Be Transformed

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Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Paul of Tarsus [Romans 12.2]

This morning (at a bible-study that I attend) a side comment stirred up in me some discussions that I have had in the past and want to chat about now.

The comment had to do with the idea of behavior modification. I have pondered this idea quite a bit because this seems to be the mindset that I’ve run into within the church. A mindset that declares that it is better to correct the behavior and ultimately fix it through a methodology of modification.

The image that almost always runs through my mind is that of a puppy that has yet to grasp the concept of going outside to poop crap deficate sh.. [fine: insert whatever term you’d prefer]. The dog leaves a gift in the middle of your living room – what do you do? Scold the dog, smack him/her on the nose, rub their nose in it (my dad’s favorite training method), or put them outside [fyi: this was not intended to be an analysis of proper training methods nor is it meant to be all inclusive].

Eventually (if you’re lucky) the dog will begin to understand that @#%$$-ing inside is not appropriate behavior and will start to fertilize the back-yard instead of the thoroughfare of your home. Now, this doesn’t come about because the dog suddenly had a change of character and recognized how his/her actions had caused you to feel and how they now value your property – rather the dog’s behavior has been modified.

I feel that, we, as the church behave like this with one another – we swat the snout of our fellow domesticated church dwellers whenever they leave a gift in our midst. We continue to do this until the individual doing the gifting learns a more proper behavior. [NOTE: I stand guilty of this as well.]

Scripture seems to imply that G-d is interested in a transformed heart not a perfect pupil. An individual that is being transformed not a white-washed tomb (behavior is good – character is lacking) is what Jesus calls us to become.

Is it possible in our time to be a transformed people or are we stuck with behavior modification? How do we change the pattern? What is holding us back? Is behavior modification good? Ever?

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2 thoughts on “Be Transformed

  1. moorefaith

    The problem with behavior modification is that is surfacey stuff, and it bases the “modified” person’s actions on what others might think of them, or worrying what G-d might think of them. Not exactly Christ-centered, freeing, or motivated by love.

    You ask if it’s ever OK, and I’m wrestling with that. My initial thought is, to some extent, yes. Sometimes our understanding is so limited that the basic instruction of “don’t do that, do this” is necessary before we can dive deeper. But it shouldn’t be left there. Rules form structure so that everyone can live more comfortably by respecting each other (Torah as the basis for healthy community life, to paraphrase a beloved pastor of mine ;)); however, if all that is in place are rules without love and respect, that’s a prison or an oppressive government. Without the deeper understanding and the motivation of love, what’s intended to be healthy becomes infected, and the “rules” only serve to control each other’s behavior.

    Furthering that thought, without understanding of why this or that “rule” exists (Exodus 12:26, Joel 1:3, etc.), questioning arises. The rules become “archaic” or even “ridiculous”. Eventually, many come to not even know they exist, but those who know them judge the folks who don’t. They have expectations of what another’s behavior should be, usually based on some “rule” they think is common knowledge. (Been there, done that.) And even those who know the rules may not understand them.

    Just some thoughts. Ending now before I ramble. 🙂

  2. I think a good deal about parenting is behavior modification. I was talking to someone last night about instilling manners in kids. The kids that have good manners when they get older had parents who DRILLED “please” and “thank you” and “please don’t interrupt” into their kids so much that at some point, it became habit. As they grow, they start to see the value in the habit when confronted with people who don’t have the same manners. It is when they start to see the value in the behavior (after it has become habit) that their hearts change.

    Like your dog example, the above is simplistic, but I think it is how humans learn. The heart change comes from being open to it, but sometimes you have to do the right thing just because it is the right thing, even when your heart isn’t in it. With our kids, the ultimate goal is the heart change and there is nothing that makes you feel more proud when you realize that your kids have truly gotten it. But in the meantime, behavior modification is all we have. There have also certainly been times when my heart would be in better shape if I had tried behavior modification. 🙂

    To Amanda’s point, people are much more likely to change if they understand the “why”.

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