The Motivation Gap in Christianity

The track record on what we have used to motivate in the churches of Christ seems to shift to extremes at times. As with many other groups in Christianity the modus oporondi of the day decades back was guilt communicated through legalistic means. Feel guilty if you don’t come when the doors are open. Feel guilty if you don’t take the Lord’s Supper. Feel guilty if you don’t ___________.It was the old check box mentality. Those with the fewest boxes checked should feel the most guilty. The problem with legalism is it is fed by the belief that if we do enough for God he will respond to us.

From there came a whole reactionary group of motivators known as the Crossroads movement. They were extremely motivated in their discipling techniques placing extremely high expectations on members to reach out to others and bring people to Christ. They also played on guilt and emotion and in some ways, although reactionary to a legalistic perspective, were still quite legalistic in their owns ways. The problem with this mentality is it robs people of the want to and replaces it with a half to. Things are done out of obligation rather than healthy desire in many instances and we can easily be robbed of the joy that comes from following God because we constantly have the feeling of not being good enough.

Both of these groups found out the same thing. Guilt works. High standards works. People are motivated enough to avoid feelings of guilt that they will show up. They will reach the lost if it means assuaging their guilt. People will show up when the doors are open and even bring someone with them if there is enough arm twisting. But as we know today guilt is probably not the best or most healthy motivator in all circumstances and so we avoid it altogether. And so we find ourselves today in a motivational gap. We don’t want to be legalists. We don’t want to guilt people into doing things. We have avoided the check boxes and told people you can’t earn your salvation. What has been the result? We have found that many Christians today are rarely motivated to be there when the doors are open or to reach people or to live very Christ-like at all.

What is the solution? Part of it may be that we have missed some benefit by being present predominantly in the extremes. Is it possible that guilt is a powerful and appropriate motive for certain things? For instance shouldn’t people feel guilty if they have sinned? If we whitewash or brush over sin so much that people no longer feel guilty for it isn’t that just as much a problem as using guilt as the sole motivator? While legalism isn’t the answer either, is it possible that we do need some since of obligation to do things that are right even when we don’t feel like it? That might be one third of the answer. I think the other two-thirds of the answer is a healthy alternative to extremes of guilt and legalism that people need to hear over and over and over in order to reprogram their Christian thinking to something that is far more scriptural.

In 1 John 4:19 we read, “We love because he first loved us.” Our motivation is not from legalism or guilt. Our motivation is in the form of response. God initiated great things on our behalf because of his great love for us (Eph 2). Our response should be that we love him so much because of what he has done and who he is that we actually want to respond! We want to respond in a way that he loves and respects. We respond in a way that demonstrates our own understanding of his magnificence and awesomeness. We respond in a way that is respectful and loving toward our fellow man because we realize that just as God initiated something toward us he has toward them as well. We respond through holy, righteous , and ethical living because that is what he asked us to do and it is the natural response of a life dedicated to the one who loved us first.

The motivation gap is filled, not with guilt or legalism but with the motivation that who we are and what we are doing is a response to God’s gracious acts on our behalf.


God’s Desire for Christian Unity

The problem I run across the most in the letters of the New Testament seems to be unity in the early church. The newly established and multi-racial church of the first century really struggled with overcoming social, religious, and ethnic boundary markers in order to have full unity and acceptance of one another.

Why is this so important? It was and is important because since the beginning God desired all nations to worship him in unity. So this is all part of God’s plan and the apostles understood the need to achieve unity in order to be pleasing to God. In Romans 15:3-5 Paul tells the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome about three things that all come together to give them unity and which result in a unified glorification of God through their worship (15:6).

  1. He mentions the example of Christ who was not out to please himself. If Christ had only tried to please himself he would not have endured the cross. He would not have suffered shame. And so we, as believers and followers of Christ, are not out to get our own way at the expense of unity. Instead we should be willing to suffer to a great degree to maintain unity in God’s church.
  2. Next he mentions the scriptures that were given to encourage and give endurance. We turn to the examples of those God has dealt with in the past in order to press forward in the identity God has given us and the mission he has in store for us.
  3. Last he mentions God himself who also grants endurance and encouragement. But God gives something in addition to what the scriptures give. God gives a spirit of unity. Notice he says that spirit is given as we follow Christ. Well, Christ wasn’t there in the flesh to be followed. Instead, we all come to perfect unity when we are walking as Christ would walk and follow his example.

