Several months ago, I wrote an article entitled, "Motivation: Guilt or Grace" In that article, I made the case that our primary spiritual motivation as disciples should be grounded in grace and not guilt. However, I certainly do not believe that grace and guilt are mutually exclusive. A conviction of our guilt before God is the beginning point to desiring and accepting God's grace. The order in which Paul made his case in Romans demonstrates this fact, for the first three chapters led up to his treatment of grace by affirming that the best of us is a mess. Then consider what Jesus had to say in John 16:7-8: 'But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.' Reading through the sermons in Acts will substantiate the fact that the early preachers were inspired by the Holy Spirit to follow this approach of establishing guilt before proceeding to grace. As the writer of Proverbs put it, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7).
Having said that, we must also say that the fear of the Lord was never intended to be the "end" of knowledge. After we become Christians, we should be more and more motivated by grace than by guilt. In Him, "Christ's love compels us' (2 Corinthians 5:14) to the extent that "perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment" (1 John 4:18). Properly understood and applied, grace motivates us for the long haul to do more than we ever would under a primary motivation of guilt. Paul himself is the best example of the truth of this principle. In 1 Corinthians 15:10, he had this to say: "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them -- yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me."
The title of this article, "Motivation Revisited: Correction or Inspiration." is closely related to that of the previous article, for correction has more to do with guilt than grace, and inspiration has more to do with grace than guilt. Before proceeding, we first must ask if lessons and sermons should have corrective elements in them. The answer is 'yes,' for much of the New Testament is corrective in nature. But mark this well: correction alone will not inspire, and therefore, will not provide the ultimate motivation. Again, it is a matter of emphasis, isn't it? Let me share with you an illustration that will hopefully make the point in a decisive way.
Someone recently told me that he was tired of hearing "agenda driven" preaching. Obviously, any attempt to select a subject or text for teaching has some purpose, or agenda, behind it. However, I understood what the person was saying. In our common approach to preaching, we have tried to figure out what we thought the majority of disciples in our church or ministry group needed, and then designed a sermon to address those perceived needs (as we saw them). Most often, those sermons were topical in nature. For example, if we believed the people needed to be more committed, our three lesson points might be: more committed in evangelism; more committed in giving financially, and more giving in attendance at all church activities. As each point was made, a verse would likely be read, quoted or referred to, but most of the sermon time would be focused on illustrations and correction. Sometimes such an approach is the right one, but a steady diet of it will lead to spiritual indigestion, malnutrition -- or worse!
Shortly after I heard the criticism regarding agenda driven preaching, I heard a sermon preached that was actually expository in nature. However, the lesson could still be deemed an agenda driven one. The passage had a blend of corrective and inspirational elements, but the points of the sermon definitely focused on the former type. While the text provided wonderful opportunities to stress the inspirational elements, the speaker passed over them by simply reading or referring to them as he emphasized the more corrective elements. It was not a balanced presentation in that sense, but was a rather clear example of using a text to accomplish one's own agenda of addressing perceived needs rather than simply letting the emphases of the text guide the points being made. This tendency among our preachers and teachers is so common that we may not even realize we are doing it.
It must also be noted that this problem is not limited to those who teach and preach in public settings. It is a tendency most disciples may have in studying with non-Christians and in discipling other Christians. We have been trained to correct, and many of us have become enamored with correction -- minister and ordinary member alike. In view of this past emphasis in our training, the ministry staff of the Phoenix Valley Church of Christ are looking for ways to retrain our members. One thing we have done recently is to develop a new study series for helping people to become disciples. Here are a few of the explanatory questions and answers made in its introduction that show its design is to chart a new and different course in leading people to Christ: (This entire introduction and the study series can be seen on the