Can People Really Change?
How does the gospel bring real and lasting change into people’s lives? A Q&A with Paul David Tripp and Tim Lane.
Can people really change—not just on the surface, but deep down?
Paul Tripp: Not only can people change, they do. Jesus came so that human beings who were stuck would not be stuck anymore. His work on the cross targets our hearts—our core desires and motivations—when our hearts change, everything we do changes too. It’s amazing to watch people who seemed stuck in a pattern of words, choices, and behavior begin to live in a new way as Christ changes their hearts.
We believe the bright promise of the new covenant is a changed heart. When the Bible talks about the gift of a new heart, it doesn’t mean a heart that is immediately perfected, but a heart that is capable of being changed. Our heart of stone, which cannot be molded, becomes a heart of flesh, which is now malleable.
Tim Lane: We know that the grace of Christ is sufficient, because we’ve changed, and we’ve watched others change.
Paul Tripp: The Bible is shockingly honest and shockingly hopeful at the same time. Sometimes when I read a Bible story, I think, This is an embarrassing story! If I had written the Bible, I would have left that story out. God knows how ugly, messy, disastrous, and hurtful life can be. Right next to that honest picture of life, He puts the promise of real personal change. That’s an amazing combination. The hope doesn’t compromise the honesty, and the honesty doesn’t diminish the hope.
Often I get stuck: I know what I am doing is wrong, but I keep doing it. How do you deal with that?
Tim Lane: We experience that same struggle. Noticing what a powerful grip sin still has on us can be discouraging. But when you read Paul in Romans 7 and 8, you see that it’s his struggle that keeps him humble and reminds him of how dependent he is upon Christ. He says at the end of Romans 7: “Oh wretched man that I am! Who can save me?” Then he launches into Romans 8 and talks about the gospel. God uses our struggle with sin to remind us of our daily, moment-by-moment need of grace. Change happens as we learn humility and dependence on Jesus.
Paul Tripp: Because our struggle is so intense and because we are often blind to ourselves, we need community. God is willing to make community with us, as messed up as we are. We don’t turn Him off or drive Him away. We’re a mess, and we’re angry with people who are a mess!
But God moves toward us in mercy and grace and wraps His redemptive arms of love around us and changes us. To do that He uses His community—God has an amazing way of using broken, messed up people to change broken, messed up people. Once when I was angry, my wife Luella said to me, “You know, Paul, you are not seeing what is behind your anger.” Then she told me exactly what was making me angry! She was giving me sight. I can’t do that by myself. That’s why humble, honest, approachable relationships with other people are so important.
You wrote a book called How People Change. How did writing this book change you?
Paul Tripp: It has given me more courage. I don’t need to be afraid of what I am facing, and I don’t need to be afraid of what anybody else is facing because Jesus has conquered death. That’s a hopeful message. We talk in the book about the honest, harsh realities that are in Scripture. But we have courage because of our hope. There has been adequate provision made for what real people face every day. We can get up in the morning and be hopeful. We don’t need to live afraid, worried, tentative lives.
Tim Lane: Writing this book made me realize again that the most important thing in life is being united with Christ. Remembering all the past, present, and future blessings that are mine in Christ has changed the way I think and act. I know, in a deeper way, that this is what brings change to others.
Paul Tripp: This book is all about Christ. We are always measuring our potential. The gospel says that our potential is Christ. We don’t just have a new position. We have new potential because “it’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” We don’t measure our potential by the size of our problem or by our track record. The gospel is the announcement of a new potential that is not a system or a technology of redemption—it’s a person. His name is Christ, and He literally resides inside of us—He alters my potential as a human being. That is the message of this book.
Tim Lane: This book is for normal, average Christians who are trying to live out the Christian life in their homes, their workplaces, and their churches. It is for those who have hit a wall in their Christian life, and have stopped believing that real change is possible. And it is for those of us who not only need to change ourselves, but are also trying to help others change.
Adapted by permission from the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.