I’ll say it over and over: The purpose of preaching is obedience. Every preacher in the New Testament—including Jesus—emphasized conduct, behavioral change, and obedience. You only really believe the parts of the Bible that you obey. People say, “I believe in tithing.” But do they tithe? No? Then they don’t believe in it.
That is why you should always preach for response, aiming for people to act on what is said. John did this: “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:17 NIV) And in 1 John 2:3 (NIV), “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.”
After about 30 years of preaching, here are nine things I’ve learned about preaching for life change:
1. All behavior is based on a belief.
If you get divorced, it’s because you believe that disobeying God will cause you less pain than staying in your marriage. It’s a lie, but you believe it. When somebody comes to you and says, “I’m leaving my husband, and I’m going to marry this other man because I believe God wants me to be happy.” They just told you the belief behind their behavior. It’s wrong, but they believe it.
2. Behind every sin is a lie I believe.
At the moment you sin, you’re doing what you think is the best thing for you. You say, “I know God says to do that, but I’m going to do this.” What are you doing? You believe a lie. Behind every sin is a lie. Start looking for the lies behind why people in your church act the way they do. When you start dealing with those, you’ll start seeing change.
Titus 3:3 (NIV) declares, “At one time, we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.” When you live in sin, you’re living in deception and believing a lie.
When you look at your congregation, you don’t see the lies they believe, but you do see their behavior. You know they’re unfaithful; you know they’re uncommitted; you know all these things. The tough part is figuring out the lie behind the behavior. The wiser you get in ministry, the quicker you’ll start seeing the lies. You’ll grow and mature in ministry and become more discerning because you’ll start seeing patterns over and over.
3. Change always starts in the mind.
You’ve got to start with the belief—the lie—behind the behavior. Romans 12:2 (NIV) commands, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel determines the way you act. If you want to change the way you act, you must determine the way you think. You can’t start with the action. You’ve got to start with the thought.