There is a fourth thing that brings unity to God’s people that Paul doesn’t mention here but mentions in Galatians 3-4. In Galatians Paul constantly refers back to the Spirit and its role in bringing unity to God’s people. This is probably the number one aspect of the Holy Spirit we miss out on in our teaching. Because all Christians have God’s Spirit inside them, all Christians have a unity that comes by that same Spirit (See Eph 4:3-4 as well). In other words, if we create disunity toward someone who has by the grace of God the same Spirit inside them that we do, we fail to grasp or understand the very nature of our existence and reality of God’s dwelling within us through his Holy Spirit. But if we realize that all Christians have been blessed by God with his promised Spirit then we should by nature seek out unity and peace with our fellow believers.

An Encouragement from Ephesians 2

The book of Ephesians is full of encouraging words and truths about God. One of my favorites is found in 2:6 – “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” That passage is bookended by the exact same phrase – “It is by grace you have been saved.”

Paul doesn’t say that being seated with Christ in heavenly realms is a future occurrance. He says it is a present reality. Sometimes I wonder if the raising up in this verse is talking about our baptism. In Romans 6:1-6 Paul talks about being raised out of the waters of baptism where we are connected with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection symbolized by going into and coming out of the waters of baptism. I don’t know how God does it or when he does what but I do know that if you are a Christian, you are “seated with God in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” That is good news. No matter what comes your way – hardship, difficulty, disaster, death – there is nothing that can really harm us because we know where we live – we live with God in Christ. I hope that offers you some encouragement today.

Who Are We Fighting?

Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

I am reminded that our battle is not with those who cut us off in traffic or with those who don’t see eye to eye with us on every doctrine. There are principalities and powers of darkness who would like to see nothing more than for us to forget that our battle is against them and instead turn our attention to the enemies of “flesh and blood.”

So let us do as Paul said and put on the full armor of God and stand firm!

Let us remember who we are fighting and what kind of battle it is. Let us not be distracted or turn our attention away from the real fight. Let us not be like the Israelite army that faced Goliath. They were dressed for the battle but took no action. Instead let us remember the words of Peter in 1 Peter 1:13-16, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Ananias & Sapphira – A Closer Look (Acts 5)

After the earlier post on The Providence of God in Acts 1-10 I received the following email that I thought was interesting and I wanted to address it here to see if anyone had any other thoughts on the matter…

Good Morning Matthew …

As a “New Garment” Christian, I don’t allow myself to fall for many of the “old garment” fables.

For instance … claiming that God “killed” Anannias and Sapphira is not true because scriptures does NOT support this. For instance, we all know perfectly well that neither the OT or the NT state a thief or a liar should be SENTENCE TO DEATH. On the contrary, Eph 4:28 and Provs 6:30 both say to “put the thief to work”. Further, it is also not written anywhere that liars should receive death. In fact, Peter LIED THREE TIMES about knowing Jesus, and Judas STOLE from the money bag…and neither were “killed” by God. (Judas killed himself.)

Please be also advised the Hebs 13:8 states God NEVER changes His mind or His ways. And He will not DEFY His own word … not even to illustrate a point just once ! ! !

Therefore, it would be truer to say that … the devil killed these people. Based on John 8:44 Jesus said anyone who “works” for the devil “belongs” to the devil. He also identifies the devil in John 10:10 as the true killer of mankind. Therefore, the devil owned them “legally” and was in fact their “father”. Additionally, they were married and of one flesh. This means they carried equal parts of the same demon spirit … which is why they dropped dead, exactly the same way!

Please do not think for one moment that the devil cannot kill people and “collect them” to hell whenever he wants to. Notice that hell is stacked full with MILLIONS of people as we speak, whom the devil claimed and collected … legally.

While I applaud the attempt to keep a systematic view of God’s dealings with people I think there are a few things that need to be addressed.

The overarching principle behind her argumentation is that God cannot change and will not contradict himself. Heb 13:8 – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Because of that she says God would apply the same punishment to a thief and/or a liar across the board. Peter lied three times and he didn’t die so God couldn’t kill another person for lying since he didn’t kill Peter for it. She then appeals to two verses that say thieves should be put to work, not death. If all of that is true you would have to draw the same conclusion she did. If God didn’t kill them who did? The devil?

Hebrews 13:8 in context is an exhortation for the Christians being written to to continue in their faith and not waiver. In 13:7 they are told to, “remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. In 13:9 they are told to not be, “carried away by all kinds of strange teachings…” Why not? Because just as Jesus Christ has always been the same, we are not to waiver. In context this verse does not say God or Christ cannot change their mind or deal with people differently (See Romans 9!). God never changes who he is or his attributes: such as holiness, omniscience, etc. But God does and has dealt with people differently even in the pages of scripture.

