Any church or religious organization must answer the question, how do people change? I believe the answer is found in the power of the gospel (Rom 1:-16-17; Col 1:6; 2 Pet 1:5-9). I also am convinced that gospel change is going to be more than just moral formation and behavioral modification. Gospel change will change the heart itself; the mind, the will, and the emotions (Rom 5:5; Jer 31:33; Ezek 36:26). As Pete Scazzero puts it, you cannot be spiritually healthy without being emotionally healthy.
Part of the new covenant blessing is the gift of a new heart. In my final sermon at Cornerstone, I tried to unpack this as succinctly as possible. In short: (1) The gospel changes everything (2) Real change is heart change (3) The motivation for real change is the beauty of God.
With that in mind, what happens when the change that takes place in our lives isn’t really heart change? The following are a few possibilities that I came up with several years ago. Some statements I’m quoting (or sort of quoting) other people. Others just flowed from my own reflection. I noted in the sermon that I’d put these up on the blog post. So from my perspective, if the change in our lives is behavioral but not heart change……
- We may believe that God owes us a good life because we are good instead of choosing to obey God because He’s good, and its good to be good.
- We may feel proud and arrogant in our own achievements rather than acknowledge God for what He achieves in and through us.
- We may express a false humility rather than a willingness to acknowledge our genuine gifts and skills that come from God.
- We may feel self-righteous towards those we don’t perceive as worthy or right—the Democrats or the Republicans or those “ungodly people” or those “lazy people” or whomever.
- We may be angry at God when faced with suffering because we’ll believe that God isn’t keeping his part of a bargain (to give us a good life if we obey), when in fact suffering is part of life in a fallen world and may be Gods discipline but never Gods punishment (Christ took our punishment).
- We may despair when others don’t like us, rather than rejoice because God does.
- We may not accept the reality of the consequences of our sin and fail to see that Christ can take anything we have done and redeem it
- We may be self-loathing when we fail, instead of truly sorry and repentant and move on.
- We may seek to hide our struggles, marriage problems, addictions, and pain behind a veneer of religiosity, or denial, instead of walking in brokenness and vulnerability before God and man.
- We may drive ourselves to do things for God instead of being with God.
- We may seek our spiritual joy in the newest religious experience instead of seeking God in every facet of life including the most mundane facets of life.
- We may use God to run from God by refusing to see our motivation for obedience is often our own self-interest or self-seeking.
- We may seek God to get things from God instead of seeking God for God’s sake.
- We may be unaware, or unwilling to be aware, of what our emotions tell us so we’ll not ask, “Why am I so angry, so bitter, so sad, so whatever?” and remain aloof from what these things tell us, while the Psalms invite us to explore these emotions for what they mean (cf. Ps 88).
- We may live a joyless, legalistic Christianity full of man-made rules, which we use to advance ourselves or condemn others, rather than an ongoing sense of delight in God’s world.
- We may build our meaning in life, or our happiness in life, or our worth on something other than Christ.
When its all said and done, if obedience for the Christian is nothing more than behavioral modification, we may be robbed of the joy we were created to have and we may be kept from being the people God created us to be. At the same time, a gospel changed heart will challenge a complacent faith! It’s something, as a Christian, that I can get excited about.