In Defense of Teaching the Law in Youth Ministry

It’s increasingly common today to hear people writing about the need to emphasize the Gospel rather than the Law… the promises of God rather than the commands of god.  If you’re reading this post, it’s very easy for you to hear someone saying that, because I say that on a regular basis!  However, there are some out there who write about the need to be Gospel-Centered so much that it sounds like they’re suspicious of anyone who would dare to teach the Law.  I doubt that these people would actually agree with that accusation, but what they write could easily lead you to that conclusion.

While I’m a huge proponent of the Gospel-Centered movement, I think some people take the Gospel in an anti-law, Antinomian way that is simply unbiblical and contrary to the Gospel.  The Gospel is so incredibly valuable because the Law is so important!  If the Law wasn’t important, then sin isn’t that bad, and if sin isn’t that bad then the Gospel isn’t nearly as glorious and extraordinary as we say it is.

In my youth ministry we try to emphasize 8 Vital Signs (taken mostly from Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall’s book, “The Seven Checkpoints for Youth Leaders“): Authentic Faith, Spiritual Disciplines, Moral Boundaries, Healthy Friendships, Wise Choices, Ultimate Authority, Others First, Heart for the Lost.  Some of these are more naturally Gospel-driven than others (Authentic Faith, Spiritual Disciplines, Heart for the Lost) while others are more grounded in the Law (Moral Boundaries, Healthy Friendships, Wise Choices, Ultimate Authority, Others First).  Here’s a brief look at how I teach these Vital Signs:

  1. Authentic Faith – This is the Gospel – You are lost in your sin and will either endure the judgment you’ve earned for yourself, or you can cast yourself on the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ who took your punishment upon himself on the cross. We are not simply saved by the Gospel, we are changed daily by the Gospel.  We don’t only need Authentic Faith in Jesus to “ask Jesus into our hearts,” we need to walk by faith in Christ every day.  Without this Vital Sign, the rest don’t mean a thing.
  2. Spiritual Disciplines – People don’t get married and then stop spending time together, at least they shouldn’t!  We don’t become Christians and consider ourselves “done” with getting to know God.  He gives us a growing desire to know Him better through the spiritual disciplines, especially through regular time in the Bible and prayer.
  3. Moral Boundaries – In our hyper-sexualized world, it’s way more difficult fall into sexual sin than it is to stay pure.  This Vital Sign is more about having a pure heart than it is about sex, but sexual sin is definitely one of the biggest issues that we address here.  Purity matters to God, just read Leviticus if you don’t believe me (no, really, you should… it’s not the most enthralling read, but it really hammers home the importance of purity before the Lord!).  If we try to be pure on our own, we’re destined to fail.  If we recognize that we are impure and want to become pure, we also need to recognize that we can’t do that ourselves… we need God to cleanse us of our sin!  God makes us pure through the Gospel and He calls those He has purified to walk accordingly.
  4. Healthy Friendships – Who hasn’t done something they never would’ve done if their friends weren’t doing it too?  While Stanley & Hall make some claims in their book that I disagree with in this section, I think any youth worker could rattle off a list of former students who strayed from their faith in Christ because they started hanging out with friends who were bad influences.  Faith in the Gospel radically effects how who choose our friends and how much influence we give them in our decision-making.  Do you seek your identity in your friends, or through Christ?  Are your friends pulling you down, or are you surrounding yourself with friends who are drawing you closer to Christ (or are you the one pulling your Christian friends down!)?
  5. Wise Choices – How do you decide what you want movie to watch, what sport to play, what to wear, etc.?  We make thousands of choices every day, how do we make those choices?  Our faith in Christ must be the foundation of the choices we make… otherwise, how will we reflect Christ to those around us?
  6. Ultimate Authority – Do I even need to say that we live in an anti-authority culture?!  God has placed human authority in each of our lives in order to teach us how to submit to His own authority.  If we constantly rebel against human authority, we will have a very difficult time submitting to God’s authority when Scripture teaches something contrary to our desires.
  7. Others First – Jesus Christ came to serve, not to be served.  By default, we put ourselves first.  Instead, we’re called to put ourselves THIRD!  God first, others second, I’m third!  Maybe this Vital Sign should be “Others Second,” but that just doesn’t sound right.  Since we don’t need to live in a way to earn acceptance before God, we can use our lives to serve others in order to adorn the Gospel with God’s love through us.
  8. Heart for the Lost – If we really believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we need to have a passion to see others fall in love with Jesus Christ too.  If we don’t want others to embrace the Gospel, then I’m not sure we really believe it.

