The Bible is not a story about heroes we should emulate, but about a Savior we are to adore. JD Greer
Is the Gospel clearly articulated? – The big mistake we make here in our teaching, and our curriculum is we limit the gospel to an event. We very easily limit the gospel both actively and passively shrink the gospel to something that is a box to be checked rather than as sustaining truth that continues to shape, empower and sustain or lives.
Love how John Piper puts it.
Parents teach your kids the gospel is not just something that begins the Christian life but empowers it, shapes it and sustains it. Pray, love, correct and demonstrate the love of God to your kids until he draws them they respond and He becomes their treasure and their great reward. John Piper
For a curriculum to be life transforming it has be centered around the gospel. I remember In 1989 Rick Moranis entered into the vernacular of our culture the words “honey I shrunk the kids” Moranis portrays a wacky inventor who accidentally shrinks his kids and the neighbor kids with his shrink ray he invented. Moranis’ character is unaware that his kids were shrunk by the very invention he destroys because he thinks it doesn’t work. There were multiple spin-offs of the movie and “honey I shrunk the (fill in the blank with something witty)” became a staple of sitcoms and watercolors alike for most of the 90’s.
Growing up in the 80’s has created a passion in me for all things 80’s. I love 80’s music, and 80’s movies and like it or not 80’s fashion is coming back full force. Being a fan of the 80’s it’s only natural that the analogy I will use for how we at times treat the gospel was born out of a movie from the 1980’s.
One of the problems that are very real and very dangerous in the church today is the fact that we have simplified, truncated and have made the gospel powerless in our churches and in our homes. Honey we have shrunk the gospel.
What is the gospel? Terms matter and many people refer to the gospel, but I’m not sure that we are always talking about the same thing. The gospel is the good news. It’s the good news that we have been longing to hear since God created a perfect world that we messed up when we introduced sin to this perfect world. Because we have sinned and have broken God’s perfect world, He had to send His sinless son to live the life we could not live die a death we should have died. Jesus came back to life, ascended into heaven, and will come back to us to make right all the things that are wrong about our world. That is the good news in a nutshell. We don’t have to be good enough because Jesus is, was and continues to be our spotless sacrifice.
So how have we shrunk the gospel?
We have oversimplified the gospel – We make the gospel small when we oversimplify the gospel to our kids. In our desire to make the gospel simple we inadvertently rob the gospel of its power. We tell our kids what Christians do rather than who Christ is. We talk about how God loves us but fail to tell them how He demonstrated that to us in Christ.
It is very easy to simplify the gospel to our kids through pat answers. When our kids ask meaningful questions, we must wade into the complex. If we simplify truth to our kids, the danger is that we can satisfy God-given wonder with a simple, practical truth. We give our kids enough of Jesus that we inoculate them from the whole of the gospel. They come to believe that this watered-down version of the gospel is all that there is and because it has been simplified and watered down, it has no application in our daily lives.
It’s equally easy to teach our kids moral truth because the lines are clear and the outcome is desirable. We want our kids to demonstrate the moral attributes of God. But if we oversimplify the gospel into a simple moral truth we fail to accomplish what God desires from us. He doesn’t want good citizens who do good things. God wants us to be joyful. He wants us to get the joy so He can get the glory.
When we oversimplify the gospel, we shrink its influence on every aspect of our lives.
We have made the gospel simply about salvation alone –
We have so condensed the gospel that we have made it about what Jesus did on Easter. What Jesus did in dying for us is essential, and kids need to hear that part of the message loud and clear. But what gives that message so much power is understanding the context of the broader story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. When we teach our kids to believe the gospel is the moment we raise our hands at VBS. They check the salvation box and then move on from the gospel to the “more important truths.” We must teach our kids that they are part of a story that God has been writing since the beginning. They have a part and must engage the story God is writing in and through them with the broader story of the salvation and redemption of mankind.
We shrink the gospel when we focus on a part and fail to tell the whole beautiful story of the gospel.
We buy into Gospel = lemonade –
We fall victim in kids ministry so easily to a gospel that is socially active. We encourage kids to sell lemonade and give the money to the poor. Again this is something that is important for our kids to learn but deadly for them to trust in for ultimate joy and hope. We must make sure that our social action is coming from a deep conviction and personal gratitude for what Jesus did for you, not as a way to score brownie points with the Trinity. I do good things for him I, therefore, expect good things from him.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Love this verse. The purpose of our service is His glory. Jesus continues on in the next couple of chapters explaining how we are powerless to fulfill the law but how the law was to humble us. To help us see the need we have to be rescued. When we have been rescued by so great of a savior the natural response of our hearts is gratitude. We can love Him and love others because He first loved us.
We shrink the gospel when we believe Social justice is the goal of the Christian life rather than a by-product of a gospel-centered Christian life.
Jesus and Me –
I am not sure I have ever met someone who grew up in a church that didn’t learn the simple song “Jesus loves me this I know.” Understanding that Jesus loves you is massively important and foundational to your faith. Where this powerful truth can shrink our faith is at the moment we over-personalize our faith.
In the United States, we tend to value rugged individualism highly. We have personal entrainment devices; we have all the modern trappings that allow us to have all the things that make life more comfortable. For this comfort, we pay a high price. We lose the relationships that God has placed in our lives to help mold us into the image of His Son.
The individualism of the Western church has done much damage. We have a personal savior, personal prayer time, personal devotions, personal, personal, personal. The problem with Jesus being our personal Lord and savior is we tend to isolate ourselves from the community aspect in which our faith was meant to thrive in. I do not believe that you can fully understand forgiveness, repentance, and redemption outside of the context of community. If you want to grow in your faith, you have to do that in community.
C.S. Lewis describes the value of knowing others and being known by others in his book The Four Loves. Lewis was part of a group of three men who had a very strong friendship one of the members of the group Charles suddenly died, and Lewis found himself sad yet somewhat happy because He would have more of the time and attention of his other friend Ronald Tolkien. In the paragraph below Lewis tell us of how misguided his thoughts were.
“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [Tolkien’s] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald…In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each of us has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah 6:3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall have.”
It takes a whole community to know fully know an individual if this is true of us how much more true is it of Christ. There are many aspects of the reality of Christ and the depths of the gospel that will never be fully realized alone. We must be in a community of faith walk out the gospel together. When we shrink the gospel down to “me and Jesus” we minimize the impact of the gospel on our lives and the lives of countless others who need to hear the gospel preached and see the gospel lived.
All we can say, therefore is: the community of Christians spring solely from the biblical and Reformation message of the justification of man through grace alone; this alone is the basis for the longing of Christians for one another.
We must act, we must love, we must do all that we can for Jesus, but all of that must come from an understanding of what God has done for us in Christ and in a community of believers, or it will simply be our goodness minus the gospel. The good news for us is found in 1 Timothy 1:15-17
15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.[d] Amen
If we view our lives in light of our accomplishments rather than what Jesus has done for us, we will shrink the gospel and its power in our lives.
When we shrink the gospel in our curriculum, we end up with good ideas, moral truth, and cute stories. Our kids need much more than that. We need to make sure that in our effort to distill truth we don’t minimize or shrink the gospel and rob it of its power.