How to Fix the American Christian – Unifying Faith and Praxis

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A current theme erupting throughout the Godblogosphere concerns taking the Church back to the Gospel. I think that’s a noble effort.

As a flawed human among flawed humans, though, I worry that even such an essential “recovery” runs the risk of leading people into a form of sub-Christianity that in the end fails to reflect the entirety of the Kingdom of God and the reason Jesus came.

I was not planning to write on this issue in this “How to Fix the American Christian” series, but when a reader objected to the series due his belief that such a series merely supplants the Gospel with “behavior modification,” I felt compelled by God to write this. In fact, I believe God provided me an apt illustration that is already deepening how I think about this issue.

In the rush to strongly delineate the Law from the Gospel, I believe we have a tendency to fall into the error of lumping the Law with the natural outworking of the Gospel. In other words, because both involve doing, we fail to make a distinction between the Law and Gospel-based praxis.

One of the beauties of the Gospel is that being finds a central place among doing. Man cannot justify himself by the doing of the Law. Instead, he rests in the finished work of Jesus, abiding in Christ. What we Christians are by that abiding now defines our being.

But like so many aspects of the faith, mistaken notions lurk on the outskirts of that beauty. We are, after all, in the process of being made to be like Jesus; we are not complete yet.

The error of equating the Law with the natural outworkings of the Gospel are addressed by James in this well-known passage:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!
—James 2:14-19

What separates the Christian from the demon is not belief in Christ. It is faith expressed through Gospel praxis. It is doing those actions that naturally extend from having been confronted with the truth of the Gospel. It is not just saying, “I believe the Gospel and no longer attempt to justify myself by the Law.” No, it means that the entire way you and I live can and must be altered by that statement. And since that involves how we live life, it must necessarily involve what we do.

Herein lies the problem with the contemporary American Church: Our praxis does not reflect what we claim to believe—and the world knows it.Tree with fruit

The illustration that best reflects this issue mirrors the agricultural focus Jesus often took in His parables.

Imagine three trees.

The first “tree” is hardly recognizable as a tree at all because its entirety remains below ground. It is all roots. That tree believes itself to be the prefect reflection of a life in Christ. It is always talking about the Gospel, defending it and affirming the five solas of the Reformation with an undying allegiance. It cannot help but sink its roots deep in the nourishment that is God Himself, praying and reading the Scriptures with enviable devotion.

But in truth, such a tree is abnormal. Because it is all below the surface, it cannot provide shade, wood, or fruit to others. It exists solely for itself. It takes from the soil and water, yet gives nothing back to the world above ground. From time to time, it may send a meager shoot up through the soil, but rarely does this act provide anything meaningful to others. Such a tree may even proudly declare how it is impervious to the wind that would knock down other trees, but it fails to see how useless it actually is, a perversion of the kind of tree that God intends.

I have three such trees in my yard, all Bradford Pears. They started out looking beautiful, but their trunks and branches were not strong, despite being deeply rooted. They cracked and split, so I had to cut them down. The stumps remain and the roots still show some signs of life, occasionally sending up sprouts. But that won’t be the case forever. For all intents and purposes, those trees are dead, their roots slowly rotting in the life-giving soil.

I’ve met plenty of Christians like the all-root trees. They didn’t start off that way, but that is how they finished. They have an apologetic that would make Ravi Zacharias seem like Joel Osteen, but theirs is an insular world beneath the soil, one the outside world never sees. They tend to live in fortress-like churches and are always talking about defending the faith. Yet for all their talk of the Gospel, the world around them goes on as if they are not there at all.

Another tree has a trunk, branches, and green leaves. By all appearances, it seems like a normal tree. It does interact with the world, doing useful things for others like providing shelter from the sun and bearing fruit for eating. Such a tree prides itself on giving back to the world by what it does as a tree. It believes itself to be the perfect reflection of a life in Christ.

But below the surface of this tree one finds a curious lack: It has no roots. It didn’t start that way, but over time the tree became so concerned about appearing to be a tree by being doing what a tree is supposed to do that whatever focus it needed to give to its rootings withered away. Over time, such a tree tends to burn out and dry up. And all the things it once provided shrivel.

I’ve met plenty of Christians who spend all their time trying to maintain an appearance of being a Christian, but they have no Gospel roots. Such people are all about what they do and how they act. They have no means of simply being or dwelling, no rootedness to the source of nourishment and grounding.

