to do the same is more than a system of
Personal change is not easy. Rather, change change or a set of techniques. The process of
occurs over a lifetime as you learn to more change rests on the presence and power of a
faithfully walk with the Lord. It occurs as you living, active Redeemer. The personalness of
shift your focus from just getting through the this process encourages you to look at yourself in
frustrations of each day to looking far into the the mirror of Gods Word. To know and rely on
_______________________________________________ Christs grace is no formula or strategy. The
*Timothy Lane is director of Changing Lives presence of your Shepherd enables you to step
Ministry, counselor, and faculty member at CCEF; out into life with renewed faith and courage.
and lecturer in Practical Theology at Westminster God places many beautiful truths in the
Theological Seminary. foundation of biblical change. We will consider
three: eternity, union with Christ, and
Paul Tripp is Director of Changing Lives _______________________________________________
1 This article is based on the curriculum How People
International, counselor, and faculty member at
Change: How Christ Changes Us by His Grace, by Timothy
CCEF; and lecturer in Practical Theology at S. Lane and Paul David Tripp (Glenside, Pa: Christian
Westminster Theological Seminary. Counseling Education Foundation, 2003).

The Journal of Biblical Counseling Spring 2005 15


2005, The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation
All rights reserved. No portion of this publication should be reproduced, copied or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from The Christian Counseling
and Educational Foundation. Inquiries should be made in writing, addressed to CCEF, 1803 East Willow Grove Ave, Glenside, PA 19038.
community. We will look at these in turn. our situations, circumstances, or relationships,
1. We Have Hope in Eternity but in ourselvesin our own hearts.
Eternity is our ultimate destination. Living But there is hope. Despite our failings,
with God in view gives hope and perspective in God is still intent on rescuing us from ourselves.
our daily situations and relationships. We search His view of change is vastly different than ours.
for meaning and purpose for the events and We want to cope better, have more fun, have
activities in our lives: the shocking tragedy of better relationships, have more money, have a
terrorist actions, a cancer diagnosis, racial bigger house. But He wants to change us from
profiling, excessive work hours, and so on. As people who live for themselves (2 Cor. 5:15)
we suffer, struggle, achieve, or relax, we ask to people who are like Him. This is real change!
ourselves, consciously or subconsciously, What God replaces our selfish, sinful natures with His
is the point? What is the purpose? What does divine nature! God shapes us in His own image.
this all mean? Why are we here? The answers In the middle of our struggles, He radically
we give ourselvesthe meanings we give to our transforms our hearts by His grace, so that we
thoughts and actionseither keep us on the are able to think, desire, act, and speak in ways
same old path or move us in radically different consistent with who He is and what He is doing
directions. Either we continue doing what we on earth. Our desire for change begins to line up
have always done and suffer the consequences, with Gods purposes for change. Leaving behind
or we choose to change. Either we focus on goals of personal comfort and self-fulfillment, we
what is happening now, or we focus on eternity. reach for Christ. We desire to be more like Him
Whether in little everyday ways or in every day. And as we do this, we become more
hugely significant moments, we try to make and more prepared for our ultimate destination:
sense of our lives. We express dissatisfaction eternity with Him.
with our lives the way they are right now. We In the midst of our struggles, though, we
instinctively know that things are not the way dont naturally connect the ways we think, feel,
they were meant to be. Whether it is the and act with our ultimate destination of life in
fighting between our children, the strained heaven with Christ. It takes the work of the
relationships with a spouse or family member, Holy Spirit to help us bridge the gap and
difficult work relationships, or haunting connect our struggles to our future in eternity.
memories of terrible childhood abuse, we all But God meets us and changes our hearts in the
sense and experience brokenness in our world. middle of our greatest joys, our most difficult
We think, How wonderful life could be if relationships, our problems, and our deepest
only the boss were more patient. If only my husband sorrows. Positive personal change takes place
were more caring. If only my father didnt drink so when our dream of change lines up with Gods
much. If only my son would quit arguing and listen purposes for change. Paul expresses it this way
to me. If only our neighborhood was more friendly. in his letter to the Philippians.
If only we had been able to get that house. If only I
And this is my prayer: that your love may
could defeat my despondency. If only our church
abound more and more in knowledge and
understood my plight as a single parent. If only I
depth of insight, so that you may be able to
could enjoy good health, financial stability, or the
discern what is best and may be pure and
respect of friends. If only. If only. If only.
blameless until the day of Christ, filled
Everyday we think about how life would be
with the fruit of righteousness that comes
if things were different. We even evaluate our
through Jesus Christto the glory and
lives and attempt to make changes. We envision
praise of God. (Phil. 1:9-11)
change. We try various strategies to bring about
change, sometimes with a bit of short-term Keeping eternity in view as we go about our
success. But our best intentions for change daily lives gives us a broader perspective. It gives
always fall short. Our desires for change are not us hope for change in the midst of our difficult
wrong; they are just not deep enough. The Bible situations and relationships.
confronts us with a hard-to-accept reality: The 2. We Are Married to Christ
change most needed in our lives isnt change in In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul

