But we refused to give in to them for a single moment. We wanted to preserve the truth of the gospel message for you. Galatians 2:5 (NLT)
From the church’s beginning until today, there has waged a battle to preserve the truth of the gospel message. Every generation, every culture and every heart finds ways to pervert the Gospel. The Gospel is the proclamation that Jesus became man, lived perfect in our place and died shamed in our place. His life and work makes repentant sinners entirely accepted and approved (righteous) before a holy God. It’s a complete work of grace.
Tim Keller says it this way: “we are sinful beyond belief but loved beyond hope.”
One of the constant threats to the Gospel message is the moralistic message and motivational message.
Moralistic messages begin and end with: “You SHOULD!”
Motivational messages begin and end with: “You CAN!”
But the Gospel message begins with “You MUST but you CAN’T!”
Thankfully, it doesn’t end there.
In youth ministry there is undeniable pressure to get teenagers to behave. The problem is there is nothing more exhausting AND dangerous than convincing unconverted teenagers to behave like Christians. This problem is exacerbated by the truth that it is possible to leverage lesser motivations (fear, pride, guilt) to manufacture behavior change–even spiritual activity. You can build and grow a youth ministry on moralism and motivationalism!
There are so many reasons our hearts default to moralism. It offers us control. We can measure ourselves. We can measure others. We aren’t truly indebted to the grace of God – there’s a limit to what He can ask of us.
There are four primary responses in the mind and hearts of students when they hear moralistic/motivational preaching:
DEFIANT: “I never get this right and I don’t care.”
DESPAIR:“I never get this right and I never will.”
DETERMINED:“I never get this right but I will now.”
DESENSITIZED:“I never get this wrong/I always get this right.”
In each response, the teenager is focused on self.
The radical call of Christianity is away from self-reliance and self-salvation of any kind. We must die to every last ounce of hope in ourselves that we have! The beauty of Jesus is seen when we recognize the full Gospel message:
“We MUST! We CAN’T! He DID! In Him, we CAN!”
Youth workers, let’s be careful in our teaching and preaching that we’re not simply giving GOOD ADVICE instead of sharing GOOD NEWS. Let’s remember the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:16 – the gospel is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes!