Behavior modification is all the rage in religion. When you study the main precepts of any religion it is deeply tied to behavior. Do this, don't do that. To be a good "whatever" requires certain behavior markers that prove on the surface that you are what you claim to be. At its heart is the idea that we, through our own strength, can perform acts of righteous justification. Our self-evaluation, and the evaluation of others, becomes rooted in these measurables. It seems so simple, so obtainable, so righteous.
But behavior modification is a load of baloney.
My kids do not behave in the manner that I wish they would. They are selfish, disobedient, difficult, whiny, frustrating. Anyone who has raised kids could probably list some pretty funny scenarios where their kids bad behavior caused a bit of embarrassment. Every day we go back to the drawing board of doing our best to shape and direct their behavior so that they can grow up to not get themselves put in jail.
What I, and all parents, need to recognize is that bad behavior is not just bad behavior. It is an outflow of the heart. My son doesn't just need to stop telling us that we make "gisgusting" food as he pushes his plate angrily away. He needs to have his heart, his innermost being, changed to WANT to honor his parents and be obedient. I am bigger and stronger than him(for now) and I could absolutely force his behavior in a more appealing direction. But what happens when I am no longer stronger and he lives on his own?
In Matthew 12:34 Jesus has an insightful line, "For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart." This whole section in Matthew is Jesus confronting the Pharisees in their behavior modification priorities at the expense of peoples hearts. Your actions, in a vacuum, are not what honors God. Your heart is what God seeks.
So how do we change hearts?
"Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul so that you may live"--Deuteronomy 30:6
Religions love to talk about what you have to do to be good enough. Jesus talks about what God is going to do so that you will be seen as righteous. Behavior modification will only take us so far. The fundamental change of our hearts will change our behavior forever.
When we look at our lives and hearts we can see, when we are honest, so much sin and absurdity. Quick to anger, bitterness, infidelity of heart and behavior, jealousy, etc. And we can exhaust ourselves constantly trying to combat it. There are little victories of course, but the war is always keeping us back on our heels. God's promise is that the war is over, the victory is won, our hearts will be changed. But only when we allow ourselves to have our hearts circumcised by Him.
Do you know you need to change? Are there behaviors and sins that you just can't seem to get real control over? Come to the Cross. This isn't just some sort of philosophical theorizing, it is practical and true. Repent and believe, the Kingdom is near.