16 The Journal of Biblical Counseling Spring 2005


describes the Christians relationship to Christ primary focus of our relationship to
in a profoundly intimate termmarriage. Christ; they are fruits of that
relationship.
I promised you to one husband, to Christ,
so that I might present you as a pure virgin Our life changes when we are wed to Christ!
to Him. But I am afraid that just as Eve That change is much more than change in our
was deceived by the serpents cunning, circumstances, relationships, or status. We
your minds may somehow be led astray become different at the deepest spiritual level.
from your sincere and pure devotion to Our inner spiritual natures are transformed by
Christ. (2 Cor. 11:2-3) the power of Christs grace. Our hearts were
once totally enslaved to sin and now they have
Paul speaks of Christ as a husband and
been freed. The changes that result from our
Christians as pure virgin brides. God reconciles
union with Christ are so fundamental that the
sinners to Himself through Christ and welcomes
Bible says that in Him we become new
us into this intensely personal relationship. He
creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). Because we are united
does not simply tolerate us. He brings us close to
with Christ, the power of sin has been broken.
Himself by giving Himself to us. Christ is our
Sin is progressively eradicated from our lives!
husband and we are His bride. We are in Christ,
This is what the Christian life is about.
with Christ, one with Christ. Notice at least
With joy we affirm that we are new creatures in
three profound implications of our union with
Christ. With humility, we confess that there is
Christ.
still sin in my heart.
When you are spiritually married to We need Gods grace today as much as I
Christ, the core of your present life is not did when I first believed. The Savior who made
your own present personal happiness, us new calls us to be committed to His daily
but spiritual purity. Like any other work of renewal. And this personal renewal
marriage, the big issue is your takes place in the midst of our circumstances
commitment to fidelity. The question is, and relationships.
Will you remain faithful to Jesus alone 3. We Are Part of the Christian Community
and not seek fulfillment elsewhere? When the apostle Paul discipled new
Your betrothal to Christ gives this believers, he repeatedly reminded them that
passage a now and then structure. Your there was help in Christ and in Christs people,
now life is preparation for your then the church.
marriage to Christ in eternity. Now
You are no longer foreigners and aliens,
my life on earthis a time of
but fellow citizens with Gods people and
preparation for that day. The complete
members of Gods household built on the
fulfillment of this relationship with
foundation of the apostles and prophets,
Christ will take place in heaven, though
with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief
we do experience it in part now. Since
cornerstone. In Him the whole is joined
Christ is the ultimate reward, everything
together and rises to become a holy
else that could draw me away from Him
temple in the Lord. And in Him you too
is no longer essential.
are being built together to become a
For Paul, the heart of Christianity is
dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.
remaining faithful to Christ in a world
(Eph. 2:19-22)
where many lovers seek your
allegiance and affection. Pauls Our personal relationship with God links us to
Christianity is intensely relational. other believers. Our transformation is worked
Christ is at the center of your life. It is so out within the family of God. This is not
much more than such religious practices necessarily the simpler way: being involved with
as having devotions, giving money, and other people can be inefficient, complicated,
participating in ministry. Certainly these and time consuming. So many things can go
are not wrong. But they are not the wrong in relationships. But this is why

