When I meet people and they find out I am a pastor, I usually get a few different responses. One I hear most often is the assumption that, as a pastor, I primarily deal within the realm of morals and ethics. I recall a conversation I had about raising children and dealing with behavior issues. After relating several instances when my own children were misbehaving, the person responded, “Yeah, that must be tough for you when your job is to teach morals and good behavior.” The comment didn’t come across as judgmental or rude; the conversation was very light and friendly. However, this caught my attention because it reflects a view many people outside of the church hold, that of the duty of pastors. Many think our primary aim is to merely instill morals and ethics to our congregation, that our goal when dealing with rowdy children is simply behavior modification.
Is that right? Is that what we want in the church, a behavioral and moral change? Well, yes and no. This is what I mean–yes, as followers of Jesus Christ we do desire to see people change. We do desire to see people turn from sinful life patterns and turn to Christ. When it comes to our children, yes, we want them to behave in a way that reflects the truths found in the Bible. The difference, however, is that we don’t want that to be the end of the matter. Meaning, our primary aspiration is not behavior modification in and of itself. We long to see behavior changed as a reflection of what God is doing in an individual’s heart. In fact, biblically speaking we do not believe there can be true, lasting change in a person until there is first a heart change, and a heart change can only come through the grace of God.
The Bible gives us a very clear picture of the human race and the truth is, it’s not a pretty picture. This can be a hard fact for us to swallow because we have the idea that mankind is really “not that bad”. However, the Bible uses other words to describe us. The Bible says that we are “dead in [our] sins” (Colossians 2:13), that we “cannot please God”(Romans 8:8), we are “without hope” (Ephesians 2:12), and that we are “God-haters” (Romans 1:30). Not the encouraging message that people generally expect to hear from the Bible; however, it is the truth of our fallen human nature. When we look at this picture, seeing who we actually are, it may seem bleak. It is. Yet it makes the glorious grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ shine brightly through the darkness.
You see, according to the Bible, behavior correction alone is a futile task. A pastor would be wasting his time if that were his sole desire. If we are dead, hopeless, God-haters, then what we truly need is God to do a miraculous work in us. Dead people can do nothing to make themselves look more alive. Putting makeup on a dead person may look good for a time, but eventually they will begin to rot. So what do they need? They need to be made alive, they need to be miraculously brought to life. It is the same for the broken sinner. We have no hope within ourselves, for an outward change of behavior is merely a white-washed tomb. We need God to bring us to life.
Jesus speaks about this amazing mystery in John 3. Jesus tells Nicodemus, a religious leader, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus was a man who had spent his entire life trying to live up to religious and social expectations, trying to be a “good” person. The truth is, however, Nicodemus remained spiritually dead. No matter how much he tried to mask his sin and no matter how much good he tried to do to outweigh his sins, he was still broken and guilty before a holy God. Jesus knows Nicodemus’ heart and He knows that what he actually needs is a new birth.
This is what pastors are looking for in their congregations and parents in their children, a new birth. Good behavior and changing of sinful life patterns reflect that new birth. So the call from the church is not simply “stop doing that” but to come to Christ and live. It is only when we come to Jesus, confess our sin, and trust in His finished work upon the cross that we can have any hope of change. It is at this moment of faith that a person is born again by the Holy Spirit and is able, through His power, to live a life that glorifies God. As the Apostle Paul states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) It is then, because of the grace of God I can say I am not who I once was. God has made me new!
By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