We need to teach Law and Gospel to students… because that’s what the Bible teaches!

The Drama of Redemption: Redemption Through Christ

What is Redemption, and why does it matter?  One of the best pictures of biblical Redemption is the video embedded below, it gives a beautiful and powerful picture of this Drama of Redemption.

What is Redemption?

To “redeem” something simply means “to buy back.”  Think about bringing back a can or a bottle: you bring the can and get five cents for it because they’re buying the can back from you.  When Jesus died on the cross as our substitute, he took our sin and our punishment upon himself in order to “buy” our freedom.  It’s not like God “lost” us to Satan and He needed to buy us from Satan, He desired to purchase our freedom from His own wrath again sin.

Think about the video again:

  • The girl was created by God, enjoying intimacy with Him
  • She sinned and gave into temptation: Sex, Money, Alcohol/Partying, Image/Eating Disorder, Despair/suicide.
  • When she wants to return to God, her sins step in and hold her back.
  • All throughout, God is there, watching… waiting… pulling her to Himself until He eventually steps in and does for her what she isn’t able to do – overcome her sin.
  • God defeats her sin, lifts her up, and puts his white coat on her – symbolizing that He has clothed her in his righteousness and she is no longer guilty, but innocent (Justified).

“Justification” is when God declares that your sin has been forgiven and that you are righteous in his eyes.  Two verses in particular stand out:

  • “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
  • If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

Based off these verses (and many many many others), we see that Redemption and Justification are only through Christ Jesus and they focus on ETERNAL LIFE and BEING SAVED (saved from judgment).  Through Christ, I am declared to be something I know I’m not… innocent!  Jesus paid my debt and suffered my punishment on the cross so that would receive the righteousness of Christ the same way the girl in the video was given God’s clean white jacket after being rescued from her sin.  Redemption is only through Christ,

Why does Redemption Matter?

Redemption matters for many reasons, but a few of the most important are:

  1. We don’t need to worry about earning God’s love and forgiveness.  It’s a gift that we receive by faith, not a paycheck we need to earn (because we never could!).  Since we don’t need to worry about earning God’s love and forgiveness, we are set free to worship Christ and enjoy God by serving others.
  2. We have confidence when facing death.  We know what’s coming, because Jesus has gone there and back.  While we shouldn’t desire death, we also trust in God’s amazingly good promises that will be ours eternally.  While we all obviously fear what we don’t know, we don’t face death with dreaded fear, but with faith.
  3. We have security because we have God’s approval.  We don’t need to live for the approval of others, because we already have the approval of the One who matters most.  This doesn’t mean we don’t care about the approval of others (1 Timothy 3:7 even goes so far as to say that an Elder/Pastor must have a good reputation with “outsiders/nonbelievers” in order to be qualified to be an Elder/Pastor!), but we do not live for the sake of gaining approval from those outside the faith.
  4. God transforms what He redeems!  He doesn’t save you from sin and then leave you in it!  He gives you the Holy Spirit and begins to sanctify you and make you holy.  When we’re justified, God declares that we are holy and righteous; that’s when the ongoing process of sanctification begins, where God starts to actually make you what He says you are.  If we have been Redeemed from sin through faith in Christ, we cannot be content to fall into sin whenever temptation comes our way.  God transforms what He redeems.

