Behavior Modification and the Fruit of the Spirit
“I Need to be more…”
Have you ever said the words, “I need to be more patient,” or “I need to maintain my peace,” or “I need to work on my self control.” These are commonly said when we fail to perform in trying to DO the fruit of the Spirit. The problem is, we were never called or even expected to do the fruit, rather, He wants to bring forth His fruit from our lives. It is God’s fruit and not our own. Our attempting to “do the fruit” will not work. What we are describing here is a common practice of trying to control behavior. Controlled behavior is NOT a fruit of the Spirit.
Controlling our behavior – or attempting to conform our behavior to the truth – is something we may be able to do for a time, but so can any unbeliever who wants to do so. There is a major difference in controlled behavior and the spiritual fruit called self-control. One is of God and the other is of our flesh. One is the outcome of a renewed mind and transformation, while the other is a result of self-effort. One is conformity to an idea or a perceived expectation, while the other is transforming into God’s image. (Rom. 8:29)
Trying to control our behavior creates a glaring problem – it requires continual maintenance and provides only a temporary “fix.” If we ever loosen our grip on our attempts to control our behavior, we usually revert back to former behavior patterns. Transformation, however, is permanent, eternal, and effortless, producing the “good works” we were destined to do, which are the fruit of His Spirit. (Eph. 2:10)
Genuine transformation is a work of God alone. Our attempts to conform our behavior to the truth are not spiritual, but rather carnal, and based upon our own capabilities. This effort is no different than us trying to keep the Law, which no person has ever succeeded in doing. Failure is unavoidable. The truth is, any “success” in our efforts to conform our behavior to the truth of the Bible is no different than what the Buddhists do in conforming their lives to the teachings of Buddha. Unless we are walking in the Spirit of Christ as He is living in and through us, we are operating in our flesh, no matter how well we perform.
Transformation is like salvation,”… it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10). His fruit requires no effort on our part to maintain. It is a work of God changing us from one state to another. When His fruit flows effortlessly through us, then we can say, “…it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” (Gal. 2:20).
The transformation that God has for us is the outcome of His work alone, the outcome of a purified faith that only God can bring about. When I know the truth in faith, then my life will be transformed by His truth. Faith is knowing the truth with an absolute certainty that supersedes the intellect because it is established in the heart. God desires that we know the truth beyond our intellect. He wants us to “…know the love of Christ which SURPASSES knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:19)
“Stop doing that and Start doing this.”
People often place strong emphasis and high priority on changing behavior, but typically fail to provide a strategy for bringing this change about other than just stop doing what you are doing and start doing something else. Willpower and self-effort has only taken us so far, and not too far at all for many people. There has to be a better way.
Without question, sinful behavior is a problem and typically creates more problems of its own, however, trying to control behavior and not changing belief has a dismal success rate. Changing behavior is not the focus of TPM. TPM teaches that behavior is a symptom of belief. There is a predictable sequence that begins with belief. Because we believe something, we feel something, and because we feel something we do something. When our belief is changed (which only the Spirit can do) everything else changes in suit.
When someone comes to you seeking TPM you do not have to address their behavior even when it is obviously a problem. There are ministries and support groups that seek to provide help with this. Your focus should be on helping the person to connect with what they feel and choose to identify what they believe that is the cause of what they feel.
You may from time to time be challenged by those who would want to defend their “lifestyle.” It is not your place in a TPM session to try to talk them out of what they are doing, but rather offer them an opportunity to have their minds renewed with truth. Often a sinful lifestyle is a vain attempt at self-medicating emotional pain. When they know the truth, their solution will no longer be needed and they will cast off the fruitless behavior.