The Gospel: Behavior Modification or Total Transformation?

The Gospel: Behavior Modification or Total Transformation?

– Part 1 –

About a year or so ago, I scrolled the never ending story of my Facebook news feed and came across a post from my local newspaper reporting on two young women who were arrested for abusing an old aboriginal man both verbally and physically while they were traveling on public transport. The whole incident was caught on video showing the verbal onslaught of derogatory language toward the man, the man trying to defend himself, the girls beating on him for standing up to them, and the driver finally stopping the bus and kicking them off.

As you do, when reading reports like that on social media, I checked out the comments section to see what the general public thought of the girl’s behavior. There were literally thousands of comments, and none of them, as you might guess, showed any favor toward the two young women. It didn’t surprise me to read comment after comment and reply after reply where people totally berated their behavior and called for them to be thrown in jail and for the key to be tossed away.

But as I read more and more of those comments – some of them saying the girls should be beaten up themselves, and even others saying that if they met the girls in the street, they wouldn’t leave them without drawing some blood – I started to feel a sense of hypocrisy. To be honest, most of the comments were just as brutal as each other, where a person would call for the beating of a person whose crime was – well, beating a person. Can you see the double standard? Judging someone with language that matches the crime you’re judging just isn’t okay in my books.

So, I made a comment that looked a lot different to the multitude of comments in the news thread. I pointed out that the behavior of the girls was not good, and that I believe they should be held accountable for their actions, but I also pointed out how their behavior may just be the result of a life of being abused, and maybe, all they knew was how to abuse others because when they grew up as impressionable children, all they learned was the behavior of abuse, and knew no other way. I felt compassion for these girls, but at the same time, I could see where everyone’s sense of justice was coming from.

It got me thinking about my own behavior and my Christianity. Is my civil behavior and courteous manner simply a result of my Christianity and what my parents and the church have taught me? Was I given a special privilege being born into a Christian family and being raised in such a way? What about those girls and other kids who didn’t have faith-filled parents or the church to teach them good behavior? – Hang on a second, so quickly I’ve forgotten my late teens and early twenties. I guess I wasn’t such a goodie goodie during those years, despite my beautifully Christian upbringing. Okay, maybe it’s not about Christianity and behavior modification, but instead, it’s about Christ and total transformation.

Here’s a question the Lord asked me when He started showing me the truth of the gospel message in relation to my behavior. He asked me, “How much control do you actually have over your behavior? Do you have total control, some control, or absolutely no control?” He then began to show me that to understand how much control I have, I have to first understand how my being is designed, how it operates and where the source of my behavior originates. You see, the human being is created in the image of God and it’s designed to function according to the pattern of His kingdom in heaven, and while we would hope every person would act like the angels, the truth is we don’t – in short, we were trapped in a lie when the original human beings believed the words of a deceiving serpent over the words of their heavenly dad.

When the human race was plunged into the sin of disconnection from God, we unnaturally found ourselves operating according to the pattern of the world, as opposed to the pattern of heaven. That means, even though we were created to be spirit first – relating to God in the realm of the spirit – according to the deception we were trapped in, as a human race, we were raised to believe we evolved as a body first. So when it comes to your behavior, the wisdom of this world wants to trick you into believing that you can control your behavior by exercising your will power over your thoughts and feelings – but really, it’s just an illusion to keep you from understanding that you have a spiritual heart, and it’s the source of your behavior.

God started to show me some things about the human heart in the scriptures that were a bit disturbing, and to begin with, a little hard to swallow. In Jeremiah chapter 17, verse 9, it says that, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure”.Wait, what? You mean to tell me that my heart is diseased and utterly full of lies and deception, God? Could you please give me some good news? That is what the gospel means, doesn’t it? The next scripture He gave me was Jesus talking, and I thought to myself, if Jesus is the one speaking, it’s gotta be good news, right? – wrong. In Matthew 15:18 & 19, Jesus says, “whatever comes out of the mouth comes from the heart and this is what defiles a person, for out of the heart come evil thoughts…” Wait, what? Again with the evil wretched heart thing. In all seriousness, – especially knowing God to be a good God – I asked Him what these verses meant, and from them, what good news is there for me to take away? 

He told me the source of my behavior is my heart and it flows through me like a river – first through the gate of my mind, then it fills up into the vat of my soul, and finally discharges through my body for everyone to see. So, the nature of your heart governs your soul – which is the way you think, the way you feel and the way you act. This means your soul processes your thinking and your feelings on a matter, and in turn makes a decision using the power of your will to act on those thoughts and emotions. Therefore, in any given situation, you’ll respond and behave according to the programming of your soul. Okay, if my soul has been programmed and my behavior is a mere reflection of my soul, what programmed it and how do I re-program it?

Continuing my conversation with God, He led me to another thing Jesus said. In Mark 12:30 Jesus tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and with all your strength.” What God was telling me is that our design is spirit, soul and body, in that order, and that my heart is the primary source of functioning as God intended me to function. In other words, if I’m to love like my God loves, my question was, how is it possible to love God and others, or even behave righteously, if my heart is full of lies and evil beyond cure? That is what the bible says, right?

The truth is, you can’t love like God with a broken heart. So, with a heart beyond cure the only answer is for it to be killed and for you to receive a brand new heart – one that is fused with God and no longer just yours to corrupt. In Ezekiel 36:26-27, God said through the prophet, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you… I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My ways.” This is good news – to find out that my behavior, that was once programmed by an evil heart, can be re-programmed by a new heart that God gives me freely, and He did that of course when Jesus died for all. So those two girls who may have been raised in abuse, can have a brand new start without the need to be born as babies again and raised in a nicer family who go to church?

But this is the gospel message, isn’t it? – Being born again is exactly what happens when we receive the good news of the gospel. We might not be born again as physical children, but we are born again by faith when we believe the good news and we receive a brand new heart from God; a heart that is the spirit of God Himself; a heart where God influences our soul, our thinking, our feelings and our daily choices to act righteously; a heart that literally transforms us from the inside out. True Christianity isn’t about behavior modification, it’s about total transformation. We don’t need to work up a sweat, exercise our will power and make ourselves good people – we just need to rest in the truth that God has given us His heart and He will cause us to walk in His ways.

It’s my intension that by reading this blog, you might rest in the knowledge that God doesn’t require your human works for you to be good and righteous people, but rather, to know that all He requires is your faith in His promise that He will be with you forever, and that by choosing to be in daily relationship with Him, you will grow from one level of glory to ever increasing levels of glory. For some of you, you may have come to know this truth already, but this information has just raised a few questions about the struggle some Christians still have with sin. In other words, if you’ve received a new heart and you’ve been born again, why do you keep sinning, or what can you do to stop sinning. Well, the answer is everything to do with renewing your mind, and the bible has plenty to teach on this subject. If this is your question, be sure to read part 2 of this blog, coming soon.

Written by: Drew Fraser