The Transforming Power of the Gospel
By Jerry Bridges
Prolific Christian author Jerry Bridges does it again with his surgically precise work on spiritual transformation. For those confused on how transformation happens, Bridges goes into concise detail about our sanctifying journey with Christ. While there are already so many books on “How To Change,” this is the one that shows you the Holy Spirit’s role like you’ve never known Him.
Jerry Bridges is absolutely no-nonsense in his writing, and probably the cool philosophical uncle I always wanted. He uses the exact number of words to explain concepts with no sugar attached, never diminishes the uphill struggle, and clarifies huge concepts into a simple sentence. There are some writers who grasp their own material so well that they sort of leave you in the dust, but Jerry Bridges guides you just enough to keep your head above water while also challenging your knowledge. Of all the Christian authors I’ve dug into, good old Uncle Jerry is the most concise and plainspoken of them all.
I can summarize Jerry Bridge’s tone in one word: humble. He speaks of God with total reverence and awe and respect, but he speaks to people with that same humility. Many books on “change” also fall flat when they are nothing more than self-help manuals with numbered lists of Do-It-Yourself pragmatism. Bridges keeps the right perspective: that transformation is always about God and never about us. This humility is so deeply rooted in his words that it’s easy to tell Bridges is not writing this way for show. This book and his life are obviously washed in prayer.
And thank God that Bridges is one of the few authors today who knows how to keep it simple. He writes short and sweet, to the point. He never writes a word more or less than he has to. It’s as if his original manuscript was written with a typewriter and he had to choose one word at a time. Most Christian books these days are not only too bloated (I’m looking at you, Re:Lit authors), but they also wear out their welcome with unnecessary chapters and rabbit trails. You’ll be engaged with Bridges’ work from start to finish.
The actual content may not be new to many of us, but is so well streamlined and articulated that it will open up some fresh springs. The book has a strictly Reformed gospel-focus, but removes much of the arrogant edge unfortunately seen in some Reformed circles. Simply, Bridges makes transformation a delight and not a chore. If you thought reading the Bible or Scripture memorization were obligations, Bridges will gently empower you to see the value of such disciplines. He never speaks with a condescending or condemning tone.
I found most helpful Bridges’ phrase Dependent Responsibility, which entails a total reliance on God while we also have a personal choice to choose Him. I also found helpful the section on the mechanism of transformation, covered in three steps: Conviction of Sin, New Desires, and Change. I’m glad that Bridges left Change a bit of a mystery, as God does work on our hearts but the Bible does not say exactly how. While many could attribute those things to psychology or neurology, Bridges emphasizes the spiritual realm in such a way that at once keeps what is sacred sacred while never cheapening the work of God with over-explanation or formula. Again, I appreciate his humility.
It should be mentioned that Jerry Bridges is one of the most biblical authors today, almost always citing verse and reference. He does it so well that it never feels like over-kill, and anyone can see his thoughts are clearly saturated by the Word.
If there is one major misstep, that would be the thirteenth chapter. Bridges suddenly dives into some serious issues like pornography and homosexuality, and since he rushes through that (confessing that it’s outside the scope of the book), it’s not given the nuanced treatment it deserves. Only here does he end up sounding a bit fundamentalist and ungracious. It passes by quickly, but I felt a deeply missed opportunity to address how the Holy Spirit could help here.
Some could also say that Bridges should occasionally go more in depth. Because of his concise writing style, at times it does feel like he is making pit stops at huge theological landmarks, then moving on. However, we really can’t have it both ways. I would much rather Bridges keep his pacing and cadence.
If you have never read Jerry Bridges, this is a great place to start. I would then also recommend The Gospel For Real Life and Trusting God. You should be able to finish this one in a few sittings, and you’ll be glad you did. As with the goal of every good Christian book, it will bring you closer to Christ than when you started.
“God disciplines us through adversity to make us more like Christ. … God’s Word is the primary instrument that the Holy Spirit uses in our transformation process. But it is in the crucible of adversity that Christian character [is] most often developed. For example, the Bible teaches us that we are to love one another. But we actually learn more of what it means to love someone when that someone is difficult to love.” (148)
“Life is made up of a mosaic of seemingly small and incidental events. All day long we are following our desires, and the overall response to those desires ultimately determines the direction of our lives. So if we desire to be conformed more so to the character of Jesus, we must desire to know and do the will of God. This means we must continually bring our minds under the influence of the Scriptures … and we must pray that the Holy Spirit will use those means to increase our knowledge of the will of God and our desire to do it.” (159)