A few years back, we hosted the big family Christmas and got a tree from our neighbor. We cut the tree fresh from their plantings, struck by its shape and beauty. The scent from that fresh evergreen filled our house. If it dropped any needles in our living room, I couldn’t find them. We enjoyed everything about that tree, but when it had served its purpose, I dumped it on our burn pile in mid-January.

The amazing thing about that rootless, cutoff tree is that it remained green until August. Finally, a typical August drought proved too much and it finally succumbed to brown.

I said that there are three trees, right?

The only tree that genuinely serves the purposes of God is the one with deep roots in the freedom and nourishment of the Gospel and a trunk and crown that provide a full expression to the world of that rootedness by providing beauty, shelter, comfort, and food to others. Such a tree fully expresses what it means to be a unified, living thing. The roots support the tree, anchor it, and provide nourishment to the trunk and crown. The trunk and crown not only make the tree useful to others, but they deliver life and growth back to the roots. In fact, without the trunk and crown, the tree dies a slow, lingering death.

For all us Christians to be healthy, we must not only have the Gospel, but we must also have Gospel praxis. That Gospel praxis reinforces our faith as much as anything. Doing the Gospel truly does lead to a reinforcement of the Gospel in our hearts. That natural outworking enlarges us as much as a tree’s leaves provide the photosynthesis to make it grow. I can only speak for myself, but I know the profound reality of how the outworkings of the Gospel through genuine practice serve to reinforce the Gospel in me. The doing strengthens the being.

When we Christians declare that we are no longer beholden to the Law, we must NEVER confuse the doing of the Law with the doing of the Gospel. Far too many Christians are making that mistake, though, because of their well-meaning intentions to distance the Church from works righteousness. However, in the course of such avoidance, Gospel praxis suffers. This all too often leads to insular churches that are smug in their preservation of the truth of the Gospel, while at the same time they give nothing of that Gospel truth back to a dying world. And so they inevitable harden and die along with the world they are so loathe to serve for fear of betraying sola fide and sola gratia.

39 thoughts on “How to Fix the American Christian – Unifying Faith and Praxis

  1. Paul Walton

    Hey Dan,
    My original comment was “Hey Dan, good ideas, but are you suggesting changing our behavior will change our hearts?” Your reply was.
    “Yes. Changing our behavior will change our hearts just as changing our hearts will change our behavior.”
    I’m sure your aware of the studies that have been done revealing that a large percentage of pastors view on-line porn.
    If we installed filters on their computers that prohibits viewing porn, that would change their behavior right?
    But the problem of desiring something other than Christ himself would still be their problem, it’s a heart problem, not something that changing their behavior has truly fixed.

      • Paul Walton

        David,
        His behavior of viewing porn is a symptom of a spiritual lack. When we try to fill a void in our life with anything other than trusting Christ, it reveals that He is not enough for our complete satisfaction. So even though a pastor is not viewing porn because of a filter, he still has a heart problem. The behavior modification has temporally solved the viewing problem, but the desire to have something other than Christ that he trust for fulfillment is still just below the surface.
        The Jewish scribes had all kinds of behavior modifications in their laws, but it didn’t help them to know God. Our works flow out of a heart that has been changed. James said I will show you my faith by my works. Faith in Christ comes first, then out of a changed heart, our works glorify Christ, so that no man should boast.

        • A Different Jonathan

          As someone who struggled for many years (as a Christian) with porn, I’m not sure this is helpful spiritual direction.

          It’s true that porn addiction is a sign of a spiritual/emotional lack. And it is most emphatically true that God intends us to be transformed into the image of Christ, such that (as Dallas Willard says) he makes us into the kind of people that he can empower to do what we want.

          But it’s no good exhorting the person addicted to porn to never mind their behavior until their heart changes.

          Porn feels good (at the time). It is pleasurable. It (temporarily) soothes some emotional lack. It is also self-reinforcing, in that the vivid images in the memory act as temptations to return to the porn again.

          In almost all cases, the behavior needs to stop (usually for some time) so that the mind and the heart may be weaned away from those memories and turn to Christ, their proper object.

          I see no essential difference here between porn addiction and other forms of addiction or disordered appetite (alcohol, drugs, food disorders, etc). It’s rare for the heart to change before the behavior is stopped.

          Behavior change is not the end of the story. But it is often the beginning.

          Furthermore, I believe it is impossible to separate in any way that makes any practical sense the “spiritual” from the “bodily”. We cannot sensibly or Biblically talk about the “heart” being transformed in the abstract, apart from the body, as if we were not bodily creatures.

