Week one we explored the idea of bible culture. So how is this different? I would argue it’s extremely different and a highly important distinction.
It’s possible to be biblical but not Gospel-centered.
As a unsaved kid I came to a youth event once because of how epic it sound. “Trash Can Wars” was the name of the night. How could anyone resit. This game was intense. You’d run into each other with trash cans all the while a giant punching bag swung freely from the top the room knocking kids over. I think they had to stop this game for liability purposes. You can imagine the kind of game this was.
I remember getting laid out across the floor having gotten absolutely destroyed by the punching bag or another kid. Upon picking myself up and just about having to put myself together like Humpty Dumpty, this lady, one of the leaders, was standing there and began scolding me about sagging my pants. "This is a church!" she snorted, “And we don’t dress like that in the church!" I remember feeling humiliated and wanting to justify myself: “Lady I’m sorry, I’m not the sagging-pants kind of guy, I just got knocked over by the—“ but it was no use. I thought to myself, this is why I don’t belong at church. I’m not the right kind of person.
What I experienced was a religious culture but not a Gospel culture. There’s a big difference. Today I want to talk through the difference between a Gospel-Culture and other kinds.
01 A Gospel Culture is centered not extreme.
Christians tend toward two extremes. The first is what we call legalism. Legalism is an elevation of the adherence to the law. Legalism says, “I will make myself right before God by living out the law.” Legalism attempts to justify oneself before God through good works. It attempts to put God into one’s debt. It says “God owes me for my good behavior.” To most of us, legalistic preaching and teaching in the home almost sounds right at first. The only problem is it’s a broken, dangerous, anti-Gospel that Jesus came to unwind through His death and resurrection. So it’s very important that parents learn to identify and disguise it from the true Gospel.
In a legalistic culture the focus is always on obedience. The result is a dry, loveless, Christian kids that either feel pride or despair. The kids that perform well feel pride as their behavior is reinforced by praise. In a legalistic culture Christians tend look down on others who can’t live up to the moral standard. On the other hand, the kid that fails to perform is often numbed by the constant disappointment, lectures, and discipline that follows. The kid in legalistic church culture or home culture fails to achieve the perfection expected experiences little encouragement or loving pursuit from the church. They may feel shame, or even despair about their faith. This explains why so many kids who grow up in Christian families give up on the local church and even God himself after leaving home, because they’ve been taught that legalistic perfection is what’s required. This is a tragic and yet all too common story.
Legalism is not what Jesus came to create. It’s what He came to kill. Legalism is at the heart of almost every other world religion. Christianity, in stark contrast is not the message that God loves us because of our works righteousness, but that God loves us because of the righteous work of Jesus on behalf upon the cross! Legalism will crush our kids, and turn them away from Jesus. Instead, we need to provide a Gospel culture doesn't say, “I’m pursuing you SO that you become love-able” but “I’m pursuing you because God has already loved us in Christ.”
To create a Gospel culture in our homes we need to be parents that say, “Your worth is not dependent on your performance. You’re safe to ask questions, have doubts, and feel frustrations. Jesus fully knows you—both the good and the bad—and yet He fully loves you, so much so that He died for you on the cross. So, my love for you as your mom or dad is likewise is based upon the unmerited grace of God and not upon how well you do in life."
Now, this addressed the problem of legalism. And many Christians talk about legalism and stop there. They believe legalism is the sole enemy of the Gospel. But this is overly-simplistic. Did you know that there is an equal and opposite error to legalism. Historically, it’s been called antinomianism. So, what is antinomianism?
The prefix "anti" means against and the greek term “nomos” means law. This is the anti-law, or lawless version of Christianity. This is the home that says, because God is love obedience is not important. So, in the antinomian home is marked by a loosely Christian, vague, inconsistent faith that doesn’t flesh itself out in honoring Christ at all. Often even the parents in these kinds of homes don’t take obedience to Christ seriously in their own lives. This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called, “cheap grace”.
Kids growing up in an antinomian home are unimpressed with the Christian God. They don’t see His value. Because in these homes, He is not feared, revered, reverenced, or respected. And because of that, they sense that He is not loved. So, the antinomian family has kids who reject Christianity not because it’s too hard but it’s too soft. The Christian kid under antinomian parents sees through their false faith and considers it a meaningless faith that calls me to nothing, expects nothing of me, and makes no difference in the world. It’s a theory and not a reality. It’s a feel good concept that doesn’t intersect reality and allows my parents to be hypocrites. Many of these kids become irreligious altogether, but others seek truth in other world religions scraping for something to grab onto.
Personally, this is closer to my experience. Before I became a Christian in high school this was what most of my non-Christian friends who had been brought up in a Christian home experienced. They never went to church, were never called to much, and their idea of Christianity was it’s cute but it doesn’t excite me.
 But if through my lie God's truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner?  And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.
The idea here is those hearing Paul’s Gospel thought Christianity differed from Judaism because in saying “We don’t need the law now that we’re under grace.” This is antinomianism. It’s the idea that there’s no use being obedient to God anymore because we have freedom in Christ. Paul is accused of this and rejects the accusation contending that because of the Gospel “we uphold the law” Romans 3:21. This is Paul’s chance to denounce the law. But Paul refuses to embrace the possibility that law abiding is unnecessary altogether for the Christian. No, to be a Christian is to pick up one’s cross and follow Jesus in complete surrender.
Gospel frees us from legalism it also keeps us from antinomianism. The Gospel presents us with a third option.
