As a parent, youth leader, or mentor, what is the key to helping your students walk in purity before God and others?
One word: grace.
I can never say it enough times, so I don’t stop. You’ll see it over and over again in each and every blog that I write. Were it not for grace, I would cease to be. Were it not for grace, my lungs would collapse. And, were it not for Jesus, Paul’s disdainful cry (with which I greatly sympathize) “O wretched man that I am!” would end without the hope of the grace that He alone provides.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9).
The problem with the majority of “help” offered in accountability, programming and spiritual disciplines is that we superimpose our desperate want to be responsible for something upon the verse above, and rewrite it thus: For by grace I have been saved through faith, but after that it is mostly my doing, and the gift of God no longer functionally sustains me, and my works are either praiseworthy or damnable.
Now, on the one hand, that sounds miserable, because even in my eyes, the majority of my works are damnable. On the other hand, it gives me control. It exposes the fear that, if I am truly saved by grace, then God can ask for or require anything that he wants of me, because the merit is not mine. Recently I heard the story of a woman who similarly said, in essence, “I am inclined to a ‘grace-plus’ theology, because it allows me to decide whether or not I’ve served the Lord enough to merit his favor, and I’m not obliged to anything else.”
I don’t know about you, but it strikes a nerve in my heart. Perhaps this is why, all throughout middle school, my only question was not, “What does God require of me?” but “How far is too far before I’ve sinned?” – as though sin were not committed until my eyes actually lingered on an image, rather than in my heart’s intent to worship something other than God (for more on sin as idolatry and worship, see my previous blog).
What I am not implying is that accountability, programming and spiritual disciplines are wrong (I write for XXXChurch for crying out loud!), but what I am saying is that if all you give your students is good advice and no gospel, a surveillance group but no salvation, a ten step plan but no means to obey it, law and no grace, you become a minister of death and condemnation to them.
And it is so easy to do! “The WWJD Mentality” is pervasive, and it is not Christianity. “Would Jesus look at porn?” imposes guilt but offers no solution. I just want to start a bracelet company titled: HMWJBITS? – “How Moral Would Jesus Be In This Situation?”
The law cannot supply what it demands, but “it is finished” is the heart of the gospel. Jared C. Wilson puts it this way, “We can no more wring life change out of religion that we could orange juice from an apple. But if we cling to the cross, remaining aware of our own powerlessness and desperately trusting in ‘it is finished,’ we will find the power and peace to worshipfully work in freedom and with joy… We will not experience freedom in religion’s three words. ‘Get to work’ doesn’t work. We must first be set free by the gospel’s three words. ‘It is finished.'” Parents, pastors, accountability group partners, community group leaders, please, please, please do not neglect grace. Your people are hopeless without it.
Many are scared that an emphasis on grace will lead to licentious sin in the “freedom” of Christ. Even Paul addressed this in his letter to the Romans, and condemned the erroneous thought that we might “sin more so that grace may abound” (Rom 6). Sadly, I see this weird antinomianism a lot (and would lie to say that I have not been guilty of it myself), but I would argue that it is not the fault of grace. Grace does not cause licentiousness. Those that use grace for license do not understand it, because they do not get the offense of sin or the cost of salvation. They don’t get the cross.
The fact that we need grace implies that we have a problem. Grace may very well require of us a stern word of rebuke for our students. It may very well demand that painful correction be implemented. Grace does not mean that you don’t say things that will hurt people’s feelings or threaten their idols, but you do it in a gracious way that does not attack who they are.
Walk with your people. This isn’t a bunch of hypothetical mumbo-jumbo. Frankly, I’ve become exhausted with myself and all of the conversations that evaporate with the air that comes out of my mouth – the gracious indicatives and moral imperatives that don’t make their way into the steps of my feet. I’m trying to walk in repentance and lead the life that I prescribe. It looks like something. The life we live is real. Call sin what it is: sin. Don’t justify it. Don’t moralize it. Don’t compare yourself to someone else. Grace is practical. If you have ever taken a legitimate look in the mirror, you know that you have been given a lot. Extend it.
“While the laws are good and holy and true, they do not generate the obedience they require. The law mirrors the problem, but grace enables the law. Grace is what we get after the law has done it’s job in pointing us to Jesus, the gospel.” – Dr. Justin Holcomb