Heart Transformation NOT Behavior Modification
I am a parent, and as a parent, it’s really important to me that my son makes good choices and does the right thing when faced with difficult situations. But just as important as WHAT my son does is WHY he does it. You see, I want my son to do the right thing but I also want him to do the right thing for the right reason. That means when I ask him to do something, I not only want him to do it, I want to know he’s doing it because he respects and honors me as his mother. That means when a friend wants to play with one of his toys, I not only want him to share, I want him to understand that our God is loving and giving, and as a child of God possessing His nature that he should operate in a similar manner. To me, the motivation behind my son’s actions matters just as much as his actions and the same can be said of how our Heavenly Father feels about the decisions we make.
What is a motive?
One of my favorite definitions of the word motive is the following: a reason for doing something, especially one that is hidden or not obvious. Essentially, motives are the underlying current beneath the choices we make and the actions we take. They are the “why” behind the “what”.
No one sees our motives (aside from God), which is what makes them so easy to ignore or overlook. However, that doesn’t make them any less important to God, and that doesn’t mean we should care about them any less.
Why do motives matter?
Motives matter because God isn’t simply looking for behavior modification, He’s looking for genuine heart transformation. Proverbs 21:2 (ESV) tells us, “Every way of man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.” Ultimately this means that God is more concerned with the attitude and reason behind our actions than He is with the actions themselves.
If I ask my son to put his toys away and he starts sighing and stomping his feet around while throwing his toys in the toy box, that would be completely unacceptable. Why? Because the attitude behind his actions is wrong. Despite the fact that he is putting the toys away, I want him to do so willingly and nicely because he respects who has told him to do so and why he’s been told to do so.
God is no different. If you pay your tithes but gripe as you do so, God isn’t pleased despite the fact you’re doing something He tells us to do. God wants you to give your tithes with a joyful heart because you love and honor Him, the one who commanded us to do so. Also, because you recognize that everything you’ve been given is a gift from Him and want to honor and thank Him for what you’ve been given by the act of obedience that is giving your tithes.
Or let’s go back to my son, and say he does clean up and does so pleasantly but then expects to get something from me in return. That too would be unacceptable. Why? Because the motivation behind his obedience isn’t because it’s the right thing to do or because he honors an instruction I’ve given as his mother. Rather, his motivation is driven by his belief that he will earn a reward for his actions.
In the same way, God is not a Father who bribes us. So our motivation to obey Him should be based out of our relationship with Him, love for Him, and honor of Him- NOT because we expect a reward from Him.
Heart Transformation NOT Behavior Modification
Another thing about behavior modification is that if it’s not accompanied by heart transformation, the behavior will eventually revert back to its normal pattern. And while it’s pretty easy to change your actions, it takes a lot more effort to change your heart.
Take me and cursing for example. Once upon a time during a period of separation from Christ, I was convinced I could cure myself of cursing. For 7 days, I wore a rubber band around my wrist and anytime I cursed either myself or a friend would pop that rubber band against my wrist. It was painful, and after just 5 days I was programmed to jump out of anticipation of being popped if I cursed. For the 21 days that followed I did not curse and was certain I had banished the habit for good.
Fast forward to 3 months later when driving with my friend and being cut off by another driver, which almost resulted in a terrible accident. Let’s just say the cursing came back with a vengeance. Immature me thought, “the driver made me do it” but the truth is, nothing that wasn’t already inside of me would have come out no matter the situation. Essentially, I changed the behavior pattern but the heart that produced the cursing remained the same. It was only a matter of time before a curse word slipped out because I hadn’t addressed the root of the issue.
The reason heart transformation matters so much to God is because it’s indicative of a genuine relationship with Christ. You see, when you truly get to know our Heavenly Father- His nature, His heart, His love, His plans, His purpose- you want nothing more than to honor and please Him. When you truly understand how good, faithful, loving, generous, forgiving, gracious, and merciful our God is, you desire nothing more than to become more like Him. And the natural by-product of the heart transformation that comes from knowing God at a deeper level is the long-lasting modification of our behavior.
So rather than asking yourself “What have I done lately?”, I challenge you to ask yourself, “Why did I do what I did?” Did you volunteer at that charity event so you could post about it on social media, or did you participate because you genuinely care about others? Are you reading your Bible daily with a grudge in your heart because it feels like a chore? Or do you read the Bible daily with joy and excitement because you long for a deeper relationship with the Heavenly Father? Do you serve in ministry at church to be seen by others, or do you serve because you have the heart to serve others?
Our actions should never be about being glorified by man (Galatians 1:10) or receiving a reward (Matthew 6:1-18). Rather, everything we do should come from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).