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I’ll say it over and over: The purpose of preaching is obedience. Every preacher in the New Testament—including Jesus—emphasized conduct, behavioral change, and obedience. You only really believe the parts of the Bible that you obey. People say, “I believe in tithing.” But do they tithe? No? Then they don’t believe in it.

That is why you should always preach for response, aiming for people to act on what is said. John did this: “The world and its desires pass away but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:17, NIV) And in 1 John 2:3 (NIV), “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.”

After about 30 years of preaching, here are nine things I’ve learned about preaching for life change:


1. All behavior is based on a belief.

If you get divorced, it’s because you believe that disobeying God will cause you less pain than staying in your marriage. It’s a lie, but you believe it. When somebody comes to you and says, “I’m leaving my husband, and I’m going to marry this other man because I believe God wants me to be happy.” They just told you the belief behind their behavior. It’s wrong, but they believe it.


2. Behind every sin is a lie I believe.

At the moment you sin, you’re doing what you think is the best thing for you. You say, “I know God says to do that, but I’m going to do this.” What are you doing? You believe a lie. Behind every sin is a lie. Start looking for the lies behind why people in your church act the way they do. When you start dealing with those, you’ll start seeing change.

Titus 3:3 (NIV) declares, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.” When you live in sin, you’re living in deception and believing a lie.

When you look at your congregation, you don’t see the lies they believe, but you do see their behavior. You know they’re unfaithful; you know they’re uncommitted; you know all these things. The tough part is figuring out the lie behind the behavior. The wiser you get in ministry, the quicker you’ll start seeing the lies. You’ll grow and mature in ministry and become more discerning, because you’ll start seeing patterns over and over.


3. Change always starts in the mind.

You’ve got to start with the belief—the lie—behind the behavior. Romans 12:2 (NIV) commands, Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel determines the way you act. If you want to change the way you act, you must determine the way you think. You can’t start with the action. You’ve got to start with the thought.


4. To help people change, we must change their beliefs first.

Jesus said, “You will know the truth and it will set you free.” (John 8:32 NIV) Why? Because to help people change, you’ve got to help them see the lie they’re basing their behavior on. That’s why when you know the truth, it sets you free.


5. Trying to change people’s behavior without changing their belief is a waste of time.

If you ask a person to change before his mind is renewed, it won’t work. He’s got to internalize God’s Word first.

For example: Your belief patterns are in your mind. Every time you think about a belief, it creates an electrical impulse across your brain. Every time you have that thought again, it creates a deeper rut.

If you want to see change in your church, you must help people get out of their ruts and change their autopilot. For instance: Let’s say I go out and buy a speedboat with an autopilot feature on it. I set the speedboat to go north on autopilot, so the boat goes north automatically. I don’t even have my hands on the wheel. If I want to turn the boat around, I could manually grab the steering wheel and by sheer willpower and force, turn it around. I can force it to go south, but the whole time I’m under tension because I’m going against the natural inclination of the boat. Pretty soon I get tired and let go of the steering wheel, and it automatically turns around and goes back to the way it’s programmed.

This is true in life. When people have learned something over and over, being taught by the world’s way of thinking, they’re programmed to go that way. What if a man is programmed to pick up a cigarette every time he’s under tension? But one day he thinks, “This is killing me! I’m going to get cancer.” So he grabs the steering wheel and turns it around forcibly, throws the pack away and says, “I am going to quit!”

He makes it a week without a cigarette, a week and a half, two weeks … but the whole time he’s under tension because he hasn’t changed the programming in his mind. Eventually, he’s going to let go and pick up a cigarette again.

If you want to change people radically and permanently, you have to do it the New Testament way. You have to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Just telling people, “You need to stop smoking … You need to stop doing this … You need to stop doing that …” isn’t going to work. You’ve got to help them change their belief pattern.

6. The biblical term for “changing your mind” is “repentance.”

What do most people think of when I say the word “repent”? They think of a guy on the street corner with a sandwich sign saying, “Turn or burn. You’re going to die and fry while we go to the sky.” They think of some kook.

But the word “repentance” is a wonderful word—metanoia—which means in Greek “to change your mind.” Repentance is just changing the way we think about something by accepting the way God thinks about it. That’s all repentance is. The new words for repentance are “paradigm shift.”