          So our behaviors (what our body does) are completely entwined with our thoughts and our beliefs and our affections. They each affect the other.

          If our behaviors can corrupt our hearts (e.g., a child forced to kill), it makes sense that our behaviors can be our allies in training our hearts Christward.

          Again, multiple studies have demonstrated that behavior affects emotions. If I act loving toward someone I do not feel loving toward, I will in fact begin feeling more love toward them.

          • Paul Walton

            ‘But it’s no good exhorting the person addicted to porn to never mind their behavior until their heart changes.’

            Who said that? It wasn’t me. Please don’t put words in my mouth that I didn’t say. Thank you.

            I’m done.

          • A Different Jonathan

            Sorry Paul, I guess I didn’t understand your point. I thought you were objecting to Dan’s comment: “Yes. Changing our behavior will change our hearts just as changing our hearts will change our behavior.”

            I thought your porn example was intended to demonstrate that changing behavior doesn’t impact our hearts. I now take it that I was mistaken. I apologize.

          • Paul Walton

            Thanks Johnathan, I believe we may be arguing different sides to the same coin. My view is that we change, or want to change our behavior due to a change of heart, as oppose to the other way around. Perhaps I’m wrong, maybe it is the other way around. But if there was ever an example of people who knew how to behave the law, but had hearts of stone, the Jewish Leaders were a prime example.

        • Paul,

          You wrote:

          So even though a pastor is not viewing porn because of a filter, he still has a heart problem.

          There’s a big qualification on the issue of “heart problem.” Not all heart problems are the same even if they yield the same acting out.

          One can also argue that one’s heart problem may in fact be the the fault of people not engaging in Gospel practice. Case in point: How many churches are filled with extremely lonely people who seem to be repeatedly forgotten by the Body of Christ around them. That’s not normal. God asks something of the surrounding Body to meet the legitimate need for fellowship that He built into us. If the fellowship of believers doesn’t actively pursue that very real need, then don’t they share in the blame when someone fills that need with something inappropriate? Or have we completely forgotten the reality of corporate sin?

          Another example not so easily handled: Paul recommends that husbands and wives not refrain from sex for any length of time lest it lead to a fall. Is that a heart problem or just a very real fact of life? If the Church can’t speak to that issue, which appropriate entity can? And how do we deal with it?

          • Paul Walton

            Viewing porn or over eating or whatever are symptoms of a larger root problem. The root problem is we are not trusting Christ completely for our satisfaction. Sin is a by-product of the fall, didn’t Adam and Eve live in Paradise? Did they lack for anything? I’m sure they had a healthy sex life, the best food. And yet even though they had complete fulfillment in every earthly sense, it still was not enough to keep them from falling. In their hearts they sinned first, and the behavior followed after. Satan convinced them that God was lying to them, “if you eat of the fruit you will be like him, knowing the difference between good and evil”. The fall was conceived from a heart that didn’t believe God was enough. I submit that all sin at it root is not trusting Christ completely for our satisfaction.

          • A Different Jonathan

            I agree that sin is at root a misdirection of trust. However, I do not see how that premise leads to the conclusion that behaviors cannot shape our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions.

            It’s obvious that our beliefs, thoughts, and emotions shape our behavior. But it also seems to me (and many studies confirm this) that our behaviors shape our beliefs, thoughts, and emotions.

            Also, I’m not sure it’s Biblically warranted to say that we should be entirely satisfied with Christ alone. Even in the garden, God himself was not enough for Adam. Eve (provided by God) was the answer to Adam’s not-good aloneness. Of course, perhaps you mean something different by “satisfaction.”

          • Paul Walton

            In the story of the rich young ruler, did he have a behavior problem? I don’t believe so. When he answer Christ that he had kept all the commandments, Jesus didn’t correct him. So even though he was a model of good behavior, he still had a heart problem. All his good deeds of keeping the commandments, and living a good life, didn’t cure his heart problem. He trusted his possession and wealth for his satisfaction, he loved this world more than Christ. His pristine behavior couldn’t save him, it couldn’t change him. That was Jesus getting at, our behavior will not save us. Only when we fully trust Christ with our lives, and find our meaning and total satisfaction in Him, and the works we accomplish in Him does our behavior have any value.

