Review: How to Help People Change

Jay Adams, Zondervan, 2010, 224 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 12.57.27 PMJay Adams is old school, confident, biblical, and one of my favorite authors. For those interested in counseling and wanting an introduction to his work, this would be a start. Pastors are his audience but a thoughtful mother or layman could handle it.

The author’s big point is that preachers teach in order to change lives. We do not proffer bare facts for the intellect. Our byword is Colossians 1:9-10. How does such change come about? It begins on the inside. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for only having outward righteousness (Mt. 5:20).

Adams says this divine inward change comes by carefully following the four steps in 2 Timothy 3:16 (teaching, conviction, correction, disciplined training in righteousness), which divides the four major portions of this book.

A Summary

The first section is on “teaching for the long haul”, as Adams puts it. He encourages pastors to resist their natural reaction to skimp in their instruction by ending counseling upon the first sin of relief, and then hoping the problem won’t recur. Often the drunkenness or fornication continues and God’s name is dishonored. His solution is to teach (i.e. explain and apply) Jesus’ words about radical amputation and the need to take preemptive measures against future sin. He makes heavy use of milieu teaching, homework, and the three-step promise in 1 Cor. 10:13.

The second section emphasizes the importance of bringing conviction. Biblical conviction (elegcho) is more than just a rebuke or reproof; it is effective in convincing someone. Adams suggests using modern parables to draw a connection to the counselee’s wrongdoing and 1 Peter 4:2 to counter claims that sin is uncontrollable.

Section three shows that if conviction knocks people prostrate before God, correction will put them back on their feet. Correction leads to repentance, which is (1) confessing sin to God and others, (2) seeking forgiveness, (3) forsaking sin, (4) alternating behavior. Radical amputation makes unconscious or habitual sin very difficult.

The final section emphasizes putting on after the first three stages of putting off. Chapter 24 on “habits” is excellent.

My View

Adams is strongest when addressing Jesus’ preventative measures of violence against sin in Matthew 5:29-30. This does not sit well with our culture of comfort. Today, pastors stand in a stream that flows toward gentility, femininity and acceptance. Since many of our parishioners float by lazily with backgrounds of absentee fathers and effeminate voices, the double barrels of culture and family have thus been loaded to shoot Jesus’ words right out of the text.

Here is where Adams implores preachers to man up. Screw up your courage. Gird up your loins. Demand the sinner follow this passage in showing forth true repentance.

Cutting off a right hand or foot or gouging out a right eye is a preventative measure, designed to deter repetition of a sin. It is a way of preventing unconscious, automatic, habitual sin and making it difficult to sin again in the same manner. Jesus treated the disregard for such precautions against future sin as indicative of an unrepentant and unsaved condition. (72)

The world will call you harsh. But if the sinner looks the other way, the alternative is harsher—hell (Mt. 5:30).


  1. “The aim of counseling is to change people. Change—whether in the counselee’s thinking, feeling, behavior, attitude, sensitivity, awareness, or understanding—is the goal of all counseling.” (introduction)
  2. “Unless the counselee is taught not only how to get out of trouble, but also how to stay out of such trouble in the future, he (1) will be ripe for future failure, and (2) will develop a tendency to depend upon the counselor rather than upon God’s truth and the Holy Spirit.” (72)
  3. “Sometimes, however, the only thing that restores life to the deadened nerve cells of a seared conscience is the threat or actual pursuit of church discipline. Some people must be ‘taught by discipline’ (1Tm. 1:20).” (133)

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