Behavior modification is like putting band-aids on cancer. It’s not really going to fix the underlying problem. You know when you were little and you thought that your mom’s kiss could fix any scraped knee? Relying on your own ability to change is just like that; it makes you feel better but it doesn’t actually fix anything.
In order to really deal with the real problems, it involves something much more serious. With cancer, a poison actually has to start to kill the body in order that it might heal. In surgery, the surgeon cuts in order to heal. The law, the full weight of the law has this same kind of effect. It cuts to the heart of the issue. It kills the cancer that thinks your salvation rests on you.
The law kills in order to make us alive.
This is not all that the Law does, but it is certainly central to our understanding of how God works. God’s good word will pierce our souls, like a surgeon, with the goal of operating on us. It hurts as we our ripped apart and stitched back up, but in the being broken we are also healed. God’s word breaks us and cuts us to the heart with the goal that we might cry out, “Lord, have mercy.”
And it is in that desperate moment, when we’ve been cut to the heart with nowhere to turn, that the Gospel breathes new life into us. We are given hope because we are forgiven and it has nothing to do with our ability to follow the rules. We are given hope because grace comes not at our own expense but at the expense of Christ. We are rescued not by our own performance but by the performance of Jesus.
But we for some reason keep wanting believe we have something to do with it. A friend of mine often says, “We want to have some skin in the game.” We cling to our own works with hopes that it might provide us some sort of validation or worth or at least as the proof that God has done something in us.
But here’s the problem with putting our hope in behavior modification. If it was that easy, things would be far different. Behavior modification is certainly important, and there is a time and place for counselors, pastors, and family members that help people modify destructive behaviors, but when our sole-hope is found in the human ability to control and modify your own sinful patterns, you will have an endless pursuit that finds a way to curb behaviors while leaving a heart dying on the inside.
Our behaviors certainly need to change, but the behaviors are the symptoms of the disease.
And the disease can only be cured with two important things: the right diagnosis and the right medicine. God diagnosis the problem clearly when he says, “All have sinned and fall short.” And he also makes clear his solution for sin in the person and work of Jesus. The cross is the place where God does all the work that is needed to set us free from guilt and shame. And empty tomb is the place where we see that Christ is victorious; Christ is the great physician who gets the last word on the disease of sin and he wins.