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Changing People

Category Articles
Date July 27, 2012

. . . the word of God which performs its work in those who believe. 1 Thessalonians 2:13c

How many times have you heard secular educators and politicians say, ‘If only we can upgrade our schools, have better trained teachers, give our children the best possible environment, then surely they will learn and change their ways! They will become outstanding members of society.’ That hasn’t worked, has it? We continue to put millions of dollars annually into local public and private school systems and, with few exceptions, do not find the corresponding transformation of culture. How many times have you heard preachers and Christian educators say, ‘If I can only get a little more theological training, if only I can take the latest teaching seminar, if only I get this advanced degree then I am sure I will be a much more effective teacher and thus see those to whom I teach God’s Word changed for good, becoming more like Jesus.’ This rarely happens either.

Why not? After all, are we not told that instructing the mind is how we change behaviour? But this is not how you change people, whether in the secular or Christian world. You change behaviour by grabbing the heart. Consider first a few examples from history, some good, some bad. Napoleon, Karl Marx, and Adolf Hitler all changed people for ill. How? Did they merely give logical, tightly reasoned arguments as to why people ought to embrace their ideologies? No. They would have failed had they tried that. How did Winston Churchill strengthen the resolve of Great Britain in their darkest hours of World War II? How did Martin Luther King, Jr. move people to action in the Civil Rights movement? Was it merely their intellect or precise use of English grammar? Was it by a mere dissemination of information? No. All these men reached the will by going through the heart. The heart is the centre of every human being (like NASA’s Mission Control in Houston). God knows how vital the heart is, saying that while man looks at the outward appearance he looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7); and only by grabbing the heart can we change anyone. Consider Nathan’s words to David after his sin with Bathsheba, how he painted a vivid word picture of his guilt (2 Sam. 12:1ff), grabbing David’s heart in the process, gaining from him sincere repentance and transformation. Consider the words of the Lord Jesus on the road to Emmaus, as he told the men all about his person and work, going through the entire history of redemption (Luke 24:13ff). And how did they respond? They said, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking with us on the road, while he was explaining the Scriptures to us?’ (Luke 24:32). And as Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost – having said, ‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made this same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ’ – Luke says they were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ (Acts 2:36-37). Peter reached their hearts which wrought a mighty change in behaviour.

So how do we reach the hearts of people? How do we see people change their ways? First, I am not suggesting that content is unimportant or unnecessary. Of course we must put forth objective truth, addressing the minds of our hearers, whether we are preaching or teaching a Sunday School class of children; and the only objective truth, what Francis Schaeffer called ‘true truth’, is the Bible – God’s holy, infallible, inerrant, and inspired Word. There is no other authority. And of course we must be memorable, organized, using illustrations to make what we are saying more plain. We ought to use vivid imagery, painting word pictures to help our auditors grasp what we are saying. Having said this, however, it is vital that we inform the mind and move the will by going through the heart. Picture a bow tie for a moment. The upper right corner is ‘truth’ and the upper left corner is ‘action’. The lower right corner is ‘theology’ and the lower left corner is ‘holiness’. The knot in the centre of the bow tie is vital. It is the control centre, the heart. Truth travels through the knot and comes out as action. Theology travels through the knot and produces holiness.

So how do we reach the heart? How do we change people? It comes as you read the Bible in ‘3D’; as you study it, and as you meditate on its truths in ‘3D.’ By ‘3D’ I mean allowing the truths of what you are reading to sink into your mind, but also to grab your heart, and move you to do something with what you hear. Or think of it as reading the Bible existentially, putting yourself-body, soul, spirit, and will into the passage before you. For example, consider the account of Jesus healing the leper in Mark 1:40ff. Put yourself totally into the story. Read it slowly. Try to picture how things must have been for the man who then found himself separated from his family, a social and religious pariah. Think of how his wife and children must have felt, how they would face the pain of explaining what had happened to their beloved. Then picture how people generally dealt with lepers in those days (reading a Bible commentary or two can help in this regard). Try to sense the smells, the ethos, the culture, the real life situation of all those in the story. Allow these truths to grip your mind and heart, and then see how Jesus deals with this man. As you think deeply and existentially on these things your heart will be gripped by the glory and power of Jesus. And when you feel and are powerfully gripped by what you have just experienced, simply tell others what you have seen and heard. That is what it means to bear witness to Christ. You speak from the heart. You begin with your own situation, moving to your mind and heart, and then connecting with their minds and hearts, eventually affecting their behaviour by the sheer force of your life and message. And you must learn to speak without notes, or at best with very, very few notes. You need to look your auditors in the eye and you cannot do that if you are tied to your notes. Those television reporters at ‘ground zero’ on 9/11 were not reading teleprompters when they reported on the sheer terror of the moment; and if they did their reporting would have been contrived, stilted, stifling. A man will not need to consult notes in describing his and his wife’s romantic ‘get away’ vacation in Europe. He will speak from his heart. In like manner we are to allow the truth of God’s Word we have studied, that which has deeply affected us, come out from our hearts to the hearts of our hearers. There is power in such teaching and preaching!

Underneath all of this, of course, is the ministry of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus repeatedly promises his disciples on the eve of his suffering and death (John 14:16ff, 26; 15:26; 16:7ff, 13-15). Believe in, hold onto, and apply the powerful, ever-present ministry of the Holy Spirit to every aspect of your teaching. Believe that you can do nothing apart from Jesus, that as you hold onto him by faith, he supernaturally enables you to ‘connect’ with your hearers. Expect it! Labour for it!

Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.

If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at

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