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My husband and I are trying to get our kids to consistently do their chores. We've tried threats and rewards but worry that our extrinsic motivators are holding our kids back from learning to obey simply because it's the right thing to do. "Gee," we long to hear them say, "my folks love me and know what's best for me, so I better pick up that broom and chip in."

Our struggle with our kids got us thinking about God's struggle with us. Surely he wants us to do the right things for the right reasons. As his people, do we behave "Christianly" because of extrinsic or intrinsic factors? As his church, what are our ideas about moral development?

I once spoke at a family camp of believers and nonbelievers who had been meeting for years. One morning, a seminary graduate shared his story with the group. David had weathered a crisis of faith when his father—a sternly religious man and prominent church leader—had been exposed in chronic sexual sin. David said that healing had come slowly and that, looking back, he realized the Christianity of his upbringing had overemphasized "morality" in place of "relationship."

It sounded to me like David's dad might have benefited from a little more emphasis on morality. And I worried that David's take was not what the group needed to hear; two affairs had fractured their community in recent years. To me, it seemed they were suffering from too much relationship and too little morality.

I remember my reaction now with chagrin. I've since seen individuals and church communities with a robust focus on morality fall countless times. I get David's point: An emphasis on holy living without a genuine, life-changing relationship with a holy God can lead to rigid legalism on the one hand or secret ...

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August 2010

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