Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands
Updated: Dec 18, 2020
Paul David Tripp has written a helpful book in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. Tripp says that all of us are in need, even those who would offer counsel to others. We are all imperfect and in need of change in some way. His book aims to help formal and informal counselors alike who need change themselves to be an instrument of change in the hand of God for others.
As a Biblical Counselor, Tripp speaks from the conviction that God’s word is sufficient to guide us in all of life’s circumstances. As the Apostle Peter says, he “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). As a result of this understanding, Biblical counseling says that (many times, with much help over an extended period of time) one can find instruction, help and hope in God’s word for life whatever may come. Tripp writes within these convictions clearly and eloquently, revealing how the Bible addresses people who are in need of change.
Disorder of the Heart
One of the most foundational issues Tripp discusses in the book is that people seeking change in their lives ought to do so at the heart level. He acknowledges that this language of “heart” is basically absent from much of counseling today. However, the Bible speaks of humanity in such a way as to instruct that a person’s heart is the center of who they are. “Keep your heart with all vigilance” the wise man says, “for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). The heart, we are told, is of essential value and worthy of watchful care.
Jesus takes us another step further, as Tripp points out: “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit…The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:43-45). The heart is the center of who we are, and its goodness or badness affects each of us wholly.
The issue is that sin entered into the world and ultimately into every human heart. Sin’s affect is not just to make us do the wrong thing sometimes. Instead, its affect is at the very core of our being. It is inside of us, not just in our external actions. It affects our thoughts, desires, motives, interpretations and emotions. It makes us worship what God has created rather than God himself who is the Creator. It makes us lose sight of the good that God has for us. It is an all-encompassing disorder of that which springs life in each of us—namely, our hearts. The core of our being is muddled by sin. Sin-riddled hearts are humanity’s greatest enemy.
If we forget this—that the sin in our hearts is the primary issue we face—, we will aim our efforts of change in the wrong direction. Tripp says it like this, that we will “do a host of other things to change behavior, but change never lasts. The moment the outside pressure wanes, the behavior reverts to what it was before…” because, he says, “The body always goes where the heart leads” (63). Again, “Change that ignores the heart will seldom transform the life” (63). However, once the disorder of heart is acknowledged and solved, only then will lasting change occur. The importance of Jesus Christ’s coming is then made clear. He is the one who not only tells us of our heart’s true issue, but came to solve it for us!
Practically, this helps me to see that, in my own life, it is not just my behavior that needs to change. Neither do my circumstances need to change. Ultimately, I live and think and act and feel the way I do in response primarily to what is inside my own heart. Grasping that my heart is the center of who I am, and is itself infected with sin has already helped my own marriage. The truth is that I cannot blame my wife for my outbursts of anger, even if it is in response to something she really did to hurt me. My own heart is to blame. My own heart is the issue.
All of our actions stem from the heart. I hope you take away this truth as well. Understanding the disorder of heart will inform all of our lives.
The Bible is not an Encyclopedia
A pivotal point that Tripp makes is that the Bible is not an encyclopedia. No table of contents sits at the front of the Bible that tells you what page any-given issue is addressed on. There certainly are many issues of which the Bible speaks plainly. For example, say someone is struggling with thoughts of committing murder. If they were to come to the Bible for instruction, they would see the 6th commandment in Deuteronomy 5:17 which plainly says “You shall not murder.” This is a clear command.
Still, there are many issues that are not spoken to so directly. One such example might be someone who struggles to believe that they were born as the wrong gender. They were born as a male but feel they should be a female. They wonder if they ought to have a surgery to change the way they look to be more in line with what they are feeling. This issue is complex, and one for which the Bible does not contain a simple verse (such as the verse on murder) that will immediately direct the one struggling with such feelings. To be clear, the Bible has much to say to this person that will address their thoughts, feelings, and actions. However, the point is this: because the Bible does not speak to every issue as it does to murder, it cannot be used as some kind of spiritual encyclopedia.