The Journal of Biblical Counseling Spring 2005 17


community is such a big part of Gods plan to The Bible typically uses concrete images to
transform us into the image of Christ. The more illustrate spiritual truths. Jeremiah provides a
we understand our own hearts, the more we see good example.
that it takes a work of Gods grace to transform
This is what the LORD says: Cursed
us from self-absorbed individuals into a
is the one who trusts in man, who depends
community of love.
on flesh for his strength and whose heart
Do you get a sense of how big the love of
turns away from the LORD. He will be like
Christ is? The love of Christ is so long and high
a bush in the wastelands; he will not see
and deep that we cannot see this love or
prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in
experience it all by our finite selves. We have to
the parched places of the desert, in a salt
grasp it together with the saints (Eph. 3:18).
land where no one lives.
As isolated individuals, we cannot reach the
But blessed is the man who trusts in
level of maturity that God has designed for us.
the LORD, whose confidence is in Him. He
This fullness happens as we live in a loving,
will be like a tree planted by the water that
redemptive community with one another, as we
sends out its roots by the stream. It does
struggle together, and as we grow together.
not fear when heat comes; it leaves are
These three major points form the
always green,
foundation for biblical change: knowing where
It has no worries in a year of drought
God is taking us; knowing that as a Christian,
and never fails to bear fruit. The heart is
we are married to Christ; and knowing that
deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
change occurs with community support.
Who can understand it?
I, the LORD, search the heart and
Life as God Sees It; Change as God Does It
examine the mind, to reward a man
Do you ever feel lost in the middle of your
according to his conduct, according to
own world? Perhaps you know a lot about
what his deeds deserve. (Jer. 17:5-10)
yourself, God, and others, but you are not sure
how to put it all together. You struggle, but you The metaphors of this passage form a model:
dont know why. You are depressed, but you desert heat, a thorny bush in the wasteland,
dont know why. Your teenage son is adversarial streams of life from God in Christ, and a fruitful
and you cant understand what he wants. Your tree. We will organize our thoughts through a
picture of life seems out of focus. Your life seems picture of The Three Trees. (See figure 1.)
out of your control. You are lost in a muddle.
Heat describes life and all that comes upon
But look at it another way. If you are lost
us in a fallen world. It represents a persons
in the middle of a big city, you need an overview
current situation with all of its difficulties,
of the whole citythe big picture, a helicopter
temptations, and blessings. God knows the
viewto give you a better orientation. With the
details of our lives and worlds and He sees
big picture in mind, you have a clearer idea of
how we respond in these situations.
where you are and where you need to go. The
The Thorn Bush, the first tree in the
Bible doesnt always seem to give you this clear
wasteland, represents ungodly responses to
helicopter view of life. Scripture sometimes
difficulties, temptations, and blessings. God
seems like a haphazard collection of stories,
does not just look at our behavior and our
poems, teachings, and commands unrelated to
reactions to our trials, He searches our
your everyday concerns. Yet when carefully
hearts mastering intentions, beliefs, and
examined, the Bible does provide the essential
desires.
elements that give an overall picture of life as
The Cross of Christ, the second tree, is
God sees it and change as God does it. When
the source of living water. This captures
you begin to see this overall picture, you can
the redemptive activity of God on our
begin to sense what God is doing in the details
behalf. He brings comfort, cleansing, and
of your life. Understanding how God typically
the power to change in the midst of lifes
uses daily life to change our hearts is an essential
challenges.
part of this growth and change process.

18 The Journal of Biblical Counseling Spring 2005


FIGURE 1. THE THREE TREES (JER. 17:5-10)

The Fruitful Tree, the third tree, thorns. It all depends on what is happening
represents the person who trusts in the inside a person. And both difficulties and
Lord, who learns to respond in a godly blessings present opportunities for temptation
manner to his problems. Gods redemptive and sin, or for testing and growth. If the trial
power at work in the heart renewed by leads to temptation and sin, it is because the
grace enables the person to respond in a persons heart has been dragged away and
godly manner to all circumstances. God enticed by his own evil desires. Nothing in
produces a harvest of good fruit in our the situationthe heatmakes you sin, or
lives. makes you loving and wise. You either choose to
sin or choose for God in every circumstance.
Now look more carefully at these elements
2. Thorns: What Sin Entangles You?
introduced by Jeremiah.
All ungodly behavior grows out of a heart
1. Heat: What is Your Difficulty?
that has been captured by something other than
Scripture always locates people in a life
Christ. We are fruit trees by the grace of God,
situation. The letter of James is quite interesting
but we still have thorn bush responses to life.
in this regard. He begins by saying, Count it all
We all tend to respond sinfully to the
joy when you meet various trials. He doesnt
circumstances of life. We bend and twist the
specify the kind of trials, but leaves us to fill in
truth. We harbor anger and bitterness. We shift
the blanks.
blame. We manipulate others to get what we
For James, a trial is an external situation
want. We communicate in harsh and
(heat) that reveals the hearts intentions. A trial
judgmental ways. We numb ourselves with
can lead to significant growth at the heart level
business, substances, or material possessions.
or it can lead to temptation and sin. In other
We attempt to get our identity from other
words, a trial can produce fruit or it can produce
people or from our performance. We give in to

