I thought about calling this post, “Why ‘do more better’ is killing you,” but I didn’t want y’all to confuse that with Tim Challies’ book on productivity. Rather than productivity, I’m thinking our tendency to focus on behavior modification. Whether as parents or preachers, it’s really easy to slide into a “do this, don’t do that” mentality. If we give people three easy steps to follow, they’ll live a godlier life. If we just tell our kids enough times to stop hitting one another (which is not a bad thing to tell them), maybe they’ll get the point. We do this to ourselves, too. We naturally point to our accomplishments to confirm our value, or at least our good enough-ness.
Conduct matters, of course, but ‘do more better’ won’t actually get to the real issue: character. EM Bounds put it well when he said,
Conduct is what we do; character is what we are. Conduct is the outward life. Character is the life unseen, hidden within, yet evidenced by that which is seen. Conduct is external, seen from without; character is internal—operating within. In the economy of grace, conduct is the offspring of character. Character is the state of the heart, conduct its outward expression. Character is the root of the tree, conduct, the fruit it bears.
What is so helpful to me about reading this is the proper ordering of conduct and character. Conduct is the outflow, the offspring of character. Who we are informs what we do, and what we do evidences who we are. (This is just straight up 1 John.) The two are linked, inseparable even. But they’re not the same. And this is what we see in the gospel, isn’t it? Jesus didn’t start his ministry with “go and do all these things.” Instead, he said, “Repent and believe.” He was concerned about what we do, but he started with who we are.
And this is the emphasis we see all throughout the epistles. And this is what actually makes a difference when we disciple, whether in proactive or reactive situations. We’re helping one another grow into who Christ says we are, not giving new rules. Because when we do this, when we understand who we are in Christ, it really does change everything.