It’s a question I wrestle with often.
How can I change?
How can I become more loving and sacrificial? How can I put aside the things that aren’t good for me? How can I spend more time reading the Bible? How can I better obey the things Jesus calls me to?
How can I take what I know is God’s best for me and transform that into how I actually live my life?
I’m in good company. Listen to John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace” and other hymns: “The life of faith seems so simple and easy in theory, that I can point it out to others in few words; but in practice it is very difficult, and my advances are so slow that I hardly dare say I get forward at all.”
Dane Ortlund’s new book, “Deeper,” spends nine chapters examining this very issue, and all of these chapters point to this: To grow in obedience, we gaze on Jesus.
Here’s how Ortlund summarizes the book in his concluding chapter. “This is a book with one point: Be astonished at the gracious heart of Jesus Christ, proven in his atoning work in the past and his endless intercession in the present. Receive his unutterable love for sinners and sufferers. Stop resisting. Let Him draw near to you. Gaze upon Him.”
Gazing? That’s the way I change?
Ortlund makes the case that, yes, the more we know and apprehend the deep, deep love of Jesus, the more we set ourselves up for real change.
“You will not change until you get straight who Jesus is,” Ortlund writes, “particularly with regard to his surprising tenderness.”
Jesus’ tenderness is a theme Ortlund explored in his previous book, “Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers,” and the book “Deeper” serves as a natural follow-up.
In Deeper, Ortlund shows that as we gaze upon Jesus, we should be moved toward repentance, or turning from our flaws to Jesus Himself. Ortlund calls our life one of “repenting our way forward,” and that’s a good description for the Christian life, which is a cyclical life of repenting, believing and obeying.
“You can’t crowbar your way into change. You can only be melted. Reflection on the wonder of the gospel—that we are justified simply by looking away from self to the finished work of Christ on our behalf—softens our hearts,” he writes.
In other words, the gospel—the good news—is not just for us at the moment of salvation, but for all of our days. It is the fuel that propels us.
I was particularly drawn to the chapter that shows how our gazing on Christ will lead us to confess our sins to trusted brothers and sisters. Ortlund makes the case that freedom comes as we bring our struggles and sins into the light. In darkness, our sins grow, but in the light of confession, they wilt.
His chapter on how prayer and reading scripture help us gaze on Jesus were also key. He describes the two in terms of breathing. Reading scripture is inhaling, taking Jesus’ word into our souls; praying is exhaling as we speak to Him. Just as in breathing we need both inhalation and exhalation, so too to gaze on Jesus, we need the Bible and prayer.
If we’re not careful, our wayward hearts can turn the book’s chapters into a checklist. Ortlund anticipates that, and concludes where he begins.
“I do not have nine things to say,” he writes. “I have one thing to say. Look to Christ. …If you take your eyes off of Jesus Christ and direct your gaze to your own growth, you will prevent the very growth you desire.”