This is what is meant in Romans 8:3-4 "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." Instead of abolishing any semblance of the law we fulfill the law as we walk in the Spirit.
What does this mean for the Gospel-Centered Christian? That the Gospel frees to obey. To create a Gospel culture in our homes we need to be parents that say, “This Jesus is worth living and dying for! He consumes all of my being and compels me to live differently!"
Many Christians leaders, churches, and homes preach antinomianism. They don’t preach repentance of sin, or obedience to commands. When I see this I just want to ask, "Are you kidding me? This would rule out two thirds of the New Testament. the Bible self could have been shorter. Why did the authors write all of these calls to obey Jesus? Could it be that it’s because they believed that we should obey them? I think so.
Now hold on, even hearing this, doesn’t that start to sound like I’m dipping back into legalism? So what’s the difference between Gospel obedience and legalism? Here it is: Gospel-centered obedience differs from legalism because of it’s motivation. This bring us to our second point in understanding a Gospel culture.
02 A Gospel Culture understands change happens inside-out not outside-in.
Jesus rejected the idea of outward-in change, saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
Jesus pointed instead to inside-out change in the story of the prodigal son. The son leaves home and abandons his father only to find life on the other side empty. And when the son returns, you would expect the Father to make external changes. But he doesn’t. He simply chases his son down and pours out his love. And it’s assumed that through this undeserved love the son is transformed.
Christian sanctification, then, is not brought about by external behavior modification first and foremost, but through inward, Gospel-birthed, heart transformation. So, a Gospel culture is not one that seeks behavior modification primarily, but prays for and preaches toward heart transformation.
In a Gospel culture we pursue the heart before the hands. The inside before the outside. The Gospel says policy doesn’t produce changed people, punctured hearts produce changed people. You’ll never policy kids into lasting change but preaching produces eternal heart change.
Paul Tripp says it this way:
“As a parent you are never, ever dealing just with the words and actions of your children. You are always also dealing with the thing that controls their words and behavior: the heart.” So, “When your child wonders about what is right and what is wrong, don’t just threaten him with the law of God; woo him with the sweet music of the grace of God.”
What this looks like practically is when students in the youth ministry are making poor decisions like hanging out with bad influences, watching porn, or having a bad attitude towards parents, the primary issue isn’t just what they’re doing. What they are doing has major ramifications and consequences. And it is important to call out what they are doing, insert discipline, and correct the behavior. But that is only part of our mission as Gospel centered disciple makers of students.
To simply correct the behavior will not have the lasting impact we seek. Ultimately we need to pursue the young person’s heart with the Gospel. So what could this look like?
Paul Tripp offers a series of five heart revealing questions that we should ask. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfI4rJ6PKyg)
- What was going on? Just get a telling of the situation. Questions are heart revealing. Insightful people don’t give the right answers but the right questions because you don’t get to the right answers without the right questions.
- What were you thinking and feeling as it was happening? Hebrews says the Word of God cuts through thoughts & intentions of the heart. We’re getting to the heart motive not just the actions.
- What did you do in response? Now we’re making the connection between the heart and the actions.
- Why did you do it? What were you seeking to accomplish?This makes the child consider their own motives and actions. It’s helping them bring the two together themselves.
- What was the result? This helps kids take into account the practical ramifications of what they’re doing as it flows from their heart posture.
I think an important key here, with teenagers especially, is to ask these question not just about what they are doing but what they are not doing. Not just about why they are sinning but why they aren’t interested in church or not praying or not fascinated with God. "What was going on instead of church? What were you feeling when you decided not to go?” And so on. These kinds of questions help really understand the heart of teenagers, where their affections are, and how to preach into those moments.
Now, after walking through these questions we have the ability to interject the Gospel into the young person’s situation. So what is the Gospel and how do we engage young people with it? This brings us to our last and final point.
03 The Gospel is a particular biblical concept not ambiguous religious fluff.
By now I hope you are convinced that bringing the Gospel to bear on a young person’s heart is the key to making young disciple. But what is the Gospel?
The Gospel is particular information that changes everything. The English word Gospel comes from the greek word euangelion with translated simply means "good-news”. It’s an announcement of some good set of information. So what is that information? I share Timothy Keller’s summary of the Gospel Message for clarity:
"Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.”
This is the Gospel in a very concise summary. But we do need to think through it in a bit of detail in order to apply it well. Let me give some key points that I think will help you apply. These points flow from the summary Keller provided.
The Gospel says God is good and he made people good, in God’s image, for His good purpose.
The Gospel says God is just and people are now fallen and powerless to live out that purpose because of sin.
The Gospel says God is gracious, and God took on flesh in Jesus to die for sin and rise to restore our purpose as his Spirit-filled Church.
The Gospel says God is King and one day Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead and restore the fallen cosmos forever.
Now, as we teach our kids these ideas, this information according to the Bible has the power to transform them from the inside out in a way mere religious behavior modification does not. When they are captivated by this Story, this good news about Jesus they will be internally motivated to obey God and thus live differently. In this good news is the idea that young people are powerless to fulfill their God-given purpose of living righteously without the power of the Holy Spirit and a relationship with Jesus.
So what I’m encouraging you to do, is engage every situation with questions, and engage your kids hearts daily with the Gospel.
Let me ask you, how would you apply this teaching at home? I’m curious about what ways you’ve tried to preach the Gospel! Have a been preaching this? Or are you (like me) prone to preach religion and do behavior modification rather than deep, heart-level Gospel work? Let’s discuss this in our Rise Youth parents slack channel!