The Drama of Redemption: The Fall into Sin

When you hear the word “Temptation,” what comes to mind?  Well, probably the thing that tempts you the most!  It might be gossip, stealing, lying, violence, greed, sex, porn, or any number of other things.  Last week we explored how temptation works and what sin does by looking at the very first sin.

The other week we remembered that God created the world and made us in his image so we would glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.  But something clearly went wrong… except it wasn’t because God messed up.  When Adam and Eve sinned, all creation fell into sin along with them.

Genesis 3 tells us about “The Fall” into sin.  I believe that Gen. 3:6 sets the pattern for how temptation works, check it out:

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

There are a few things to notice here about how temptation worked on Eve (and how it works on us):

  1. Eve “Saw the fruit of the tree was good for food.”  The fruit would fill a physical need.  How often have we said, “If God didn’t want me to _________, then why would he give me this need/desire?  It can’t be wrong!”
  2. Eve “Saw the fruit of the tree was… pleasing to the eye.”  It simply looked good and pleasurable.  If it makes you happy and feel good, then it can’t be wrong… right?
  3. Eve “Saw the fruit of the tree was… desirable for gaining wisdom.”  There was so much to gain by eating the fruit.  She would learn all sorts of things that she didn’t know.  Afterall, who wants to be naive and simple-minded?!
  4. Eve “Gave some to her husband, who was with her.”  Sin spreads.  It’s contagious.  Eve sinned first, but Adam didn’t step in to protect her.  At some point, he should’ve stepped in and said, “Eve, honey, it’s time to walk away.  Let’s go.”  But he didn’t.  Maybe he “cared too much about their relationship” to risk stepping in, or maybe he was just as intrigued as she was – but either way, Adam didn’t help Eve resist temptation and once she sinned he soon followed her.

What actually happened here and what can we learn about temptation?

  • Doubting God’s Word.  Satan started off, “Did God really say…” (v.1).  How many times do we convince ourselves that something isn’t sinful while we’re being tempted even though we really know it is.  When we doubt God’s Word and lose confidence in what God has said, then we give the enemy an open door to tempt us.
  • Adding to God’s Word.  Eve responded to the serpent that the cannot eat from the tree or touch it or else they will die (v.3).  The problem here is that God never said they couldn’t touch the tree, He simply said not to eat its fruit.  On the surface, this really isn’t a big deal, but I think this points to the importance of remembering what God’s Word actually says.  It’s good to generally know what God has said, but it’s another thing completely to actually have His words memorized.
  • Forgetting who God says you are.  Satan’s promise in v.5 is, “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Eve (and Adam, who was with her) obviously forgot that SHE ALREADY WAS LIKE GOD!  God created us “in his image.”  We don’t need to seek additional wisdom and promises from the enemy… we have more than we can even remember through God’s Word!

The rest of Genesis 3:14-21 describes what happened because of the Fall into Sin.  Everything changed because of Adam and Eve’s sin.  When they sinned, we all became sinners.  Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”  Scripture repeatedly teaches that all people fell into sin when Adam & Eve sinned.

We are all natural born sinners.  We still bear God’s image, but we are like broken mirrors – reflecting God’s image, but not well.  Because of our sin, we have separated ourselves from God and have made ourselves guilty of sin and deserving of his wrath.

Next week, we will examine God’s amazing grace and how He redeems us from sin and judgment.

Final Questions to Consider:

  • What sins are most tempting to you?
  • How are those sins “Good for food, Pleasing to the eye, and Desirable for wisdom” to you?
  • Are you spreading sin to others, or are they sharing their sin with you?
  • How can you grow more confident in God’s Word?  What verse will you commit to memorize (I recommend starting off with Romans 12:1-2)?
  •  Do you see yourself as a sinner, in need of God’s grace and mercy?  Or do you minimize sin so it’s not a big deal?
  • What Christian friend can you commit to be “accountability partners” with, helping each other resist temptation and encouraging each other to pursue God’s grace when you do sin?