Pastors, we are in the paradigm-shifting business. We are in the repentance business. We are about changing peoples’ minds at the deepest level—the level of belief and values. But let me clarify this with the next point.


7. You don’t change people’s minds, the applied Word of God does.

1 Corinthians 2:13 (NLT) helps us keep this in focus: “We speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths.” In real preaching, God is at work in the speaker.

2 Samuel 23:2 (NIV) says, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me. His word was on my tongue.”

Zechariah 4:6 (NIV) says, “‘Not by might nor by power but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

So keep in mind: You don’t change people’s minds, the applied Word of God does.


8. Changing the way I act is the fruit of repentance.

Technically, repentance is not behavioral change. Behavior change is the result of repentance. Repentance does not mean forsaking your sin. Repentance simply means to change your mind. John the Baptist said in Matthew 3:8 (NIV), “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” In other words, “OK, you’ve changed your mind about God, about life, about sin, about yourself—now let’s see some fruit as a result of it.”


9. The deepest kind of preaching is preaching for repentance.

Because life change happens only after you change somebody’s thinking, then preaching for repentance is preaching for life change. It is the deepest kind of preaching you can preach.

Every week I try to communicate God’s Word in such a way that it changes the way people think. The word “repentance” has taken on such a negative image that I rarely use the word. But I preach it every single week.

Repentance is the central message of the New Testament. What did the New Testament preachers preach on?

  • John the Baptist: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Matt. 3:2 NIV)
  • Jesus: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”(Mark 1:15 NIV)
  • What did Jesus tell his disciples to preach? “So they went off and preached repentance.” (Mark 6:12 NAB)
  • What did Peter preach at Pentecost? “Repent and be baptized every one of you.”(Acts 2:38 NAB)
  • What did John preach in Revelation? Repent.

I believe that one of the great weaknesses of preaching today is that there are a lot of folks who are afraid to stand on the Word of God and humbly but forcefully challenge the will of people. It takes courage to do that, because they may reject you. They may reject your message; they may get mad at you and talk about you behind your back.

And because so many pastors have been unwilling to challenge people and cause a change in belief resulting in behavior change, our nation is falling apart. Proverbs 29:18 (NCV) warns, “Where there is no word from God, people are uncontrolled.”

P.T. Forsythe says, “What the world is looking for is an authoritative Gospel spoken through a humble personality.” An authoritative Gospel spoken not as a hammer, but with humility.

So now, I have a personal challenge for you—life application. Are you going to use the Bible the way it was intended or not? Will you repent of preaching in ways that were not focused on application that could change people’s character and conduct?

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America’s largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of The New York Times best-seller The Purpose Driven Life, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. Learn more from Rick at 

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Lavelle Layfield

commented on Jan 17, 2011

Excellent thoughts that we can use. So simple, but so true.

Howard Strickland

commented on Jan 17, 2011

Thank you very insightful. Howard

Alan Bella

commented on Jan 17, 2011

Really good. Something we can all use.

Kevin Ruffcorn

commented on Jan 17, 2011

I certainly agree that preaching should be intended to change lives. I would take issue, though, with the point that repentance is the main point of the NT. Jesus didn't say, "If you are my disciple, repent." I believe he said, "If you are my disciples, love one another."

Jason Martin

commented on Jan 17, 2011

every clear thoughts. This is something that i believe we are to communicate to other leadership/members.

John Neufeld

commented on Jan 17, 2011

So true. We see it over and over again in our marriage counseling sessions. When through the word the Holy Spirit empowers changing of the mind radial change occurs, sometimes in an instance. Thank you for the encouragement and motivation.

Charles M. Swingle

commented on Jan 17, 2011

Rick hit the nail on the head. If our preaching does not produce life change, then our preaching is in vain! Perish that thought. Without life application and repentance, we preachers are wasting our God-given call to preach. Thanks for the encouragement, brother.

Jessie Tharpe

commented on Jan 17, 2011

Your Comments

Mark Wilson

commented on Jan 18, 2011

It's such a basic thing that is so easily overlooked. I wonder if it's through our desire to help them get it. To understand and know God. I feel reborn in the approach not only as God coach but as a coach in other aspects of life.

