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The Legalistic Approach

In my ministry, I regularly meet people crippled by legalistic upbringing. The “tells” are always the same. They’ve been pounded about sin, shamed for not obeying “the rules,” guilted for not performing, been made to feel they are an embarrassment to God, and convinced, “I am not worthy.”

It’s bad teaching, much like the yeast of the Pharisees--the legalists of their day.

The error is: Sin without grace = legalism.

The Licentious Approach

I also regularly meet people crippled by licentious upbringing. The “tells” are just as revealing. They’ve been taught the universal Fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man—that man is basically good, life is a raw deal, “You’re really a good person,” and you “deserve” better.

This too is bad teaching, like the yeast of the Sadducees—the licentious of their day.

The error is: Grace without sin = license.

The Grace-Based Approach

The only really happy Christians I meet are the ones 1) convinced and “feel” that God delights in them and, 2) keenly aware that their hearts are, as Jeremiah said, “desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).

This is good teaching: God’s grace for man’s sin.

The principle is: Grace for sin = liberty

So there you have it: legalism, license, and liberty.

What Does This Mean to You?

First, you will suffer if you buy into even a microscopic change to the teachings of Jesus. Guard yourself against the “yeast-like” influence of any teaching that distorts God’s love or man’s sin. Any teaching that short-shifts God’s amazing love is a “legalistic” corruption of the gospel, and will grind people down. Any teaching that leaves out sin will lead to the “licentiousness” that turns them into the lukewarm Christians that grieve Jesus.

You may be more wired to start with sin. Your approach might be characterized as, “Sin that needs grace.” I get that—we need to repent. That works, but if that’s you, be careful to always make the transition from sin to the solution—God’s love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Moody was right about the power of God’s love to draw us in.

You may be more wired to start with grace. Your approach might be characterized as, “Grace for sin.” That works too, and if that’s you, be careful not to make light of sin. Finney was right. We do need to help people understand that the problem the gospel solves is not merely that they are unfortunate, but sinners who need a Savior. That goes for long time Christians too. Everyday we need to humbly repent and renew ourselves in surrender to the Lordship of Jesus.

Second, if you have been “yeasted,” find a church that preaches the “whole” gospel. And if you are prone to self-deprecation, consider a church more wired to start with God’s love. But if you are prone to self-aggrandizement, consider a church more wired to start with man’s sin.

Third, protect yourself by knowing what keeps you in right relationship with God and right relationship with others—whether church, small groups, private mediations, or lunch with a friend.

Protect yourself from the yeast of bad teaching. Don’t let it get stuck in your brain. Guard against any teaching that distorts the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Pat Morley is the Founder and CEO of Man in the Mirror. After building one of Florida’s 100 largest privately held companies, in 1991, he founded Man in the Mirror, a non-profit organization to help men find meaning and purpose in life. Dr. Morley is the bestselling author of The Man in the Mirror, No Man Left Behind, Dad in the Mirror, and A Man’s Guide to the Spiritual Disciplines.

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