The Gospel is the Heart of Discipline

I’ve read a lot of parenting this books this year… my estimate is at least 12 in the last 12 months.  (I’m not that insecure in my parenting, they’re “research” for my D.Min. thesis – but they’ve been VERY helpful personally as I have a 4 year old and a 1 year old at home.)  Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley is easily the best parenting book I’ve come across so far (with the possible tie of “Age of Opportunity” by Paul David Tripp, but Tripp’s book is focused on parenting teenagers so while it’s more directly applicable to my studies it’s not as personally applicable… yet!).

Here’s the latest nugget I’ve been chewing on today:

The gospel should be at the heart of all attempts to discipline children.  The gospel affects discipline in two ways.  First, it motivates our discipline.  Second, communicating the gospel become the end of effective Christian discipline.

Effective discipline requires great resolve and perseverance.  No parent is equal to the task.  Some children require five spankings in a lifetime, others five every morning.

… Understanding the gospel and its implications for disciplining our children fortified Judy and me through these trials.  It helped in several ways:

  • The gospel convinced us that indwelling sin was our children’s problem.
  • The gospel convinced us that authority is a crucial parental issue.
  • The gospel instructed us to pursue our children’s hearts rather than their behavior.
  • The gospel motivated us to use discipline to preach the gospel to our children.
  • The gospel motivated us to fear God.
  • The gospel helped Judy and me to grow in humility and sincerity.

The Drama of Redemption: Creation

Why do you think God created the world, and people in particular?  Was it because he was bored?  Lonely?  The Westminster Shorter Catechism has famously declared, “The chief end of man (aka: the reason we were created) is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  God created out of love, that we would worship Him and be filled with his joy as we worship.  We were created by God in His image in order to “mirror” him by glorifying/worshipping Him in everything we do, because we received joy when we honor God.

What’s it mean to “Glorify” God?  One of our high schoolers gave among the best definitions of “glorify” I’ve ever heard: she said, “It’s to recognize who God is and what he’s done and to show that to other by what you do.”  1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  Eating and Drinking are pretty normal things, not super-spiritual things – and yet we’re told to do them (along with whatever else we do) “for the glory of God.”

So what’s it look like to glorify God?

  • When you’re in school and learning about biology, you recognize that God made your body to function so perfectly that every cell is designed to do a specific task.  Meanwhile, you also learn about the universe and how ridiculously small and “insignificant” planet Earth is when compared to all the galaxies far far away.  Just think: God created all those galaxies, and yet He cares for you so much that he sent Jesus to live and die and rise again for you!
  • When you’re on the practice field, you want to use your physical body and athletic gifts to honor the One who gave them to you.  That means you practice hard, take care of your body, and play as a good teammate (that means you pass the ball when someone else has a better shot!) and you aren’t an arrogant glory-hog when you play well.
  • When you’re home, you help with chores around the house, respect your parents, and are generally pleasant to be around.

Christian author, John Piper, has said “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”  Are you satisfied with God?  You were made to glorify God in everything you do, and to enjoy God forever!  Remember, en-joy, God wants to fill you with joy!  That doesn’t mean life is about being happy and living out the “American Dream,” because God often calls us to difficult things and He brings us through seasons of suffering – but He fills us with peace and joy even in the midst of those experiences.

Out of love, God created you to glorify Him and to enjoy Him forever.  Don’t want until “forever” begins… start now.  That’s what God made you for.  Obviously, “something” (Sin, which we’ll discuss next week) has gone terribly wrong; but it’s absolutely necessary for us to remember WHY we are here and WHAT God made us to do.

Faithful Ministry to The Millennial Teen

Infographics like this cause me to ask a few questions (which I mostly don’t have answers to… thoughts, but no answers).  I’d love your thoughts on these too, leave a comment below.:

  • How does all this technology impact teens’ prayer life?
  • How should the prevalence of technology among Millennials influence how the local church communicates with their generation?
  • Where’s the line between Contextualization (translating your message so it’s easily understood to your audience) and Selling Out (changing your message so it’s easily accepted by your audience)?