            • Paul,

              In my post, you will notice that I said that this was not a justification issue. Not everything about the faith comes down to justification. In fact, I am always puzzled when Christians go on and on about justification, yet according to most, that is something that happens in an instant. The greater question is, what happens in the typically decades-long life of the Christian AFTER justification. That’s what I’m talking about. How do we live out Gospel praxis AFTER justification?

          • Paul Walton

            Well Dan that’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question I suppose. I guess the title of the post lead me to contemplate how do we fix the American Christian? I believe it has to start with a life that is completely trusting in Christ for all things. Now someone who is fully trusting Christ in all matters, their behavior should reflect that to others, I agree with that wholeheartedly. Honestly though I don’t believe most American Christians have completely put their trust in Christ. We have put our trust in many things, such as financial security, political affiliations, and countless other things.

            As to how we live out the gospel in real life, well I don’t think it’s by appealing to people’s behavior first, but rather the heart. Jesus when He was restoring Peter in the book of John, He went to straight to Peter’s heart, for the answer.
            John 21: 15-17
            When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
            “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
            Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
            Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
            He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
            Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
            The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
            Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
            Without a deep and abiding love of Christ, when the chips are down we will be an epic fail. Serving our community and living out the mission, and sharing the gospel must be generated from the surrendered heart.

            • Paul,

              While I tend toward monergism for justification, I believe that Christians have to own at least some part of their discipleship.

              I will also add that the point of having the Body of Christ is that each person contributes. What God reveals to me may be different from what God reveals to you. When you and I share what we have learned, we both grow.

              All I am doing here is sharing what God has shown me. If that helps someone else grow, that’s great. You call it “behavior modification” and I call it “learning.” When you really think about it, isn’t it truly closer to the latter? And if it leads to the former, does that mean it can’t be of God? I certainly don’t think so.

              Over the years, I’ve read many books that have talked about rejecting consumerism. Not all those books were by Christians, but many were. Each opened my eyes to how we have let the American Dream lull us to sleep. The way I look at it, God used all those books and their authors to help change the way I think, which leads to changes in the way I live. Learning does lead to change. And many times that change is permanent.

          • Paul Walton

            Dan,
            My purpose for replying to your original post was because I was raised in the Catholic faith, they were all about “behavior modification”. Ever since I was old enough to walk I was told my behavior was the most important aspect of my life. How I lived my life, what I did with my life, it was all about my behavior. All that did was totally turn me off to Jesus, God, the whole ball of wax. It wasn’t until I was completely lost and empty inside and heard the true gospel did I realize that I was told a bunch of crap as a child. The nuns use to try and beat “behavior modification” down our throats. They used guilt and shame as their weapons of choice to break me down. So when I asked you if you were saying changing our behavior will change our hearts, I really wanted to know if you believed that. I guess you do and that’s fine but I can tell you from experience it doesn’t, God bless Dan.

            • Paul,

              From what you just wrote, I can see why we are going back and forth on this.

              I am writing to born-again Christians who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. I am not writing to unregenerate people. The unregenerate cannot make behavior modifications and expect them to stick.

              I don’t believe that is the case for born-again Christians. They CAN choose and CAN achieve success because God lives in them and not only informs their decisions but also gives power for genuine change.

          • Paul Walton

            Dan,
            I realize your post was to regenerated folks, but I believe one of the main reason that young people are leaving the church today is “behavior modification”. These are born-again young folks who are fleeing as fast as they can away from church life once they leave the jurisdiction of mom and dad. Some studies put the rate at 80% of Christian young people who go off to college and careers leave the church. Their main reason for leaving is “behavior modification”, that’s the message they are hearing in church. Somehow they have missed the gospel message, that is my concern.

          • David

            A survey done back in 2006 found that 80% of “churched” people did not have a strong belief in God. Probably the strongest reason that I see for people of any age leaving the church is simple unbelief, and as a result, resistance to the expectations of behavioral change. Jesus repeatedly told people to “go, and sin no more”. Isn’t that behavior modification? Frankly, change in behavior is expected of the believer. That it does not occur is indicative of a failure in the body of Christ to hold ourselves accountable to one another and to Christ. We do not disciple people, instead expecting “The Prayer” to do it all. The Bible teaches us that many who thought themselves believers will be turned away from the Throne of Grace. Even those whose behavior looked right.

            I don’t believe that behavioral change in and of itself will change the heart. But the heart will definitely not change without it.

