How People Change (Book Highlights)

How People Change

by Timothy S. Lane & Paul David Tripp

New Growth Press, 2006

The central theme of How People Change is that much of the time, Christians live with a “gospel gap.” We believe the gospel intellectually, but we don’t live out its implications practically. This gospel gap “subverts our identity as Christians and our understanding of the present work of God” as it “undermines every relationship in our lives, every decision we make, and every attempt to minister to others” (p. 2).

The Gospel Gap

The gospel gap produces three kinds of blindness: “blindness of identity,” when we underestimate the power of indwelling sin and misunderstand our identity in Christ Jesus; “blindness of God’s provision,” when we do not understand that God has provided “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3); and “blindness to God’s process,” when we forget that the Christian life is one of “constant work, constant growth, and constant confession and repentance” (p. 6).

Many external things can wrongly fill the gap of the gospel for us:

  • Formalism reduces the gospel to church attendance and spiritual disciplines.
  • Legalism adds to the gospel law-keeping and rule-keeping.
  • Mysticism reduces the gospel to personal experience.
  • Activism reduces the gospel to doing social justice.
  • Biblicism reduces the gospel to loving theology more than Jesus.
  • Psychology-ism reduces the gospel to therapy.
  • Socialism reduces the gospel to being accepted by a particular Christian community.

By contrast, the authors offer five gospel perspectives that fill the gospel gap:

  1. Awareness of “the extent and gravity of our sin” because we cannot be properly cured without a correct diagnosis.
  2. A focus on “the centrality of the heart” which emphasizes that sin corrupts not only our behaviors but our motivations.
  3. Attention to “the present benefits of Christ” because the gospel is the root not only of our justification but also our sanctification.
  4. A reminder of “God’s call to growth and change” because Christian growth requires self-conscious attention.
  5. A call to “a lifestyle of repentance and faith” because the grace of God is not merely the experience of forgiveness but also the enabling power of change.

According to Tripp and Lane, there are five common “deceitful” teachings that Christians sometime believe which cause us to lose gospel perspective and falsely attribute the root of our problems to our 1) circumstances, 2) behavior, 3) negative thinking, 4) low self-concept, or 5) the idea that we “just need to trust Jesus more.” Understanding the gospel helps us see that none of these can be the ultimate root of our sin or lack of Christian growth.

How God Changes Us

Christian “change is a community product” (p. 73). We can’t change ourselves or fix our problems alone. God intends that we change with others and that others change with us. Community has been ordained by God because God himself lives in community. Although relationships are always messy, personal change happens in community because God gives a diversity of gifts to individuals in the community. No one has the same gift, and everyone needs a diversity of gifts to grow.

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not primarily a set of ways to live but a “big picture book.” The big picture of the Bible is the story of redemption. It is panoramic as it “introduces us to God, defines our identity, lays out the meaning and purpose of life, and shows us where to find help for the one disease that infects us all—sin” (p. 92). This picture tells us what life in a fallen world is like, who we are as fallen human beings, who Jesus is as Savior and Lord of all things, and how he progressively transforms us by grace.

You can respond to the heat of life with fruit.

Jeremiah 17:5–10 provides four images which create a model for appropriating the big picture of the Bible for our own lives:

  1. Heat represents “life in a fallen world,” and in the authors’ model it stands for a person’s situation in daily life, with difficulties, blessings, and temptations (pp. 95–96). It asks the question: “What is your situation?” (p. 105) An honest assessment of your experience is important to personal change.
  2. Thorns represent “the ungodly person who turns away from God” and in their model it stands for a person’s “ungodly response to the situation. [This] includes behavior, the heart driving the behavior, and the consequences that result” (pp. 95–96) It asks the questions: “How do you react? What do you want and believe?” (p. 106) Life doesn’t just happen to you. You react to it, and you are not forced to react the way you do. Your heart determines your reactions.
  3. The Cross is not explicitly found in the text but shows God as the Redeemer who “comforts, cleanses, and empowers those who trust him.” In the authors’ model it stands for “the presence of God in his redemptive glory and love. Through Christ, he brings comfort, cleansing, and the power to change” (p. 96). It asks the question: “Who is God and what does he say and do in Christ?” (p. 106) God is with you now and there is grace to change. Jesus is remaking and renewing you.
  4. Fruit in the text represents “the godly person who trusts the Lord,” and in their model it stands for the person’s “new godly response to the situation resulting from God’s power at work in the heart [including] behavior, the heart renewed by grace, and the harvest of consequences that follow” (p. 96). It asks the question: “How is God calling me to seek him in repentance and faith?” (p. 107) Because of God’s grace in your life, you can change. You can respond to the heat of life without thorns but with fruit.

The Ten Commandments illustrate that our sinful actions towards others (commandments 6–10) are the result of our tendency to worship something other than God (commandments 1–4). A grace-centered life of pursuing change is being honest about our sin, and being overwhelmed by God’s great love for us and promise to redeem us fully from sin.

Finally, Lane and Tripp offer five realities to remember as God changes our hearts:

  1. You are already a fruit tree because of what Christ has done for you.
  2. The Christian life is about living by faith in Christ, with the possibilities and privileges he brings.
  3. Because Christ has made you a new creation, good things are possible even in difficulty.
  4. Because you are united with Christ and his Spirit lives in you, trials and temptations are opportunities to experience the power of God at work.

God calls you to a new identity in Christ (“This is who I am”) and therefore a new way of living (“This is what I can be”) (pp. 220–221).



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