August 10 Esight, 2009

Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father (Galatians 4.1-2).We are in part 2 of a four-part weekly E-sight. This week, I’d like to take a simple look at what the concepts from Intrinsic or Imposed mean for a generation that is missing from many churches today. As parents, we use the imposed to teach the intrinsic. Many times, our children cannot attach a decision to its intrinsic harmful consequences because the results are too far removed. Like the time I was caught smoking as a teenager.

I remember my mother sat me down and said, “You’re not in trouble this time. I know you needed to experiment with this and find out for yourself what this was all about.” But then she became quite serious, “But I’m going to trust that you learned everything you need to know on your first experiment. Because if I ever catch you smoking again, you won’t need to worry about lung cancer. I’ll kill ‘ya.

Now at age 14, that’s exactly what I needed. I couldn’t attach potential lung cancer fifty years later to the decisions I was making then. So my mom had to give me a close-up. She (not the cigarettes) had to become the source of death in order for me to get the connection that if I smoke, I die.

But, understand, although that threat was of a death that would supposedly have been imposed on me for my behavior, its purpose was to teach me about the other death that was really intrinsic to the behavior.

How many of us, as loving parents, have done this kind of thing? We have laid down the law (see 1 Timothy 1:9), and attached to it blessings and cursings (see Deuteronomy 28). Knowing that even that was only temporary (see Galatians 3:19) because we know that there will come a day when they are no longer under our law (see Romans 6:14). Our hope is that by that time, our children have internalized the intrinsic nature of life (see Hebrews 8:8-10), that they will see that although all things are now lawful, not all things are profitable (1 Corinthians 6:12).

The imposed is not bad when used correctly; it is a temporary way to teach what is intrinsically harmful or beneficial.

Now what happens when a child turns 18? Children naturally transition from being under the law of their parents, to being on their own in the world, and from the imposed to the intrinsic. (All of us remember what this was like.) But what happens if an 18-year-old belongs to a church that refuses to understand the intrinsic and relies on the imposed as its basis for behavior? In other words, “Something is wrong because God says so,” or, “We do this because God commanded us to. It’s in the law.” If God had never written, “Thou shalt not murder,” if there were no imposed law, would it still be intrinsically a good idea not to murder?

Between the intrinsic and the imposed, the behavior stays the same but the motivation and reasoning change. If the family of an 18-year-old refuses to relate to them in the intrinsic paradigm but only enforces the imposed, the young person in transition begins to see the church as irrelevant, of no inherent value. The church offers no help during this phase. Imposing the law is good for mom and dad but becomes less meaningful for children as they grow more independent. Grown children abandon such a church in favor of a world where they can learn, even the hard way; often they don’t return to the church until they have children of their own. And why then? Because their children need the imposed and the parents know where to find it for them.

There has never been a more critical time for the church to begin understanding the difference between the intrinsic way of relating to God and the imposed way. A whole generation is missing in many congregations. Many will not return, but many will. I want to be clear; there is nothing wrong with either way of relating to God. One is simply more juvenile and elementary. I pray not only that we understand the two, but that we will begin to relate to God through the intrinsic paradigm as well. A generation depends on it; we will continue to lose them if we don’t.

Next week, we look at what this means for evangelism in a post-modern culture, and in the following week, what it means for our relationship with God.

I wish you God’s best this week.