          • Paul Walton

            Guys, I’m not saying our behavior should remained unchanged, can we agree on that. I think I have qualified that point numerous times. If people hear the true gospel during their formitive years and reject it, that is on them.
            Yes Jesus said to stop sinning but has anyone ever fullfilled that command competely? My original question was, does exhorting people to change their behavior, in and by itself, change people’s hearts?
            Or is it the goodness of God that leads to repentance? Is that what changes our heart of stone to a heart of flesh, even after regeneration has taken place?

    • Paul,

      You also replied,

      “It just seems to me that these exhortations to change our behavior, miss the heart of the message of the gospel, and besides they don’t work.”

      But you are not the only one saying that. I read several other blog entries this weekend that said the same thing. Not sure how this meme suddenly went viral, but there it is.

      My first post in this series contains what I believe are outworkings of the Gospel changing us. They are not intended as grist for a justification mill. This entire series carries the intention to provide practical ways to live out the change that comes from leaving the kingdom of darkness for the Kingdom of Light.

      I am perpetually stunned at “Gospel-preaching” churches that do a great job of talking about the Gospel in a highly cognitive and almost theoretical way. I look at some folks who come out of those churches and they routinely seem to live in a “Save the Gospel!” fortress. They never get any equipping that takes the Gospel and uses it to point them in a direction of practical outworking that changes the world for the Kingdom of God. Yet when Jesus announced Himself in the synagogue, He read practical outoworkings of the Gospel from the scroll of Isaiah. His entire ministry was “This is what the Gospel looks like with flesh on it.”

      I have known MANY Christians who are nothing but roots. I’ve been one of them myself. I don’t want to see others stuck in that place. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing…” is about doing the Gospel, not just being it. Jesus asks something of us beyond sitting at His feet and adoring Him. That has its place. But fighting for justice for the poor in His name does, too.

      • A Different Jonathan

        How many American Christians would recognize that the following is not the Great Commission?
        “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to believe everything I have taught you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

        The last phrase in the commission proper is, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

        Praxis is present throughout: Announce the Good News, lead people into apprenticeship to Jesus, baptize them, and teach them to practice the Gospel.

    • Paul,

      A comment about your example of pastors and porn…

      I have said in other posts that the way we Christians treat pastors does little but set them up for moral failure. Too many churches fail to treat pastors as fallible men. Too many churches isolate their pastors from congregational fellowship as if they were foreigners (as many of them are, considering how many pastors come from outside our congregations, a general sign of discipleship failure in our churches). Too many churches throw the majority of ministry expectations on the pastor rather than on the congregants. In these things and countless more, we practically guarantee failure for our pastors.

      And why? Because our Gospel praxis is hopelessly muddled. We don’t know how the Gospel speaks to how we should treat pastors!

      But if we start asking the question of how the Gospel should make us think about our church leaders, then that’s how change happens.

    • A Different Jonathan

      The fact that behavior influences thoughts/emotions/beliefs seems to be well established in a number of psychological studies. Our bodies are of a piece with our minds and our wills.

      I myself have experienced that if I behave in a loving manner toward someone that I don’t feel loving toward, my emotions actually change. I genuinely start to feel more loving toward them.

      Regarding the pastors and porn example. As someone who has struggled with online porn, I can firmly say: It is of great value to cut off the supply of fantasy images. The vividness of fantasy images in one’s memory is a constant siren call to indulge that temptation again. That vividness diminishes over time, so stopping the images from being renewed is a valuable strategy for weakening the appeal of the temptation.

      It’s very similar to someone who is trying to lose weight deciding that they will not purchase ice-cream. If they were healthy and strong-willed, it wouldn’t be a problem. As it is, they recognize that they are not strong enough to face this temptation, and therefore they flee it, by changing behavior (i.e., grocery shopping habits) in such a way that the temptation is less strong.

  2. Jonathan

    Dan,

    I read often, comment rarely, but I had to say thank you for this one. This is something God’s been really pressing on my heart recently and this was a wonderful illustration. Thank you.

  3. A Different Jonathan

    I think your comments are right-on, Dan.

    I also observe (in myself and in others) the belief that I need more knowledge/training/information/doctrine before I can practice what I know. I recognize that this is an over-generalization, but I think that American Christians have TMI (too much [theological] information). Instead of putting into practice what we know, what God has already told us, we engage in this quixotic search for more knowledge.

    I wonder whether my failure to hear God’s voice is partly due to his waiting for me to obey what he has already told me before entrusting me with more.

    Your “best Bible-reading plan” (the post by which I found your blog) is one kind of antidote to this TMI syndrome.