If there is even one case where God punished two people differently for the same offense in scripture then the above argument that God could not kill Ananias and Sapphira cannot stand. Again, I respect the angle taken to come to that conclusion and think there are some really good motives to think that way but I don’t think it really stand when the context of the scriptures mentioned and additional scriptures are taken into account.


  • What God said – Numbers 35 is clear that someone who murders another is to be punished by death.
  • God doesn’t always do it the way he laid it out:
    • Moses murders an Egyptian in Exodus 2:11-13 and receives no punishment from God.
    • David has Uriah murdered and commits adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11-12). Nathan’s charge against David, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own…” (12:9). It is clear that the guilt for this murder is on David’s hands even though he did not personally kill him. God sees him as guilty of murder.


  • What God said – Lev 20:10 – “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.”
  • God doesn’t follow through with that toward David & Bathsheba (see references above)


  • What God said – Leviticus makes it clear that the punishment for stealing is restitution and often a repayment of more than what was stolen (Exo 22:7, Lev 6:1-7, etc)
  • This is not the case with Achan who stole at Ai and was punished with death (Joshua 7)
  • God said what Achan had done – “They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions…” (Joshua 7:11) Achan’s confession of his sin – “I coveted them and took them…” (7:21). The penalty – “Then all Israel stoned him…” (7:25).

What about Jesus who forgave people of their sins unlike others who had committed the same sins but had to offer sacrifices? The list could go on and on. The point is, God doesn’t treat everyone the same. Does that mean God changes? Of course not.

I see a lot of similarities between Achan and Ananias/Sapphira. They both stole (God says that his people had lied as well which points toward Achan). Both moments were times when God’s people were trying to define themselves as a holy people/nation. Achan’s sin came as the people were finally going into the promised land and God was teaching them to be holy. Ananias and Sapphira’s sin came as the church was being established and God was teaching them to be holy. God doesn’t need to use Satan to do his dirty work. Satan doesn’t need to be legal to kill someone. The point is, God doesn’t contradict himself to treat two people different. It happens all over the place in scripture and doesn’t mean there are contradictions or violations.

Any thoughts?

The Task of Equipping (Ephesians 4:11-16)

How do children learn what is important in life? In an ideal setting they learn by watching their parents. The things their parents emphasize and talk about and practice will usually make an impact on a child that they will carry with them through adulthood. If parents never talk finances with their children, chances are their children will make mistake after mistake and have a real struggle on their hands by learning from that institution of higher learning known as the UHK – The University of Hard-Knocks.

The same is true in ministry. Members will tend to value the things they see the ministers value. If the minister is a recluse who spends all his time in his office and has little contact or connection with others, members will learn that is what service looks like and will be ambivalent. Members learn from more than just the Sunday sermon. They learn from the actions of the ministers and staff. That means we need to be modeling healthy things. That also means that the things ministers value, speak about, and practice need to be passed on to others. We don’t do them in isolation but we bring people alongside us to help teach them how to minister in various ways. Equipping is one the most important tasks of ministry.

In Ephesians 4:11-16 Paul writes, “It was [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Paul inextricably links discipleship with equipping. If we are to make disciples it will not be by giving them a bunch of good things to think about and believe (although that is part of it). It will be carried out in everyday life as we walk with people and allow them to walk with us. It will come through constant and consistent interaction with people we are trying to help be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. When you study the Bible with someone, bring someone with you who wants to learn how to do that. Not only does that person learn how to do a Bible study but the person you are studying with sees that when you are a Christian, this is something you learn how to do and actually practice.

We love to diferentiate ourselves from other groups by appealing to 1 Peter 2:5,9 that calls us a “royal priesthood” and we insist on the priesthood of all believers. We tend to emphasize those verses when we talk about prayer and how we don’t need any human to intercede on our behalf because we are all priests. That is only 1% of what Peter is saying. The rest of what he is saying is that there is more to being a priest than speaking to God. Priests have obligations and duties. They serve God and others with all of their lives. Somehow many have missed that part when it comes to the priesthood of all believers.

Back to the main point. Let us all try to equip others as we ourselves are still being equipped. It may take longer to get something done when you have someone with you who you are showing the ropes to but in the long run it will be time well spent. Paul names a wide variety of people – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers but all have one common task – equipping. We have all received so much from godly men and women. Let’s pass it on!

What are some things you have done to help equip other Christians?