Without heart change there is no sustained life change. Everything else is behavior modification that is rarely sustained outside of the program. The men were confessing Christians when they entered the program. The new nature that each had received upon their conversion was presumably in place. Over the next 7 months, they were immersed in worship, teaching, devotionals, church, preaching, book studies, 12-step groups and more. But were we transforming hearts? Our goal and the goal that energizes every ministry, donor and volunteer alike is the transformation of the most challenged people in our society into self sufficient, faith-filled Christians. However, fostering sustained life change is actually the most elusive outcome of ministry.
As I began to look for evidence of sustained life change in other ministries, I discovered that our results were typical even in church settings.
Across faith-based and secular programs for addiction, incarceration, smoking, or any self-destructive behavior, the failure rate is typically between 75 to 95%
Many prominent ministries, churches, and denominational leaders such as Prison Fellowship Ministry and Willow Creek Church strongly suspect or have research evidence to prove that they are not transforming hearts and achieving sustained life change the way they had hoped.
It is also evident from research that the truth of the Gospel as it is commonly presented does not guarantee that hearts are transformed, even for those who receive the new nature promised by God at conversion:
Statistically, born-again believers have a moral failure rate equal to that of the secular world. Barna Group
85% of young people between the ages of 16 and 29 believe that Christians are judgmental, hypocritical and un-Christ-like. Barna Group
Willow Creek Church studied itself and it’s 350 affiliated churches and found that the correlation between church activities and the development of spiritual maturity was 0%! Willow Creek Church
The question we must wrestle with is: how it is possible that Christians can immerse themselves in the truth of the Gospel, but still struggle to transform themselves and apparently those to whom they minister?
The answer lies in understanding the difference between salvation and sanctification. It is clear that Christ freed believers from the law of sin and death, but the Word also says Christians are now under the law of the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2.) Christians are required not to move in the ways of the flesh, but to work in cooperation with the Spirit to be molded into the image of Christ outwardly and inwardly (Romans 8:4, 29.) The focus must be on the “inwardly.” Remember Jesus said to wash the inside of the vessel first.