Russ Stauffer

commented on Jan 18, 2011

Wow! Great word Pastor Rick! May the Lord help us to repent and preach Biblical repentance more.

Greg Nance

commented on Jan 18, 2011

Thanks for sharing so graciously and helpfully! The wisdom of your words come with the authority of experience in ministry. May God help us all to open our hearts to one another and help each other support His kingdom work as one family in Christ.

Dr.w.samuel Legon

commented on Jan 19, 2011

Great thoughts Rick thanks for sharing with us.

Shawn Critser

commented on Jan 19, 2011

In response to #4 - Loving One Another would be a monumental change of belief to not only the NT disciple, but to us as well. So - repentance would still be the underlying message.

David Peet

commented on Jan 19, 2011

I now have a copy of this where I prepare my homilies. It is truly worth repeat reading each time you prepare!

Paul Woosley

commented on Jan 20, 2011

Metanioa! What a wonderful word! Change, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!

Arman Yuson Tres Reyes

commented on Jan 22, 2011

i use to remind my congregation the fundamental of man ,is education of tha mind -to be digested by the heart ..........that u sir warren

Olaniyan David Olukunle

commented on Feb 1, 2011

If we can adhere to the issues raised, it will change us and our congregation. More grace to you Warren.

Michael Barthel

commented on Feb 1, 2011

Thanks for making a tremendous challenge simple and powerful. Application of scripture is preaching for renewed minds.

Paul Guerin

commented on Feb 2, 2011

Pastor Rick, your words always lift my spirits, and you always seem to know how to help a brother in need. God Bless!

Ceechy Daniels

commented on Feb 11, 2011

thanks alot am sure this will help alot of pastors in my nation

Christopher Clarke

commented on Feb 12, 2011

Very useful, insightful advice. Very practicable too

Shannon Faye

commented on Aug 8, 2011

I'm 14 and training to be a youth pastor. This i so useful, Thankyou SO much! I'm so passionate about changing peoples lives- You just made it alot easier. Once again, THANKYOU!

Shannon Faye

commented on Aug 8, 2011

I'm 14 and training to be a youth pastor. This i so useful, Thankyou SO much! I'm so passionate about changing peoples lives- You just made it alot easier. Once again, THANKYOU!

John E Miller

commented on Feb 6, 2012

These are fine sounding words. Why did Rick Warren go on the Larry King show and lie blatantly and forcefully about his views on the marriage of homosexuals and his support for "Proposition 8"? Why did he say that he had apologised to "his gay friends and Christian leaders" about remarks that he had made to his own congregation about the biblical view of marriage being between one man and one woman? Why did he appear on television saying that he believed that bigamy, paedophilia and othe sexual sins were no different from the marriage of homosexuals, despite telling Larry King that he was no anti-gay marriage activist? Has he repented before God of these lies and confessed such sinful departure from God's word in public as he must because of the prominent position in the Christian church to whice he aspires? I am not lying. You can check out the truth of my basis for these questions. They are not a secret. The videos that prove it can be viewed around the world on the internet and bring the blessed name of our Lord Jesus Christ into disrepute in the eyes of unbelievers as well as being a stumbling block for believers who may not be established in the Faith.

Gary Kennedy

commented on Mar 20, 2018

I do hope what you are saying aout Rick is true: that he has apologised for unloving comments and teaching about gay men and women and how they are seen in God's eyes. The view of "Biblical marriage" is not consistent thorugh the various books. Jesus certainly hgad nothing at all to say on the matter.

John E Miller

commented on Feb 22, 2012

In 2007 Rick Warren and others signed the "Yale Document" which asserted that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. This is blasphemous apostasy. It is the new religion of "Chrislam". It is another gospel and it is anti-Christian. Anyone who could sign such a document puts himself in direct opposition to the Eternal God and promotes the lies of Satan.

Gary Kennedy

commented on Mar 20, 2018

I didn't know that, but it is good to read. NObody subscribes to "Chrislam". Both religions affirm their own understanding of the one true God. Christians do not agree on their understanding of God. We are all reaching out towards the Truth. Let us rejoice about that.

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