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!

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