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Stick or Carrot in Gospel Preaching?5 min read

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carrot-stick-approachLiberals often rightly complain that the “bible thumper” who harps on sin often pushes people away from God, rather than drawing people to God.  But fundies claim that to avoid the sin issue and only focus on love is telling half the truth.  How do we present the truth of the gospel in both it’s aspects – that of guilt, and that of salvation which demonstrates the goodness of God?

The Two Extremes

The twin extremes are “god hates sin and threatens you with punishment” and “god loves you and accepts anything you do.” Neither is correct. God warns of punishment, which is true, but he also loves us and wants the best for us, hence Jesus, hence “it is the goodness of God that leads men to repentance.”

Notice that it is the goodness of God that motivates us, but not to be our best selves, but to REPENT.  It is the reality that God loves us and that we are *separated* from His love and specific destiny for our lives because of our sin, and that His LOVE is available to us if we admit our guilt and turn to God for help.  That is:

Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  Mark 1:14-15

The need for grace must be preceded by a sense of guilt

Many people have no sense at all that they are living apart from God, or that they are sinning and NOT righteous before God, despite their best efforts and motivation.  To fix this, we MUST preach the law, not just love and grace.  Notice in the passage below that part of the gospel itself is preaching the law to the unconverted:

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.  1 Timothy 1:8-11

This very same point is well made in a recent post Can Grace Condemn?

Grace and condemnation are not somehow mutually exclusive….If utterances of grace are not preceded by declarations of condemnation, then the grace is but an empty gesture and is completely meaningless to the recipient.  Thus, I would argue that it is in fact a graceful act to utter condemnation.

How to be a Pharisee

It is no secret that many preachers and Christians delight in judging others and declaring their missteps – this is a classic Pharisaical move.  But while their motives are wrong, what Pharisees say is often right – the Law is not incorrect, it’s just that they don’t use it correctly.   Jesus admits as much when He says

The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.  Matthew 23:1-3

The fact that Jesus rebukes the Pharisees in dealing with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), yet confirms her guilt when forgiving her (“Go and sin no more”) also shows how law and grace work together.  And while we do not need to approach the law as the Pharisees did, eager for God’s retribution, we must employ it to help people see their guilt, otherwise forgiveness has no meaning.

A life of service and love must be part of our preaching

Lastly, it must be repeated that if we don’t live a life of personal righteousness, and show it through ACTS of kindness, we can’t really preach the law in a way that gives grace.  For all those who desire to teach the ways of God, James warns and entreats us in James 3:

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways….Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

In conclusion, we should not let those who have no use for guilt cow us into not proclaiming the Law, nor should we let those who dislike preaching the sinfulness of sin and the righteousness of God and His Law get away with accusing us of judgmentalism.  The whole gospel includes guilt and sin, not just love.  Grace and truth meet together to form a perfect message.  We just need to be sure that we are living righteously ourselves by being constantly circumspect and before God in our hearts, and we need to earnestly desire the good of the targets of our preaching, rather than our own elevation above them or their destruction.