  4. Diane R

    I am glad you wrote about this as I believe this is one of the most serous issues today confronting the evangelical church. Where I live, most of the evangelical churches have adopted the [Rick Warren] motto, “Deeds, not Creeds.” In other places I am hearing that it’s “Creeds, not so much Deeds.” I for one refuse to allow these two sides to push me to their side. I will just sit down in the middle of the road and have as my motto “Creeds AND Deeds.” And Dan, it sounds like you might just be sitting there with me too….:)

  5. Paul Walton

    “The most important aspect of Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain and the surrounding influence and qualities produced by that relationship. That is all God asks us to give our attention to, and it is the one thing that is continually under attack. ”

    – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest
    I found this quote over at the Thinklings it captures what I have been trying to convey. Mr. Chambers has a much better way with words than I.

  6. Keith Brenton

    I’m a little surprised that no one has mentioned the Holy Spirit’s role in empowering us to modify our behavior by bringing the very heart of Christ into our own hearts. (So I was doubly surprised at the very passive nature of the “work” described in the commenter’s example of the porn-plagued preacher, above.)

    Most of us learn by doing.

    We become discouraged by failing. I think we become discouraged because we all stink at behavior modification when we’re trying to do it all by ourselves.

    Yet, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

    The work we do is not our own; it’s God’s work. We are co-workers with God. We no longer live; Christ lives in us.

    When we’re working together with Him, there’s no room or time in our hearts for conceits of self and sin, but concerns for others and Him.

    • Paul Walton

      Keith,
      Since we have been discussing regenerated folks it’s assumed position that we are filled by the Holy Spirit. But we are sinners, that’s who we are, we will continue to sin, we cannot help but sin. Our justification was attained completely outside of ourselves. Justification was accomplished by Christ living a sinless life, dying on a cross, and raising from the dead. He fulfilled the requirement of the law of God, and paid the penalty for sin, He is our justification. We have nothing, nada, zilch, to do with our own justification.

      What we are talking about is sanctification, can our behavior sanctify us, or is it by our relationship with Christ? When we spend time with Him, read His word, spend time in prayer, we become more like Him. The behavior change comes from a changed heart, not because I try to act in a certain way. My example of the pastor addicted to porn, shows he has lost his first love, the filter suspends the behavior, but it doesn’t empower him to change.

  7. Sulan

    I have pondered this all week. And I come up with two ways I can change the Christianity I portray to the people in my life — become a servant to others, and put others needs above my own.

    • Paul Walton

      I have appreciated Tim Keller’s warnings on how it’s also we Christians
      who are wired to just “try harder” and “do more” instead of having all
      our obedience flow from trust in Jesus and His glorious promises.

  8. Nice post Dan. I’m reminded of the Wright quote, “We are saved by faith alone, not by believing in faith alone.” Distinguishing mere assent from from actual trust is tricky but important, and it always involved praxis.

  9. Paul Walton

    We all worship something or someone. Repentance is a change in what we worship, not a change of behavior. As our heart changes from worshipping the things of this world, to worshipping Christ, our behavior will reflect that change. This is known as the fruits of the Spirit, exhorting behavior modification is not trusting the gospel in and by itself to edify.

    Jesus did not say come to me all of you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will teach you how to behave a set of rules. No, He said I will give you rest, He wants to give us- peace of mind, a peace that surpasses all understanding.
    Whenever we preach the true gospel, folks will argue that we are not concerned about sanctification. That if we don’t unify our faith with praxis, that we appear to be condoning sinful behavior. Paul was accused of this misunderstanding often, he preached about God’s amazing grace, and the legal eagles of his day presumed he was giving the sinful lifestyle a green light.

    Romans 6: 1-2
    1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

    Most folks won’t admit to it, but we want some good old ground rules, it soothes our conscience. Like how far can I go with something before it’s sin. Guys will justify looking at women in bikinis on line, or in a magazine, and tell themselves, well it’s not porn after all. Read Romans chapters 5, 6 &7 and then measure your motives in light of your desires.

    Romans 6: 5-7
    5If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

    Exhorting behavior modification is another way of preaching the law only, sans grace, because as Paul writes, it’s through knowing the law that we become conscious of sin.
    Romans 7: 5
    5For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.

    Following Jesus is not about “doing more” or “trying harder” or “acting dignified” it’s about relationship. As Paul exhorts, it’s about being joined to Him in His death and resurrection. Repentance is a change in what we worship, not a change of behavior.

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