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(Note: The following is part one of an interview with Rick Warren conducted by "Preaching Magazine.")

Preaching: Are there some particular insights you've gained over the years that help you preach for life change?

Warren: There are ten ideas that really form how I figure life can change.

The first principle is that all behavior is based on belief. If you ask, "Why do I do what I do?" it's because you believe something behind it. If someone gets a divorce, it is because they have a belief behind that which is causing them to get a divorce—"I think I'll be happier divorced than I will not," or whatever.

The second principle: behind every sin is a lie of unbelieving. This has profound implications for preaching. When you sin, at that moment, you think you are doing what is best for you. You think you are doing the right thing but you have been deceived. When your kids do something dumb, at that moment, they think what they are doing is smart, but it's dumb. The Bible tells us that Satan deceives us.

The third principle is: change always starts in the mind. This principle is taught all the way through the New Testament. Romans 12:2 says, "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind." The Bible teaches clearly that the way we think affects the way we feel, and the way we feel affects the way we act.

Since change starts in the mind, and sin starts with a lie, and behavior starts with belief, then principle number four is: to help people change you have to change their beliefs first.

You don't work on their behavior; you work on their beliefs because it always starts in their mind. That is why Jesus says you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Number five is: trying to change people's behavior without changing their beliefs is a waste of time. The illustration I use is that of a boat on auto-pilot. Say I have a boat on a lake that's on autopilot, and it's headed north. If I want it to head south—I want to make a 180 degree turn—I want to do a "repentance" on that boat, then I have two options.

First, I could physically grab the steering wheel of the boat and physically force it to turn around and it would turn around.

But the whole time it is turned around, I am under tension because I am forcing it to go against its auto-pilot. Pretty soon I get tired, and I let go of the wheel—I go back to smoking, I go off of the diet, I stop doing whatever. I go back to my habitual ways of stress relief.

So, the better way is to change the auto pilot. The way you change auto pilot is by changing the way they think. Now, that brings us to repentance.

The sixth principle is that the biblical word for changing your mind is repentance, metanoia. Now when most people think of the word of repentance, they think of sandwich signs, turn or burn, or they think repentance means stopping all my bad actions.

That is not what repentance is. There is not a lexicon in the world that will tell you that repentance means stop your bad action.

Repentance, metanoia, simply means changing your mind. And we are in the mind-changing business. Preaching is about mind changing. Society's word for repentance, by the way, is "paradigm shift."

Repentance is the ultimate paradigm shift, where I go from darkness to light, from guilt to forgiveness, from no hope to hope, from no purpose to purpose, from living for myself to living for Christ. It's the ultimate paradigm shift.

And repentance is changing your mind at the deepest level of beliefs and values.

Number seven is: you don't change people's minds, God's Word does. So we bring people into contact with God's Word. I can't force people to change their mind. I like 1 Cor. 2:13; in the New Living version it says, "We speak words given to us by the Spirit using the Spirit's word to explain spiritual truth." There is both a Word and a Spirit element in preaching, and often we leave out the Spirit element.

Principle number eight is: changing the way I act is the result or fruit of repentance. Technically, repentance is not a behavioral change; it results in behavioral change. Repentance is what happens in your mind. So it doesn't mean forsaking your sin. That is why John the Baptist says produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

Why would you need to produce fruit? Because the fruit is the action. The fruit is the behavior. Paul says in Act 26:20: "I preach that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds." Okay, so deeds are not repentance. But is that going to change your mind?

Principle number nine is that the deepest kind of preaching is preaching for repentance. And that means life application preaching, instead of being shallow, is the deepest kind of preaching. Shallow preaching, to me, is doctrinal application or interpretation with no application—biblical background with no application.

For 24 years now, the secret of Saddleback is every week I get up and try to take the Word and apply it so that it changes the way people think about life, about God, about the devil, about the future, about the past, about themselves and about their mission in life.

If you go through the New Testament, you will find that repentance is the central theme in the New Testament. When I teach a seminar, I will read all of these verses:

Matthew 3:2, John the Baptist, "repent for the kingdom of heaven is near."

Jesus began to preach repentance in Matthew 4:17.

The disciples went out and preached that people should repent.

Peter said, "repent and be baptized every one of you."

Paul said, "now he commands all men to repent everywhere."

John in Revelation said, "repent."

You just need to go through the New Testament.

Principle number ten is this: in order to produce lasting emotional life change, you have to enlighten the mind, you have to engage the emotions, and you have to challenge the will. Those three things have to be present in life application preaching. There is a knowing element, there is a feeling element, and there is a doing element.

This takes a lot of just being sensitive to the people because sometimes they have to be comforted and sometimes they've got to be challenged. I can often get that wrong, you know.

This is one of the big weaknesses in our preaching. People are unwilling to humbly stand before others and challenge their will. A lot of guys are great at interpretation. They're pretty good at application, but they're not really willing to stand there and call for repentance.

Now I preach on repentance on every single Sunday without using the word because today the word is misused and misunderstood. So I talk about changing your mind, and I talk about a paradigm shift.

But really, every message comes down to two words: will you? Will you change from this to this in the way that you are thinking?

"Our culture is falling apart. If you're not preaching repentance in your message, you're not preaching." Our culture is falling apart. If you're not preaching repentance in your message, you're not preaching. No matter what we cover, it has to come back to "change your mind"—because your mind controls your life.

This article is used by permission from
Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox by Rick Warren.
More information available at

Author Biography

Rick Warren
Web site:
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Beginning with just his wife, Kay, in 1980, the congregation now averages 22,000 attendees at its 5 weekend services.

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