I’m convinced we have much to learn from the men and women who have faithfully served the Church throughout the centuries, learning from how they have seen the changes in their culture and responded by faithfully proclaiming the Gospel.  We must take the time to understand Millennials in order to effectively communicate the transforming power of the Gospel in a way that is both faithful to Scripture and Church History.  This isn’t a new, it’s  the challenge and opportunity that every generation has struggled with.

May we be found faithful.  Faithful to Christ, to his Bride (the Church), and to the emerging generations.

Dan Savage, Bullying Christians, & How We Should Respond

I know I’m about a week late on this blog post, and time is running short (hence, why it’s taken a week to write it)… but I think this is something that deserve a response. In case you haven’t heard, here’s a brief excerpt from Fox News’ story of Dan Savage’s presentation at an anti-bullying conference in Seattle last week:

Jake Naman knew something was about to happen.

The 18-year-old from Redlands, Calif., was sitting inside a cavernous building in Seattle waiting to hear from Dan Savage, the founder of the “It Gets Better” anti-bullying campaign.

Savage had been invited to speak to several thousand high school journalists attending a national conference hosted by the National Scholastic Press Association and the Journalism Education Association.

… “The Bible,” Savage said with a elongated pause.

“”The very second he said the Bible and paused, I knew it was going to get ugly,” Naman told Fox News. “It was about to be a bashing.”

And Naman was absolutely correct.

“We can learn to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about gay people – the same way we have learned to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about shellfish, about slavery, about dinner, about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, about masturbation,” Savage told the young students. “We ignore bullshit in the Bible about all sorts of things.”

You can watch the YouTube video, which was captured by someone in attendance, where Savage continues his rant against Christians while many Christian students walk out in silent protest. If you’re offended by the language, please keep in mind that this was a speech at a STUDENT assembly by a nationally respected speaker at an anti-bullying conference!

How Should Christian Respond?
Most of the responses I’ve seen online would describe themselves as RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION – let me explain.

Many of the blog posts and Facebook posts I’ve read seem to say something like this: “What a hypocrite, bullying Christians while telling us to be accepting of everyone else! If he said this about Muslims he would’ve been removed from the stage, but since he targeted Christians it’s ok?!” Sure, I agree… but I’d suggest a different response. Here’s my thinking:

  1. Jesus said that we would be persecuted and rejected, so we shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:18)
  2. We should respond to persecution with love and prayer. Jesus said, “But I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44 & Romans 12:20)
  3. Responding with grace opens conversation; responding with “righteous indignation” reinforces our critics’ message. Proverbs 15:1 says, A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

This is an opportunity for us to demonstrate that power of the Gospel at work within us. I agree that this is a pretty clear-cut story of bullying that it highly ironic, but if we, as Christians, respond with anger (even if it’s a “godly” anger because we feel like we’re defending Jesus) then we’re losing sight of the Gospel.

In fact, he didn’t even try to defend himself before Pontius Pilate when he was on trial – he simply took the injustice. Jesus was crucified for offenses he didn’t commit, and he told his disciples they should be ready to carry their own crosses. The obvious difference, is we need to recognize that we are often more guilty than we realize.

In this particular case, we need to be willing to ask some hard questions.

  • Have I bullied (knowingly or unknowingly) other people over issues of race, physical/mental/intellectual ability, religion, or sexuality?
  • Who do I need to apologize to for hurt I have caused or careless words I have spoken?
  • What is behind my persecutor’s words? How have other Christians (not me, but other Christians) hurt this person? (note: this goes a long way to understanding one another)
  • How can I learn to Speak the Truth in Love?

Much truth has been ignored because it was not spoken in love. Much love has been useless because it has not been tied to truth. Much truth has not been spoken.

We must SPEAK the TRUTH in LOVE while we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.