The Journal of Biblical Counseling Spring 2005 19


lust. We give way to vengeance. We get suffering or trail we face. Our potential is Christ!
defensive and self-protective. We respond 4. Good Fruit Comes from Real Heart
selfishly and thoughtlessly. The list could go on Change
and on. All of these responses are thorns on the What will my life look like if I measure my
bush. Facing the ways we are like thorn bushes potential based on my union with the indwelling
is one of Gods chief ways of transforming us Christ? As we say yes to the indwelling Holy
into fruit trees. Spirit, His living water produces new fruit in our
God calls us back from the wide-angle hearts: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
helicopter view to zoom in and humbly take a goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-
close look at ourselves. He calls us to believe control. These character qualities arent
and act upon the gospel promises of forgiveness, unrealistic standards that God holds over us.
restoration, wisdom, strength, deliverance, and They are gifts the Spirit produces in us. This
power by acknowledging our responsibility for change within us changes the way we respond to
our thorn-like responses. Developing into fruit the things and people around us.
trees always starts with recognizing and The Christian life should be a state of
removing the sinful thorns from our lives. thankful discontentment or joyful
3. The Cross: Christ Brings New Identity and dissatisfaction! We live every day thankful for
New Potential the amazing grace that fundamentally changes
our lives, but we should not be satisfied. Why
I have been crucified with Christ and I no
not? Because, when we look at ourselves,
longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life
honestly, we have to admit that there is still
I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son
need for personal growth and change. We are
of God who loved me and gave Himself for
not yet all that we could be in Christ. We are
me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for
thankful for the many things in our lives that
if righteousness could be gained through
would not be there without His grace, but we
the law, Christ died for nothing! (Gal.
should not settle for partial inheritance. We
2:20-21)
should want nothing less than all that is our in
Pauls emphasis here is that the cross defines our Christ! In this sense, God does not want us to be
identity and potential right here and now. From content with less than what He wants for us. He
birth, each of us was under the control and calls us to continue to wrestle, meditate, look,
dominion of sin. But in His death, Christ broke consider, watch, examine, run, persevere,
the spiritual dominion sin had over us. His confess, resist, submit, follow, and pray until we
death on the cross permanently alters who we have been completely transformed into His
are now and who we will continue to be. We likeness.
have been forever changed. We no longer live The life of self-examination and joyful
under the weight of the law or the domination discontent should not be confused with a life of
of sin. Christs death fulfilled the laws paralyzing self-condemnation. God does not call
requirements and broke the power of sin. We do us to self-loathing, but to a willingness to
not have to give in to sin. We can live in new examine our response to life while holding onto
ways amid the same old situations our hope as new creatures in Christ. That hope
Then Paul says something even more is not based only on the promise of forgiveness,
amazing. Our hearts, once under the but also on His promise of personal deliverance
domination of sin, now are the dwelling place of and restoration as well. That same God that has
Christ, the ultimate source of righteousness, forgiven us is now in the process of radically
wisdom, grace, power, and love. Our hearts can changing us. We must not be satisfied until that
respond to life in brand new ways because we work is complete.
are no longer dominated by sin, but we are
liberated by the gracious rule of Christ. We base God Changes Us in the Middle of Our Toughest
our lives on the fact that because Jesus lives in Challenges
us, we can do what is right in desire, thought, The Heat-Thorns-Cross-Fruit picture
word, and action, no matter what specific represents how God changes us in the middle of

The Journal of Biblical Counseling Spring 2005


20
the toughest challenges of life. you gossip about your work acquaintances? Do
you envy the material possessions of others? Do
Heat: Trials, pressures, temptations, and
you speak unkindly to others when they dont
difficulty surround our lives.
meet your needs? Do you blame God for your
Thorns: We respond in sinful ways to
problems? Do you eat too much? Watch TV too
what we face in life. We have inner reasons
much? Work too much?
for our sin.
First read these stories about pride and
Cross: God meets us in our sin with His
about worryand then insert your own story.
heart-transforming grace.
God calls you to come to this point. He calls you
Fruit: We respond in new ways to our old
down from the wide-angle helicopter view to
difficulties as our hearts are transformed.
zoom in and humbly take a close look at
Two first-person case studies, Self-Counseling yourself. He calls you to believe and act upon
Projects, follow this article and give practical the gospel promises of forgiveness, restoration,
examples of how a person can analyze his or her wisdom, strength, deliverance, and power by
specific struggles using this model. You, too, acknowledging your responsibility for your own
choose a personal struggle in your own life and ungodly responses to lifes difficult situations.
work through it using this model. Do you get Getting to the fruit tree always starts with
angry with other drivers on the road? Do you recognizing and removing the thorns.
yell at your children? Do you overspend and live Whatever the heat of your current
above your means? Are you a workaholic? Do situation, we challenge you to work through it
you procrastinate when important work needs using this model. May God bless you as you
to be done? Do you resort to grumbling and grow and change under His guidance and in His
complaining when things dont go your way? Do power.

The Journal of Biblical Counseling Spring 2005 21