Behave well. Look good and I’ll be happy with you. Is that message you received as a child?
I am currently studying and teaching a class on A. W. Tozer’s The Attributes of God. In one lesson he asks the question “What leads to external gains and internal losses (in the church)?” In pondering my answer, unwilling merely to parrot words from his book, I found myself plunging into some deeply-held philosophies.
What leads to external gains and internal losses in the church is the same as that which leads to external gains and internal losses in the individual: focus on appearances. It begins in the home and the Sunday School and the Christian school kindergarten. We are taught to do right, before we are taught to think right about our sin and our need for forgiveness and to love right regarding Almighty God, seeking His grace to empower our obedience. We teach our children the stories of Bible heroes and tell them that’s the way we need to behave, without helping them to understand the flawed character of those heroes and their need for the grace of God to carry them forward to obedience.
In church, as adults, too often we are told what to do differently, what needs to be changed in our behaviors, without a corresponding teaching about our complete inability to change our behavior unless we surrender to God the Holy Spirit and acknowledge our need for his grace to empower new, obedient behaviors.
We move from childhood to adulthood making the effort to behave well without genuine humility, without the flame of an internal awe of God ever being ignited and fanned. Without that the behaviors will not carry us through, people walk away saying “Christianity didn’t work for me” when they never truly knew what Christianity was.
We need a shift to the internal in our teaching, encouraging thinking, exploring, questioning. God can handle it. He is not intimidated. It is the internal man He desires to transform. Out of that come the changed behaviors He desires.