Avoiding Ditches of Overcorrection

by Pastor Jason Poling

When I first got my driver’s license, my dad entrusted to me his maroon ‘81 Chevy Malibu.  This turned out to be a big mistake.  On a trip back from my friend’s house, I learned the hard way about the dangerous consequences of overcorrecting a weighty object moving with significant force.

At some point in my journey home, I allowed my attention to be diverted from the road.  When I looked up, I was on the shoulder and poised to barrel into the ditch on the right side of the road.  Panic, adrenaline, inexperience, and a healthy dose of spasmodic herky-jerkiness, particularly common in teenage boys, all conspired together to convince my mind that pulling the steering wheel as far left as humanly possible would be a more than reasonable solution to my problem.

If one’s goal was to total a perfectly good Chevrolet by ramming its front end into a tree in the ditch on the other side of the road, than I handled my dilemma admirably.  My dad didn’t seem to appreciate this logic.

I certainly learned my lesson about overcorrection, and I’m glad the consequences weren’t more severe.  However, I am concerned that we as a Church have not learned how to avoid overcorrection, especially when the consequences are much more serious.  What do I mean?

The Church must teach the whole counsel of God from His Word.  This includes proclaiming God’s unbelievable grace shown in the forgiveness of sin through the death and resurrection of Christ, and then practicing the demonstration of that grace to others (Ephesians 4:32).  But the whole counsel also includes teaching God’s unwavering truth and the many commands it requires all genuine Christians to obey in order to please God (2 Corinthians 5:9; John 14:15).

If we fail to drive down the center of the road where both grace and truth are fully expressed, we will always overcorrect and find ourselves in one of two ditches.

The first is a “truth without grace” ditch that emphasizes obedience to God’s commands while understating our need of the grace of the gospel that gives us the ability to keep those commands (John 15:5; Ephesians 2:8-10).  This is legalism.

The second is a “grace without truth” ditch that highlights God’s forgiveness of sin without equally emphasizing the obedience God demands so that we become less and less sinful (1 John 3:1-10; Matthew 7:21).  This is liberalism.

In the Book of Revelation, we have back-to-back examples of churches that appear to have overcorrected and ended up in each of these ditches.  In the first part of chapter 2 we read about the church in Ephesus.  In the past, they possessed love for God and others (Mark 10:28-31).  However, at some point they felt the need to overcorrect and ended up being a church who strongly stood for truth (2:2, 6), yet ceasing to show love and grace (2:4).  A few verses down, we encounter the church in Pergamum.  They went into the opposite ditch.  They seemed to have some faithfulness to the truth (2:13), but ultimately overcorrected and became a church that emphasized grace over truth, which led to a toleration of false teaching, idolatry, and immorality (2:14-15).

For the sake of Christ’s Church and the souls that it influences, we must learn this important lesson about the dangers of overcorrection and pass it on to our children.

Given the cultural climate, our children’s generation will most likely struggle with driving the Church into the “grace without truth” ditch.  How can we help them steady their steering?  Here are two suggestions:

  1. Be honest with them about where you and your generation have failed to safely steer the Church.  Perhaps many of us have often been like the Ephesian church?  Show them how to humbly repent and learn from such overcorrections (Revelation 2:5).  This modeling of gospel repentance may spare them judgment when Jesus calls their Pergamum-like churches to repent when they are the leaders (Revelation 2:16).
  1. Teach them all the truths of God’s Word.  I grew up in a church that struggled with a grace and truth alignment.  Our steering always pulled us towards the “truth without grace” side of the road.  Even though we had this failing, I will never be sorry that they took God’s Word seriously and made every effort to teach and preach everything that God had commanded (Matthew 5:17-20).  This truth-focus has acted as a ballast in my life.  It has protected me from overcorrection as I have learned to turn my steering wheel a little more towards grace without giving up the truth.

We parents are anxious about our kids driving.  We don’t want them to wreck their car. God is even more concerned that they don’t wreck their faith.  So show your kids how not to overcorrect.  Show them how to stay aligned with Jesus so they will become like more Him, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

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