Getting It

In Dr. Schaumburg’s book Undefiled there is an appendix that sums up one of the most glaring errors in modern evangelical culture. I have seen the error he addresses in my own life and my church. I have read it in books, heard it in sermons, and to my shame probably preached it. Dr. Schaumburg is explaining what the difference is between people who “get it” and people who don’t. What is the difference between a couple who comes to him for counseling and they see real, life changing fruit and a couple who doesn’t? Read carefully what he says here. I have bolded certain sentences and phrases. The ellipsis is mine, as are the brackets. All other punctuation is his.

I usually see one major reason why people come [to counseling] for help with sexual sin, and two types of responses. Generally speaking, everyone who comes has in mind the pressing need to change a behavior, end an affair, and/or save a marriage. Therein lies the basic problem in getting it. We often focus on the external-the behavior and the pain-rather than the internal. What seems like a logical center of attention is filled with flawed thinking and the pervasive false teaching within the evangelical church. This leads many to spend their energy and their entire lives on “living life well.” Therefore when an affair, pornography, or some other type of sexual sin is uncovered, it threatens the goal of living an abundant, fulfilling Christian life. It prevents us from having a meaningful marriage and guarantees endless pain. The response is to do whatever must be done to recover the abundant life and get the marriage back on track. It’s just common sense-but is it biblical thinking? 

If we are biblically grounded we will start from an entirely different perspective: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20; see Ephesians 2:19). The opposite and powerful perspective described above[previous paragraph] comes from “minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19). The biblical understanding of life centers on the essential internal change that leads to life (Philippians 3:21) versus the temporal change that will fail and lead to death. Repentance is not an emotional response to sin. It is much more than behavior management or a matter of being in recovery. It is a genuine heart change that always produces a life of righteousness. God’s redemptive grace requires a person’s responsive obedience. Repentance is a radical inward change that results in everything else beginning to change. Repentance always bears fruit as the work of God continues and we live out our lives in a manner “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27)…repentance is not merely new behavior. Repentance is inward change leading to the fruit of new behavior. It is imperative that we understand that Jesus demands this inward change [Luke 13:3]. 

So why do some people “get it”  while others don’t? Most come desperate to change a behavior, possibly save a marriage, and certainly stop the pain, but many never truly repent with an internal change of mind and heart. They leave with a false hope based on mere sorrow for their sin, a commitment to change their behavior, and a new desire to find real intimacy in their marriage. Those singles and couples die, while those who shift their perspective to their desperate need of inward change live. The former leave dependent on their good efforts; the latter leave dependent on the continued work of God. They cling to God in fear and trembling, with a desire to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Ephesians 4:1; see Colossians 1:10, 2:6-7). 

These paragraphs sum up well what a true gospel message does. It begins with the inner man, not outward change. It causes us to see that our greatest need is not to fix our lives, but to fix ourselves. We cannot do this. Therefore we must repent and flee to Christ. As we cling to Christ he gives us grace and power to fight the sin in our hearts, which leads to outward righteous behavior. But if we begin with trying to fix our lives, our marriages, our children, our jobs, our… then we will fail. Unfortunately most evangelicals approach God like his goal is make our lives good and the Bible is there to tell us how to have a successful Christian life. There are blessings that come with obedience. But the goal should be obedience that comes from a change in heart, mind, and will. The goal should not be using God and the Bible to make our lives better.