If you had a child, or a husband, or a wife, or a father, or a mother who was addicted to alcohol, drugs, pornography, or anything else that devastated life, which of these two things would you choose? Would you choose behavioral modification to immediately bring the person's conduct under control? Or, would you choose for the person to change internally in ways that weakened or destroyed the addiction?

The stress of the immediate situation can be so great, so destructive, so devastating that we grasp for change. We desperately can hunger for the "quick fix" of behavioral modification. If we do that, we face a real problem. Behavioral modification does not address the internal demons that cause and sustain the addiction. If those demons are not addressed, the "quick fix" has a short life. As long as those demons are alive and well, the demons constantly threaten to break their chains and again consume your child, husband, wife, mom, or dad.

A lasting solution either severely damages or kills the demons that cause the addiction. But to damage or kill the demons, the person must address the problems that surrendered to the demons. When a real, lasting solution occurs, the person changes who he or she is.

  1. Perhaps the most devastating transition in Christianity came when behavioral modification was swapped for conversion.
    1. How do Christians swap behavioral modification for conversion?
      1. Behavioral modification is the foundation of "you must not do that!" preaching and "that is wrong!" teaching.
        1. I certainly do not suggest that we refuse to oppose evil or accept evil acts.
        2. I do suggest when we attempt to control human behavior without answering the question "why," without helping a person understand God's love, without helping a person understand Jesus Christ, we are not trying to convert the person.
      2. Conversion is a response of a man or woman who is willing to change his or her person.
        1. It is based on the conviction that Jesus has the power to change us.
        2. It is based on the realization of our need for forgiveness.
        3. It is based on our desire to be forgiven.
        4. It is based on our willingness to use God's power to redirect life.
        5. The converted person understands what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection.
        6. The converted person wants to be a different person who is alive in Christ.

  2. The most extensively documented conversion in the New Testament is the conversion of the Paul who arrested and imprisoned Christians to the Paul who served Jesus Christ.
    1. Paul's conversion is one of the few events that is repeated several times in the New Testament.
      1. The book of Acts records the conversion events in Acts 9.
      2. Paul presented his account of his conversion in Acts 22:6-21 and 26:9-18.
      3. A number of times in the letters he wrote [which are preserved as books of the New Testament], Paul referred to the profound result of his conversion.
        1. Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
        2. 1 Timothy 1:12-16 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
        3. Ephesians 4:20-24 But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
        4. Colossians 3:9-11 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him--a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.
    2. Paul powerfully illustrates the distinction between behavioral modification and conversion.
      1. Consider Paul prior to conversion to Jesus Christ:
        1. He took charge of the robes of Stephen's executioners and was in complete agreement with the execution (Acts 7:58; 8:1).
        2. He directed a house-to-house search for Christians in the city of Jerusalem, dragged them out of their homes, and imprisoned them (Acts 8:3).
        3. He did many things hostile to Jesus' name, and he physically abused Jewish Christians found in synagogues in an attempt to make them blaspheme (Acts 26:9-11).
      2. Consider Paul immediately after conversion:
        1. Do you think that he would have held the clothes of those who executed a Christian? No.
        2. Do you think that he would have led a house-to-house search to arrest Christians? No.
        3. Do you think he would have been hostile to the name of Jesus? No.
        4. Do you think he would have physically abused Jewish Christians in synagogues? No.
        5. Do you think that he would arrest Christians in the Damascus synagogue and bring them to Jerusalem as prisoners? No.
      3. This is the critical, important question: why would the converted Paul not do such things?
        1. If your answer is behavioral modification, you need to understand Paul's message.
          1. The "why" was not "God will get me if I do those things."
          2. The "why" was not "I will go to hell if I do those things."
          3. That is behavior modification.
        2. In Paul's letters he frequently dealt with the "why" of his change.
          1. This was the "why": "I am not the same man."
          2. "When I understood who Jesus Christ was, it totally changed me as a person on the inside."
      4. One primary objective in many of Paul's letters was to help Christians realize when a Christian understood Jesus Christ, it changed him or her on the inside.
        1. Understanding Jesus Christ changes the person.
        2. Does that change the person's behavior? Absolutely!
        3. Why? Because he or she is not the same person. Outside actions change because the inside person changed.
      5. That is what happened to Paul.
        1. Conversion changed him inside.
        2. That is what becoming a new creature is all about: a new person comes into existence inside.
        3. Conversion is about much more than changing what I do; it is about changing who I am.
      6. Paul's message was not "change religions."
        1. "Jews, change religions."
        2. "Idol worshippers, change religions."
      7. Paul's message was "know Jesus Christ and let him change who you are."

  3. Let me clearly illustrate the difference in a very understandable way.
    1. Suppose you had one of these opportunities.
      1. I understand what I am saying is impossible, but pretend for a moment it is possible.
      2. You are guaranteed that God will never know.
      3. You are guaranteed not one single person will ever know what you did.
      4. You are guaranteed no consequences will occur.
    2. These are the opportunities:
      1. You can take $1,000,000 that does not belong to you, and no one would every know.
      2. You can spend four of the most romantic days you can imagine in a private place of your dreams with the best looking man or woman you can imagine (who is not a husband or wife).
      3. You can spend four days in total privacy and wonderful surroundings drinking the alcohol of your choice and taking the drugs of your choice.
      4. Would you do one of those things?
        1. If you would choose to do something evil if guaranteed you would never get caught or pay consequences, you do not understand conversion.
        2. If you would refuse to do something evil because that is not who you are in your love for God, you understand conversion.
    3. The foundation of Paul's approach to people was not the basis of the need to change religions to escape eternal consequences; Paul asked people to change who they were because they understood Jesus Christ and the God who sent him.
      1. Paul knew that change.
      2. Paul understood that blessing.
      3. He knew and understood because that is precisely what happened to him.

  4. That is the essence of mission work anywhere in the world: Fort Smith, America, Southeast Asia, Africa, or eastern Europe.
    1. The message is not:
      1. If you are in dire poverty and horrible social conditions, become a Christian and all that will change.
      2. If you are in a communistic society and environment, become a Christian and all that will change.
      3. If you live in an area of severe unrest and disease, become a Christian and you will be physically protected.
      4. If you live in an area of starvation, become a Christian and you will never be hungry again.
    2. The message is:
      1. Jesus Christ can change the person you are on the inside.
      2. Your external realities will not determine who you are; God will determine who you are.
      3. And when God determines who you are, you live in hope, peace, and eternal love.

[Prayer: God, create in our hearts the hunger for conversion. Help us use Your power and Your Son to let You change who we are.]

The goal in the West-Ark congregation, the goal in Fort Smith, the goal all over the world is the same: let every person understand he or she has a choice about who he or she is. The love of God and forgiveness of Jesus Christ gives every person that choice.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 5 November 2000

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