It is a good to thing to stumble upon material that is gospel centered. What I mean by that is that Jesus’ finished work (Life, Death, Resurrection) is our means and motivation to follow Him. Instead of what I call a “Nike message” (just do it), good material will point to the truth that Jesus has already done it FOR us and now is going to start doing it IN and THROUGH us. That’s much different than a “Nike message.” Such messages lead to pride (I did it) or despair (I can’t do it). Well trained teachers saturated with the gospel thinking will tend to pick up on “Nike” material as they can smell moralism and legalism a mile away.
However what should a teacher do when he/she comes upon such material or a small section in your teaching materials that doesn’t appear to be gospel centered?
1.) First of all, we need to realize that NO material comes to us from Mt Sinai, with the exception of the Torah (first five books of bible) literally speaking and the rest of the scriptures spiritually speaking (the rest is also inspired by God). As a result this is the only material where the problem is never with the material but with the teacher. But when you teach the books of the bible, you still have to interpret and apply the passage within the overall story of the bible. For instance, the bible clearly gives commands. But we interpret those commands with an understanding that Jesus has fulfilled those on our behalf. Now he empowers us to live those commands out. You can’t skip the first part. Sally Lloyd-Jones does this so well in her Jesus Story Book bible. She writes more about it here, explaining why children need to understand the bible is not ABOUT them, but Jesus.
2.) When you look for Christ-centered application within the passage, you can usually find it implicitly if you look at the larger context. When Paul writes “practice these things,” he also says the “God of peace will be with you (Phil 4:9).” Jesus has established that peace and we need to realize this, particularly when we fail to “practice these things.” That’s very clear gospel centered application. Other times, you’ll just have to look at the overall book, or overall story of the bible to help frame your application.
3.) When you come upon material that is in general very Christ-centered, don’t hold it to a standard higher than you hold the bible. What I mean is that not every command in the bible reads, “Because Christ has done this, then….” (though many in essence do say something like that). And the bible doesn’t have to say that for EVERY command. We know the story of the bible and why Jesus had to come and die; if we could do the commands without his power, motivation, forgiveness, He wouldn’t have needed to die! So it’s important to not over-scrutinize generally Christ-centered material. We shouldn’t put on it an expectation that even the bible does not meet.
4.) The bible does instruct us to DO. It really does (James 1:22). Of course the way to change what we do is change what we believe-go back to the gospel and really start believing more than we have. But if we do believe, we will DO. The goal of bible study is not simply to learn what Jesus did, but how He’s working that out in you today. Sometimes we (I don’t think it’s just me!) who love gospel centered teaching can forget to tell others the implications of our belief. For instance if our conversation is to be seasoned with salt, full of grace-and I trust that I’m now only judged by Jesus’ speech (which was perfect)-I need to recognize the implications of that truth when I hang out with my friends, classmates, neighbors, etc….
5.) Sometimes specific lessons within generally gospel centered material will seem a bit more legalistic (making God like you more by what you do) or Pharisaical (making up stuff to do to make God like you more). In this case you the teacher can decide how much of the material that you need to use. I always say, unless its the bible, you can Take it, Toss it, or Tweak it. More often than not, the teacher can simply use statements like the following:
- How has Jesus fulfilled this perfectly? Consider what Jesus did and how we are now declared righteous for His work.
- If this we believe this is true, how WILL our lives really look? What is the implication of our gospel rooted belief?
- Because Jesus has given his life for us, how can we follow Him more in this area?
- Because we have been set free from sin’s enslaving power by Jesus, how will we pursue and follow Him as a result of believing the truth in this passage?
- We don’t need to fear failure anymore. We will and that’s OK, and Jesus loves us just as much when we do. But let’s figure out how he can imperfectly reflect Him in this area.
You don’t have to use these or similar expressions every time, and shouldn’t demand them from your material. However, if you rarely couch your applications with the underlying gospel truth (what Jesus has done), then folks will begin to hear “just do it.” So keep a few in the back pocket.
Since I have teachers that are gospel centered, I don’t fear material that may have some legalistically formulated applications. When you cherish the gospel truth, you can tweak any material to point them to Jesus work and His work in and through us.