Instead, the Bible intends to tell a story, a story of the God of the universe who created and loves mankind. The story is meant to show us that we were created to be dependent on him, that the entrance of sin into our hearts has made us even more needy, and that Jesus Christ came to save us from ourselves. Obviously, the story comes with many more details. But the things that Jesus accomplished in real-time history have the true power to change our hearts and to change our lives today and forever. The revelation of himself that God has given us in his word is meant to push us in this direction—to tell us who he is, to help us understand who we are, and to bring us back to himself.
The caution, then, Tripp says is “If you try to use the Bible as God’s encyclopedia, you will either conclude that it has little to say about some crucial issues of modern life or you will bend, twist, and stretch passages to suit your own purposes” (26). Tripp’s warning has the potential to do some real heart work to Bible readers everywhere. It certainly has for me and I hope that it will for you as well.
Imagine for yourself, or maybe remember from your past, a time when you have come to God’s word for answers, but felt you did not find anything that spoke to your situation or questions. I am certain this has happened in the lives of so many. This is what Tripp has tried to save us from by redirecting our understanding of the Bible to be what it is meant to be. If we understand the Bible to be such that we flip to a page and find an answer, we will leave in despair feeling that God will not speak relevantly to our situation—or that he doesn’t care to. The temptation will then become, if we are trying our best to be committed to Scripture, to bend or twist what we read to make it apply like an encyclopedia. I see in my heart and in my history both of these results, and it is because I have used God’s word in a way it was not intended to be used.
To be immersed into the story-line of Scripture, then, is the way to come to the Bible. “The Bible is a narrative, a story of redemption, and its chief character is Jesus Christ…this overarching story reflects that our problem as human beings is deeper than the individual sins we commit each day…it is because our sin problem is so pervasive and so deeply ingrained that we need more from Scripture than insight, principles, understanding, or direction” (27). The issues of human life are complex and therefore do not always have simple answers (the kind that an encyclopedia might have). God has given us a story—a true story—that does better, deeper, more lasting work that simple how-to’s can do. The Bible is not an encyclopedia and was not ever meant to be one. Instead, it is a story to immerse oneself into for a lifetime. You will have to read the book, which I highly suggest you do, to see more of how Tripp unpacks some of the overarching themes of Scripture. But the themes of God’s sovereignty, his grace, and his glory are deep wells that I am now more challenged to patiently drink from for the rest of my life.
People in Need of Change
Lastly, Tripp’s entire intention for the book is captured in the subtitle which is: “People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change.” There is not a single person on earth who is exempt from the disorder of the heart that we all experience. All of our hearts are disabled by sin and thus produce bad fruit. However, God uses people who need this kind of change to help others change too.
I have been comforted and touched at the deepest level of my heart with the truths I have been discussing, and I believe that others, knowing these truths themselves, would be moved in a similar way. I know that God has already been working change in my life at the heart-level, and desire to be used by Him in the lives of others as well.
If you are a Christian, this is your calling in life too! That is Tripp’s point. God uses believers as instruments of change in others. He does not only use “holy” people because no one is holy by themselves. It is Christ’s work in all of us that produces good in our own heart, and the hearts of those we seek to help. To say that it is not your gifting or that you are not good enough is to look too closely at yourself and forget that God is the one who produces good fruit! His chosen instrument to produce the good fruit, however is the lives of broken people like you and me. What a mystery! What a comfort! What a blessing!
The rest of the book is a detailed discussion of practical advice for being used by God in this way. I am encouraged to ask more questions now when I hear someone speak about their struggles. I now am aiming to be more prayerful in conversations, and ask about the person’s interpretations, motives, and actions in light of their circumstances. I want to know their heart and help them know their heart, and I want to help them see how the grand story and themes of Scripture speak to all of life! This book is a resource that I will come back to for years to come as myself, my family and my friends go through the many seasons of life.
Tripp’s book has become one of my all time favorites. I have thought about it daily since I finished reading. Put it on your list!