Brian Hedges is the lead pastor for Fulkerson Park Baptist Church in Niles, Michigan. Christ Formed In You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change is his first book, but you would never know it. It is well researched, engagingly written and skillfully illustrated with both personal and historical examples. He certainly doesn’t lack for confidence. After listing other writers on the topic of spiritual transformation, from Augustine to Keller, he states his “purpose in this book is to bring these pieces together, presenting a single, unified, gospel-centered vision of how to understand and live the Christian life” (p. 21). Later he explains that his “book attempts to bring all these approaches together, presenting a single, unified vision for how to change” (p. 28). I don’t know if he reached that bar, but he has written an excellent book on the subject.
Hedges’ book is all about progressive sanctification. His assertion is that we become more and more like Jesus as we understand and apply the gospel to our lives. The book is divided into three sections. Part One (chapters 1-5) lays down the foundations for personal change (the gospel), Part Two (chapters 6-9) focuses on the pattern of personal change (holiness) and Part Three (chapters 10 -12) explains the means of personal change (spiritual disciplines).
In Part One, Hedges does an excellent job explaining how the curse is reversed. He takes the reader from creation to sanctification. God’s goal is to restore in us the Imago Dei, and since Christ is the true image of God, our transformation comes from beholding the glory of Christ (p. 39) and becoming more like Him. Hedges elaborates:
Ongoing transformation is possible for you. You can become more and more like Jesus Christ. But there is only one way; through your increasing understanding and application of the gospel.” (p. 41)
The gospel and spiritual transformation
Hedges clearly explains the gospel and how it is the key to transformation (chapter 2). He then demonstrates how justification should impact our approach to transformation (chapter 3): “The doctrine of justification changes our understanding of three things: the basis of our acceptance with God, the motivation for change, and the nature of our obedience” (p. 71).
In Part Two, Hedges unpacks the often-neglected concepts of holiness, mortification, vivification and motivation. He acknowledges the influence of John Owen and John Piper on much of his thinking. Then, in Part Three, Hedges gives us what he believes are the three main tools that God uses for our transformation: spiritual disciplines, the difficulties of suffering and trial, and the challenges of personal relationships.
Concerning the spiritual disciplines, he writes:
Living the Christian life is about training, not trying… [Spiritual disciplines]are the means God has given us for training to live as Jesus lived. These practices are called disciplines because they involve our deliberate participation in training for the purpose of godliness. They are called spiritual disciplines because their effectiveness depends on the gracious work of the Spirit of God” (p.192).
He restricts his discussion of the disciplines to meditating on the Word and prayer.
Hedges considers suffering the “refiner’s fire” and says the key is choosing “to cooperate with the Lord’s perfecting process by responding to suffering in faith” (p. 215).
A chapter on community (“life together”) rounds out the book nicely. Also included are 27 pages of endnotes and both a General and a Scripture index.
I recommend this very thorough treatment of spiritual transformation. Those looking for a shorter, but equally helpful book on this subject may want to consider You Can Change by Tim Chester.
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