Power for Change
Once again, I'm blogging on something I've been reading for class – this time it's Paul Tripp's War of Words. Tripp says something very interesting on pg 45:
“Power has been given. It resides in you by the Spirit... Wife, it is a denial of the gospel to look at your husband and say to yourself, 'Why bother? He can't change.' Husband, it is a denial of the gospel to be self-righteous and defensive when your wife tries to talk to you about sin in your life. Parents, you deny the gospel when you allow your communication with your child to be ruled by unrestrained emotions and desires. Because the Word has come and given us power...”There are so many things worth mentioning here. In terms of basic context, Tripp is talking about how God has actually richly equipped us to handle relational conflict. Pointing to Eph 1:18-19, Tripp reminds us that in Christ, God has given us hope, spiritual wealth, and most importantly power for change. It's the 'power' part that caught my attention.
In Ephesians, Paul says that the very power which raised Christ from the dead – that same power is at work in us. It HAS been given. This is no mere potential for change; it's the real deal in the here and now, happening right before our eyes even when we cannot see it. It's like the inevitability of Spring, exploding to life just outside, although you wouldn't have seen it coming even last week. That's a mere shadow of what God is in us, in our relationships. In Christ, we ARE being transformed, by God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
And that's why it's so significant to believe that someone can't change. You see, either way it's an act of faith. I look at my wife's track record and lash out by saying: “16 years of marriage and you still haven't figured it out!” That may be true. But my conclusion – that therefore she will never change – that is fundamentally an act of faith. I do not know the future. None of us do. And yet all of us regularly draw conclusions about others – about what they've failed to do, about what they'll never manage to achieve. Inevitably, I do this to condemn, not to build up. I place myself in God's judgment seat, I lay out the case against her, and then I pronounce my verdict: guilty. I slay her in my heart.
That's why this is so serious. It is not merely a matter of misreading the data. It is fundamentally a denial of the gospel.
Listen, hope is actually faith that God can change things. When I give up on hope, I give up on faith in God – I deny that he is working, I deny that his power is sufficient. I stop looking at what is still unseen and instead live only by sight. And so I do not merely slay my wife, I also attack the sovereign God of the universe who has promised to redeem her. (Is it any wonder the prophets speak of idolatry being stupid?)
So where does this leave us? What are we to do? Try harder? Look for a new technique? No! As Tripp says, “We do not struggle with communication simply because we lack the skills or vocabulary. Our problem is powerlessness. Our problem is inability.” The solution is the gospel – to cling to Christ in faith. Because he HAS come; his power is now our power, if we are united to him in faith. Tripp continues:
“God hasn't issued us a series of grand and lofty directives and then sat back to see if we would obey them. No, he understands that our sin has rendered us powerless, and that we will not know what we need to know and cannot do what we need to do apart from him. So he has unzipped us and gotten inside us by his Spirit. His inconceivable power is within us! And it is not only within, it is at work!” (44).This past week, I have seen firsthand reminders that God in indeed working – not just in the nature's madcap blooming outside, but in the hearts and lives of people all around me. I saw it in the people who came to hear what God is doing in our lives regarding church planting, and who went away excited because they caught a glimpse of how this gospel intersects with a world of unbelief, and their own hearts were moved to be a part of it.
I heard it in a brother's words, as he recounted his brush with death in the mountains of Montana two months ago, and how it has completely reoriented his life. I see it in the trial-worn face of a dear sister, who refuses to give up on a marriage that has been floundering for nearly 20 years. And I even saw it in my own heart as I flew home last night – thinking of my wife rather than fantasizing about the barely-dressed woman a few isles up on the airplane.
You see, God really is good, and he really is working. At the end of the day, that is what makes the gospel “good news” – change is possible! And it comes through faith in what God is doing, rather than in my own effort or progress, or that of others.