One of the wonderful effects of faith in the life of Christian is that emotional equilibrium is often added where imbalance and extremism had dwelt before. The Bible is amazingly balanced, recommending a life of moderation, but on the bases of two extreme positions. Faith is never to be moderated in favor of a lukewarm approach to God and there is no middle ground between Heaven and Hell for such a person to enjoy.
Still, we want to establish a place between worry and indifference, between pessimism and fantasy, between totally negative and only positive. This is true in our daily lives, our personalities and the preaching and teaching that we do together.
Temperance and Moderation
We don't use the word temperance much anymore because it became attached to the idea of not drinking and lost meaning for everything else. In fact, the word temperance applies to every facet of life and describes a pattern of self-control and moderation. Whether it be alcohol, food, entertainment, recreation, or anything else, the Christian is instructed to approach such things with an attitude of self-control, tempering his carnal desires and submitting them to his spiritual wisdom. Like a competitive runner who trains and diets and mentally prepares himself for the marathon, so the Christian exercises a temperate mentality in the race of his life (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Sometimes people get confused and begin to think that temperance means limiting your indulgence to small sins or small amounts of big sins, but that is not the idea at all. First, there are no small or big sins; sin is sin and does not get measured. Second, tempering your desires means practicing self-control and attempting to deny every wicked instinct in favor of behaving righteously (Romans 13:11-14).
Then again, there are things which are perfectly sinless in moderate doses, but which become sinful by excessiveness or inflated priority. Proverbs 23:4 says, "Do not overwork to be rich; Because of your own understanding, cease!" Jesus speaks of the goodness of loving and honoring one's parents, but then warns that he who loves father or mother more than him is not worthy of him. Again, Jesus instructs men to render honor to Caesar, but allows Peter to break a human law that was in clear conflict with God's. Something passes the point of moderation into excess when it interferes with the priority which we place upon matters of the kingdom (Luke 9:57-62). Sometimes, it is tricky to balance such things and only hard experience will teach us to do better, but learning this lesson is learning about life.
When it comes to our eternal fate, there is no middle ground between the two extremes; the Bible speaks not of purgatory, limbo or annihilation. It speaks of Heaven and Hell and often in the same breath (Matthew 25:31-34, 41, 46). Heaven is a place where no tears are shed, where death is abolished and where fellowship with God is universal. Hell is a place of continual wailing and gnashing of teeth, where death is abolished, but dying is not and where fellowship with God is nonexistent. The Bible says that every soul will one day give account of itself to God and receive the eternity it chose in life and the answer will be one of these two and nothing else (Romans 2:4-11). We are accustomed in America to the presence of a great middle class, knowing that we may never live in Earth's mansions, but we will probably not be homeless either; we are neither rich nor poor, neither spoiled nor forsaken. Perhaps that causes some to see eternity the same way, but eternity has no middle class for the lukewarm of faith (Revelation 3:14-21). Our devotion to God, therefore, cannot be watered down and remain savory (Luke 10:25-29). Self-justification will diminish the level of your faith every time, allowing you to feel right about holding back something from God and giving it to the flesh instead. In faith, there is no room for a little doubt, a little indulgence, a little selfishness without tipping the balance in the devil's direction.
Balance In Our Teaching
When we hear pleas for balance in our teaching, it is generally a balance between encouragement and correction that is championed and we certainly want to maintain that sort of equilibrium. Encouragement without correction gives the hearer a false sense of security and complete ignorance about the consequences of sin and what to do to avoid them. Correction without encouragement gives the hearer a false sense of doom and complete ignorance about the promises of grace and what to do to secure them.
The preaching of the apostles and early evangelists was balanced to avoid these two, equally damaging extremes (2 Timothy 3:16-4:5). Paul warns of a time when many churches would demand to be encouraged and soothed without having to hear their sins exposed to rebuke. That is the greater threat to evangelistic equilibrium -- the itching ears that demand to be tickled and appeased, but rarely or never corrected. The less common threat is excessive negativism, in which the preacher pessimistically dooms society, the church and even the gospel to ineffectiveness and punishment because he himself has lost hope and faith in goodness.
In an article in Christianity Today, October 5, 1984, Robert Schuller said, "I don't think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence, counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition." This Norman Vincent Peale strategy of stressing the positive and eliminating the negative is having a profound effect on the denominations around us and even the preaching being done in many churches of Christ. Anything in the New Testament that might offend is emasculated, obscured or eliminated. For this reason, some modern translations of the Bible are purposely obscuring the Jewish role in Christ's crucifixion; Peter didn't (Acts 2:36, 3:13-15, 4:8-12). Failure to correct those in error makes the silent Christian complicit in the continuation of sin (Proverbs 24:11-12).
Paul, like Peter, recognized that the truth sometimes stings, but the sting is not that of a wasp or a viper, but it is the sting of an inoculation against sin or a cure for its ravages (Acts 20:25-31). Correction, warning, reproof and rebuke are necessary and without them, faith will die (1 Timothy 4:1-2, 2 Timothy 3:1-5 and 2 Timothy 2:1-3).
Positive preaching is necessary for the very reason that God puts rainbows in the sky, to instruct and then remind us of his mercy and grace. Preaching that emphasizes Hell and punishment to the exclusion of Heaven and reward will create a skewed perspective of a loving God who desires that all be saved and come to know the truth. Preaching that takes John 3:16 for granted will erase the saving aspect of Christ's mission from the consciousness of those who listen. Heaven will begin to seem like an impossibility where no encouragement is given and where apostasy is made to sound like an inevitability. Few will attempt to win souls to Christ and even fewer will be won where the greatest reward seems to be depression and discouragement. While error must be torn down, it is not good enough to leave that resulting lot vacant; we must edify and build each other up in hope (Eph. 4:12-16). "Therefore, let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify one another" (Rom. 14:19). "Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing" (1 Thess. 5:11).
Balance in our lives and our teaching is necessary to keep us from tipping to one extreme or the other, neither of which is good. In the end, however, our devotion to God cannot be tempered without becoming lukewarm. There is no middle option for eternity. Choose Heaven today by obeying Christ and accepting God's grace, for you need it.