What causes change in human behavior, attitude, and belief has been greatly debated over the course of human history.
Psychological thought, in the form of Behaviorism, such as suggested by B.F. Skinner, would argue that change takes place with the use of positive and negative reinforcements. These reinforcements are designed to curb behavior until it reaches its desired result.
In addition, John Watson, who provided seminal writing in this area, believed that environment almost exclusively controls behavior. According to Watson, personal change only takes place when the necessary external forces are adjusted to result in the desired behavior.
Practical Behaviorism is better known as "behavior modification", which is commonly applied in school, work, and parenting. In fact, it has such a broad reach throughout our society that people are frequently unaware that this method is being applied to them or others. Moreover, even in many Christian communities, this idea of "behavior modification" is often something to be celebrated.
What's the problem with that, you may ask? People often report that the use of these strategies and methods yield the desired result in their classmate, co-worker, or child. They will report that they get the external change and desired result they wanted—or do they?
You see, it really depends on the internal motivation rather than the external behavior. For example, in parenting, is the positive external change that I see the result of a genuine "heart-change" or a childish desire to demonstrate better outer appearance, so to avoid greater punishment. Or is the external behavior a true, real, lasting change?
Let's think about it. Behavior modification has little impact on the heart of a person. The focus is only external. This dismissal of the inner heart attitude drives the belief that assumes that only the behavior is is important. This attitude will harden the heart and weakens the conscience.
It is evident in God's word that He desires us to engage in His transforming within our mind and heart, which will modify or change our behavior towards more of what God wants for us. (Romans 12:2)
Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26
God begins with our heart in salvation, removing our heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh—He has enacted change within us. God also is intent on focusing on our heart in our sanctification, that is, our growing in holiness—He is continuing to enact change within us all our lives.
What is sanctification?
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18
Sanctification is the process that begins after conversion, as God continues to transform our heart for righteousness sake.
The ideas of Skinner, Watson, and alike rob us of actually finding an avenue to a real righteous change in our lives. Not through tactics of behavioral modification, but through the lifelong process of sanctification.
Ok, I don't want to lose you here, I'm not saying that there is no place for practical methods or principles. What I am saying is that is extremely important where we get those methods and principles.
There may be a method in instituting change that is "effective", but wholly ungodly. This is where we must dive into the Bible for an answer in how this change can take place through sanctification.
Ask, seek, trust, live
Our desire to enact righteous change in our lives can only come about by God. To grow in holiness and thus progressing toward the change that we so desire and that God desires in us, we must listen to what God would have us believe and live out in order to enact lasting change.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5
Wisdom is so valuable as you move towards lasting change—a wise person will hunger to move towards righteousness and move out of fleshly tendencies that attempt to draw us back into sinful actions and thought.
Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually. 1 Chronicles 16:11 And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10
The Lord will never let someone down that humbly seeks Him. Seeking Christ will always result in a further examination of our own thought, intention, and behavoir—challeging us to move toward godly change.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
The answers you find in God's word as you seek Him will not be easy fixes—change is painful—no doubt about it. But we are called into trusting in God's answer, knowing His words will never lead us astray.
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:5-6
We can ask, seek, and trust, but if that does not impact the way we live and progressively change us, from the inside out—we're missing the point.
God calls us to change, not merely through our will, not by behavior modification, He calls us to change as a result of the Holy Spirit's intervention in our lives and our living according to His leading in His presence by His power.
This week, I want to encourage you to take a step—a step into lasting change. To move beyond the temptation of getting a temporary fix—but to ask, seek, trust, and live according to the Holy Spirits movement in your life to enact real—lasting change.
Song of the Week - Josh Garrels - At The Table