Updated: Feb 15
THE PIC APPROACH – Discovering Principles Among Instructions
Rolfe and I have come through some difficult times in our marriage. I had come into our relationship with certain beliefs and assumptions about being a wife and mother that caused real challenges for both of us. It wasn’t until I examined them according to God’s Word, and had a worldview overhaul, that I began to really thrive in our marriage.
A few years after I had gone through this overhaul Rolfe and I were on staff at Lake Sammamish Church in Redmond, Washington. Because of my position on staff, I was frequently asked to speak to women. But even though I had seen a positive impact in my life and my family from this new biblical perspective, I still wasn’t sure how to teach others what I had learned. It all seemed so personal and relevant to my situation alone; would it translate to someone else who may be struggling with very different issues?
That changed when I was invited to a weekend event called the Home Mentoring Intensive with Devi Titus. Devi said something that weekend that led to an “Aha” moment—one that finally unlocked a way in which to other women the truths that I had been learning. A way that would lead to freedom and not more guilt and frustration.
Devi’s weekend Intensive focused on our homes and provided some powerful insights and tips on how to create a home that would be a restful haven and a sanctuary of love. Her helpful suggestions and practical ideas affirmed many of the things I’d been learning, especially the beauty of God’s design for our homes. Yet, as I engaged in the sessions, nagging questions plagued me: ‘How much of this is relevant to all women everywhere?” and “How much of this is only helpful if your life fits into this nice mold?”
About halfway through the weekend, Devi described the difference between principles and instructions, and a lightbulb went off. That was it. I needed to know the principles, not just the instructions. It was the principle that would build a foundation for everyone regardless of their age or stage in life. Whether married or single, young or old, male or female; principles remain true for everyone, always.
This would impact not only my life, but I could pass these principles on to others. I wouldn’t just be giving them instructions. Though sometimes advice (instruction) was helpful, sometimes it missed the mark. Biblical principles were essential. And, I didn’t have to have an answer for how a specific principle applied in every situation. That was the Holy Spirit’s job. Separating the principle from the instruction provided tremendous freedom.
Still, it wasn’t always easy to figure out those truths (principles). I hadn’t been taught to look for universal principles. Most of the teaching I’d received, and conversations I’d had, centered around instructions. Even more confusing, those instructions were interspersed with personal convictions that made them sound like facts. In addition, not everything fits nicely into one of these categories, and many times things fit into a couple of them.
I needed to figure out how to construct a way to differentiate between a principle, an instruction and a conviction.
So, I needed to figure out how to construct a way to differentiate between a principle, an instruction and a conviction. I wanted to figure out how to help women (including myself) identify the principle, because that provided the all-important “why” behind the instructions, ideas, advice, and convictions that we hear every day.
What is a principle?
Principle is such a common word. We use it to mean just about anything someone wants you to think is important. It might mean a helpful tip, good idea, or best practice, but I was looking for what was indisputable because it is how God designed the world to work. I defined principles as God’s timeless universal truths that transcend culture, transform lives and transfer from generation to generation.
Though I believe everything in the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God, not everything in the Bible is a principle. Some verses contain simple instructions, meant to be helpful only if they fit a particular situation. In addition, some of the applications I took away from scripture became strong personal convictions that were essential for my life alone.
In our current society, we recognize that God designed natural laws, such as gravity and aerodynamics. But it wasn’t until someone identified them, named them and began describing them to others that people recognized them for what they are.
In the same way it became obvious to me that God designed people to live together with specific laws, so I began to search out the truths in the Bible that I could confidently call a principle and then gave it a name. I could finally teach others the things that I had learned and applied to my own life in a way that would be indisputable, I could teach just the principle with boldness and clarity. I differentiated it from the helpful instructions and tried to keep my personal convictions to myself unless I was asked. It was astonishing to see the results of passing on truth in this way.
One example of the value of discerning between principles and instructions is found in I Corinthians 7. Paul is giving instructions to the new believers about marriage. He provides strong advice (instructions) and throws in some personal convictions, but all of it is based on the biblical principles of God’s original design for marriage. He says, “Now to the unmarried and the widow I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Paul clearly understands that there is value in God’s beautiful design for marriage, and he isn't trying to change that. He is simply referring to his own conviction and giving some helpful instructions to consider. If they had taken his conviction and began teaching it as a universal principle, you can see how problematic that would be. He would basically be saying no one should ever get married unless they can’t control their desires.
My Path Forward
While I attempted to identify and embrace God’s principles, I discovered a multitude of ways that kingdom principles play out. And each one reminded me of the importance that God places on relationships. Every application began releasing the potential for life-giving relationships. They also set me free, liberating me from being at odds with God’s design for my marriage and family. I was now following His lead and reaping astonishing results.
Rather than being confused, now I have categories that help me decide whether to take or leave an instruction or conviction. Someone expressing her conviction may genuinely believe it is a principle because for her it requires obedience. She may know it’s true for her life (and believe it is for mine), however, it truly might not be right for me, and that’s OK.
Now for some people, identifying the principle comes easy, for others it’s more difficult to differentiate between principles, instructions, and convictions. But it CAN be taught. A few years ago, my family and I were visiting a church, and the pastor was preaching a sermon on Hospitality. He hit on the core principle, describing the heart of it, why of it - love, valuing people. I was listening and tracking with him. He gave some good instructions, some helpful ideas, and ways that hospitality can be shown in our busy culture. Then BOOM! … he boldly states “If you have a guest room, it should be full.” Yikes! Really? My guest room isn’t always full. I immediately started feeling guilty!
On our way home, Rolfe and I were reflecting with our two teenage kids who had been taught the difference between principles, instructions, and convictions. When we asked them what they thought of the sermon and what they had learned, one of them spoke up immediately, “Well, the Pastor made some good points, but he added some pretty strong personal convictions, didn’t he?” I loved it! They understood the power of recognizing the difference, and they weren’t derailed by someone else’s personal conviction. They didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
It is common for people who have learned the PIC Approach to tell us how it has improved their relationships, impacted their marriages and families. It is also an incredible tool for coaching, discipling, and mentoring. We train Transformed Living coaches with this tool so they can help others recognize false beliefs and replace them with the lifegiving truth for God’s Word. Our coaches help people realign their beliefs and behaviors with God’s original design and experience the blessing that comes with that.
As I identified and taught more principles, I also noted that there is an inherent danger in focusing on principles…they work! There are many who apply the principles of God in their life and experience a blessing because it is how God designed life to work. We apply principles every day and reap the benefit. However, we can learn to apply principles and never meet the Creator of the Principles. If that happens then you may gain the whole world but lose your very soul as described in Matthew 16:26. The Christian Life is NOT a FORMULA that we try to make work, but a relationship by grace through faith in the person, Jesus Christ! We may be teaching principles, but the GOAL is to know the Lord, love Him and His Ways, and participate in His Purpose for you and your relationships.
So, I want to leave you with a challenge. Sometime this week as you take in information through a conversation, sermon, article, etc. try to identify if you are hearing a universal Principle – something that is true for everyone, everywhere, every time? A helpful Instruction - something useful to help apply a principle? Or a personal Conviction - a deeply held belief that frames their life, but perhaps not relevant for everyone? How does this understanding impact what you do with that information?