I didn’t grow up going to church. Not even close. In fact I made fun of people who went to church. I didn’t know anything about the Bible so it is a little funny to me sometimes that I teach Bible today. Early on when I started learning Scripture and teaching Scripture the focus was on finding the timeless principle. It was really helpful. It was grounded in truth. It wasn’t a personal opinion of the day. It was communicating God’s world. However, I have found teaching timeless principles ultimately leads people moral and behavioral modification. It was a timeless principle, but it ultimately fostered legalistic patterns and neglected to exalt and elevate the righteousness we have been given through faith in Jesus Christ’s work on the cross.
For example, when I would study to teach Old Testament Scriptures I would look for timeless principles so that we could have the life of that Old Testament character. When I would study New Testament Scriptures I would look for principles of how we could live with that same dedication or commitment. It wasn’t bad, it was biblical, but it also didn’t seem to lead to life change. It would lead to behavioral modification, but it would never seem to last. It never seemed to result in lasting courage of Joshua or lasting passion of Paul. As a result it would leave you with one or two responses: Either exhausted because you are trying so hard to have courage or passion, or angry because you can never seem to have encourage courage or passion.
In addition, it reduced Christ’s work on the cross to a closing comment at the end of a lesson. There might be moments where there was a powerful illustration that would be used to call people to transformation, but for the Christ-follower it often seemed like the truth of Christ’s work on the cross was repetitive and something that was for other people.
As I examined this pattern in my life it led me to look at the Scripture differently. It led me to study and teach Scripture with the focus of looking for Christ’s work on the cross being exalted. It led me to not settle for teaching moral principles. It led me to a place of seeing the gospel throughout life and not just in a call of transformation. It doesn’t mean the biblical principles are overlooked, but that the biblical principles aren’t the destination either.
For example, I continue to study Scripture, I continue to look for principles, and I continue to teach those principles to others, but it doesn’t stop at the principles. Instead I provide time to identify how we fall short of those principles. I look to draw out the emotions (anger, shame, guilt, overwhelmed) that are attached to those principles. I look to acknowledge the self-righteous part of us that wants to fulfill those principles on our own, and the rebellious part of us that wants to completely overlook those principles. I have found that this dialogue allows for the audience to find a greater connection to me as the speaker and a greater connection to the Scriptures as a whole.
In every audience, believer or non, there are parts of us that long to fulfill those principles on our own and there are parts of us that want to rebel. Therefore, the gospel isn’t something that is attached at the end of a message, but instead it is the place where we find our hope. Instead of the teachings stopping at the principles it allows the principles to lead us to the cross. The gospel shows us that our self-righteousness could never be good enough. The gospel shows us that God doesn’t require moral people who are trying really hard and doing better than those people around them, but instead God requires perfection. That perfection doesn’t come through our morality, but through Jesus Christ.
In addition, the gospel shows us that God never intended for us to fulfill those principles on our own and that is why He entered into human history. Jesus came to fulfill that perfection on our behalf. Jesus knows what it is like to be confronted with those principles and yet He fulfilled those principles in every way.
In both of those scenarios the gospel is elevated and it reminds us of the hope we have been given in Jesus Christ. It allows for the audience to connect with me as the speaker, with the Scriptures as truth, and with a Savior who is full of grace and mercy. It leads the audience to a place where they aren’t leaving thinking about how they could be better people, but instead they are leaving thinking about what a great savior we have in Jesus. It’s also a lot of fun. Here are a couple of questions you can ask as you study and teach Scripture:
* What is the timeless truth?
* How do we fail to live out that timeless truth?
* How does Jesus fulfill that timeless truth on our behalf?