Navigating Spiritual Tension

God has woven into creation seemingly opposite spiritual principles that when separated, can appear contradictory. For example, law and grace. They are in reality, perfectly paired and balanced so we can comprehend the full picture of who God is and the life He offers us.

In fact, they embody much of how we are to understand our relationship with God, as well as how we engage our spiritual leadership.

As leaders, it’s important that we understand these complex biblical ideas and are able to use them in our daily leadership of the people God has entrusted to us.


For leaders who like things black and white, these can be frustrating. In fact, I’ve seen leaders get stuck and unable to make a key decision because life is often unclear, messy, and refuses to be contained in a neat package.

How about you? Do these powerful biblical concepts sometimes make decisions with people difficult? How are you learning and improving? How might your leadership be more effective?

The place growth begins in this matter is by identifying the key themes and thinking through a few practical illustrations. Think them through, and form your biblical leadership philosophy so you aren’t tempted to make it up on the fly under pressure.

Here are a few examples, perhaps you can add one to the list, or an illustration that is helpful to all of us.

Law and Grace

Romans 8:1-17

Law without grace is a prison of legalism.
Grace without law is irresponsible freedom.

This is probably the most common and the most controversial. Let’s consider one example. We don’t have to travel far into the practical issues of marriage, divorce and remarriage before law and grace can become incredibly divisive rather than providing the basis for biblical wisdom. When in fact, we could never really provide the needed truth without the balance of both law and grace.

Spirit and Truth

John 4:21-24

Truth without spirit is lifeless orthodoxy.
Spirit without truth is meaningless elation.

I love this passage in John 4. When Jesus is talking with the Samaritan woman the conversation is so profound. The obvious practical example that comes to mind is the design of a worship service. For one leader the worship service is too structured and lifeless, for another leader, the same service is irreverent and secular. Even the phrase “true worshippers” can set off an argument, and we miss the point of being united in the worship of one true God!

Faith and Works

James 2:14-24

Faith without works is religion without substance.
Works without faith is merely humanistic endeavor.

OK, I’ll admit I’ve been in some tough conversations about this one myself over the years. I’m not a “works” guy, we are saved by faith, but I do believe that there will be evidence of our faith.

How about you? What do you think? The people you love and lead have similar questions, so it’s important to have at least a foundation of biblical thinking for your leadership.

These are tough questions we face as spiritual leaders and it’s important that we are grounded in our answers.

Sometimes our honest answer must be “I don’t know.”, that’s better than creating division or getting defensive about something we are not sure about ourselves. If your answer is “I don’t know.”, then your responsibility is to take the time to study and pray. That in combination with wise counsel can help you lead your congregation with the wisdom God has provided, even in the most complicated of situations.

5 thoughts on “Navigating Spiritual Tension”

  1. I’ve got one that has come up in my small group time and again – Love and Boundaries. To love unconditionally does not mean we allow ourselves to become doormats or be emotionally abused. So how do we set the kind of necessary boundaries around our hearts and mind to protect our faith, while still demonstrating Christ’s unconditional love? That’s why I love that our church teaches “Boundaries” and “Safe People” – it teaches us where to draw those ever-elusive lines.

      1. I think women in particular struggle with that in regard to their spouse, kids, bosses, etc. because we tend to operate more in the emotional realm. This is something I’ve been working on with my group, using scripture to demonstrate that even Jesus had boundaries!

  2. Thanks so much. My husband I have were talking about one of your points this morning. Your thoughts will help our Small Group discussion tonight. We’re studying this Scripture in James from RightNow Media about faith and works 🙂

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