Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Moral Maze

Steve says that in his youth group they've been teaching the 10 commandments. He's uncomfortable telling people to be good. He and I have looked at how we were never under God's law and how law actually increases sin (forbidden fruit always looks sweeter). Got me thinking. My impression is that a lot of youth work tells teenage non-Christians to behave. It says you need to not steal, lust, get angry etc. These people were never under God's law so they don't need us to dump it on them. Their conscience tells them that they do wrong. And then we go and top it up. Teenager then walks away saying, I can't live your way and I don't want to.

Someone without the Holy Spirit isn't going to live a moral life. (It's pretty tough when you do have the Holy Spirit.) What can we do though? Surely we ought to say - you know that your conscience says you do wrong. God says the same. But God doesn't say do better, try harder, get ahead in the moral game. And doesn't have to work to condemn you or make you feel guity. He simply says you can't be good, you can't fool me, you can't impress me anymore than you actually fool anyone else. Game over for being good.

And God says let me introduce you to Grace. Yes it's the name for a girl but it's also something that can change the world. Its the best thing the world has never known. Grace says - you don't deserve good things from God but he'll give them to you. And he does so on the basis of his goodness and his reputation (rather than your goodness and your reputation).

How so? What makes God happy is for you to know that the best place to live is knowing him. And so he sends Jesus to be punished for all the wrong you know you've done, and all the wrong you hadn't even noticed. And as that happens you can be counted perfect in God's sight. Perfect. And teflon perfect at that. Totally non-stick and, stainless forever. You can't do anything to get in with God. You can't earn this. It's free, and it's called grace. And when you recieve God's grace heaven celebrates, God is happy and his reputation soars for because he changes your life.

No-one ever told me about this when I was a teenager. They just talked about being relevant and being responsible and being right. Grace means I can confess I'm wrong. Grace means I can mess up. Grace means I can know God forever. Grace means I can find joy in God instead of trying to find it apart from him.

Playing the moral maze that depends on my ability to find my way ends up with me getting lost, defeated and miserable. The Grace of God means I get found, victorious and happy beyond my wildest dreams.


  1. How refreshing to see so much thought go into how to handle the old testament and the law in the context of youth ministry, and what a tonic to be reminded how central grace is, even in the law.

    How often we 'get it wrong' in an attempt to make us look good, rather than wanting to make God look big.

    Thanks for another great post!

    mercy loving criminal

  2. Brilliant. I was bought up in a Christain family and so was always taught the lists of do's and don't's and had a great strict conscience placed upon me early on. I also obviously knew the 'salvation' story and so found myself repenting at the age of 10 and then trying 'to live as a christian'. I did not however understand grace. Man, I am so so priviledged to have the parents i do and the good Bible teaching church as my background. but somehow, somewhere along the line I missed a fundamental understanding of grace. and I'm sure there are many reasons for this. To be honest i don't think i understood grace until it was pointed out to me that i didn't by my boyfriend at age 19. since then, i've been on a journey of discovery.

    this has led me to start the same questioning and pondering how we can teach grace to kids and others whilst also teaching the law, holiness etc. How often we get carried away, as you so rightly pointed out with teaching the morals of christianity and actually throw our yps into some sort of bondage that God never intends. We only have to read Galatians to see this. Grace sets us free. Not to live as we like but to live in a response to God and in the way he intends. How can we possibly teach people to live a particular way until they're set free to do so?

    In the place we think we're going to be most bound we find our greatest freedom.

    I agree with Andy, another great post

    and my comment has been too long!

  3. Keep coming back to Galatians... Steve and I studied it in the autumn, then it was the main talks at Word Alive... and then we had Marcus Honeysett (UCCF London Team Leader) walking us through Galatians and Romans 5-8 from his forthcoming book Finding Joy, which is all about law, grace and... joy! Prophetically relevant.

    I dunno that I'll ever be able to work with under-18's but they need to hear about the same grace I desperately hope my students get hold of.

  4. Great stuff Dave! As a parent, it is so important to me to be teaching the gospel to my kids. I've found so many Christian parenting "systems" just seem to "miss it by that much".

  5. Very well put, dave.
    If that was the first thing people heard when they walked into a church, I'm sure our congregations would be much bigger.


  6. I had similar thoughts earlier this year - we always teach our youth the 10 commandments quite apart from any teaching about the work of Christ which quite frankly is highly questionable at best.

    A similar principle applies to the Sermon on the Mount I think.

  7. Absolutely the same applies to the Sermon on the Mount. This isn't new law this is proof that Jesus fulfills all of the law.

    We are not Jesus.
    We do not fulfill it.
    He does!

    Sadly I think I've taught this wrong at least once before.

  8. I haven't heard many people questioning the value of the 10 Commandments for Christians like this.

    A good question to ask any Christian who thinks otherwise is 'at what point did you agree to the old covenant?' as is recorded in the Old Testament.

    Of course the answer is usually that we didn't, so why do we buy into it like it has any authority over us?

    The NT suggests that it has had authority, but it's from a Jewish Christian perspective.

    Before I became a Christian, I had sin, but not after the law of Moses.

    Christians claim the 10 Commandments and there's nothing to it.

  9. Hey there Anonymous,

    Agreed - its not a law we gentile christians were ever under.

    Still useful scripture for us... and stuff that teaches us about the good news of God's grace in the face of Christ...

    The preacher's challenge is "how"...

  10. context context context!

    the ten commandments are introduced by God saying: "I'm the God who rescued you from Egypt... thou shalt have no other gods before me..."

    The voice which gives the 10Cs is the voice of the rescuing God who rescued from a miserable slavery.

    The Law was meant for the redeemed. See also Deuteronomy 6:20ff where the parents are given instructions about how to answer childrens' questions about the Law. Are they to bash them with the 10Cs?.. no.. they are to start talking about the rescue of God first of all.

  11. Amen Sam, Context is key.
    That said - if we use the 10C to teach redemption and then say "keep these 10 rules" we'd be missing the point...

    Even to a redeemed Jew these commmands only serve to highlight and provoke more sin... and reveal God to them... and the need for further redemption.