As a pastor, I am a practitioner not a theoretician – I prepare and deliver messages every week. My goal is to see lives changed through the practical application of the Word of God to the moral, ethical and spiritual issues my congregation faces everyday.
I want to see growth in Christ like attitudes and actions.
I want to see sin forsaken and righteousness embraced, selfishness replaced with selflessness, broken relationships healed and intimate fellowship restored.
However, what I find I must guard against in my zeal to see faith in Christ make a difference in attitudes and lifestyle choices is the temptation to preach external performance rather than heart transformation.
One of my favorite cartoons depicts a congregation of dogs. A dower old blood hound in black robe and clerical collar is pointing at his sad-eyed, cowering congregation shouting,
“Bad dog! Bad dog!”
behavior modification or external change.
Our “church culture” tacitly preaches performance. New believers and new attenders alike seek to fit in, to belong, as a result they quickly learn “the rules” so they can feel accepted. They learn how to dress, how to talk, to bring their Bible, to even pray out loud so that they can feel a part of the group. These surface changes are made so that they can make the right impression and be accepted, yet may have no relationship to their true spiritual condition. Honestly, to one degree or another, all of us are guilty of playing the game simply to keep up appearances.
However, unless men and women are carefully discipled, changes may only be motivated by externals and as a result not lasting.
When the external controls are gone, so is the behavior. It is our responsibility to preach for not merely behavior modification but for heart transformation.
If we are to effectively disciple our congregation from the pulpit we must be sure to focus on their hearts, on their motivations, on their desire. Not just what they do, but why they do it.
The Lord Jesus says it clearly in John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will obey what I command.” Love must be the motivation for lasting change.
A transformation of the affections of the heart that results in willing obedience to the Word of God should be our goal as we preach the grace of God.
How do we do that?
How do we move from preaching behavior modification to heart transformation? How do we move from correcting poor performance to encouraging our congregation to live a life motivated by God’s grace?
Our Lord’s response to Peter’s denial provides a perfect model.
The Lord Jesus predicts Peter’s denial in Matt. 26:31-35; Mark 14:27-31 and Luke 22:40-46. The Lord knows Peter’s heart, but Peter is confident in his performance – so confident he finds himself arguing with Jesus.
Peter’s denial is recorded in all four Gospels. In Luke 22:60 we read: Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Performance, external controls, let him down. The thing he said he would never do, he did. Discouraged, defeated, despondent – how would he find his way back?
Every Sunday, men and women come to church feeling exactly the same way. Performance has let them down. Each of them, in one way or another has failed, each of them to one degree or another feels discouraged and defeated. What do they need to hear from us to help them get back on their feet spiritually? How do we let them know that they are still precious to the Lord and valuable in His service?
Notice how Jesus encouraged Peter.
The event is recorded for us in John 21 beginning with verse 15. Jesus does not say, “Bad dog!” He does not say, “Do you promise me you will never deny me again!” “Do you promise me you will never fail me again!” Do you promise me you will never betray me again!” NO – Jesus does not work on Peter’s performance. He goes straight to the heart of the matter. He asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” Am I the focus of the affection of your heart? Do you love me? Then serve me, accomplish my will, not because you have to, but because you want to.
My brothers, preaching performance produces failure and guilt. It is the preaching of the grace and forgiveness of the Lord Jesus which grips the heart and by His love transforms it – so that all of us can honestly respond with Peter and say,
“Lord, you know I love you.”
Editor’s Note: This article was written by Dr. Roger Raymer. Pastor Roger resides in Dallas, Tx and is the lead pastor of Lake Ridge Bible Church. Concurrently, he serves as an adjunct professor at Dallas Theological Seminary teaching homiletics in the pastoral department.