This post was also featured on youthworker.com.
Painting the Picture: It is easy for the students in our ministries to get the wrong idea about Christianity. And to be fair, it isn't their fault. Most of our students are connected to our ministries because their parents want them to be. At some point in their parents' life they made a profession of faith and have given their hearts to Jesus. The parents have intentionally chosen to be a part of a church community for their own spiritual growth and development, and part of that decision iis finding a place for their children to develop spiritually as well. Which leads us back to our students.
Most of our students are part of our ministries due to the faith of their parents rather than their own. This is probably some of the reason that the faith of many of our church family students seems so dry and weak. At best they are choosing the religion of their parents. But this religion of their parents is a far cry from the Easter faith that is offered to us by the risen Christ.
If we want our students to move from religious faith to and Easter faith we must paint the picture of what that sort of faith looks like. We have to affirm them where they have been and where they are, and encourage them to take the next steps into a deeper and more alive faith. By examining some of the purposes of the Easter story we can help students identify where they are in their personal faith and what it might look like to move closer to a faith that is alive and full of power.
Substitutional Atonement: This is a big and fancy word for church people, but it is vital to our understanding of Christianity. This purpose of the atonement can be summed up in 2 Corinthians 5:21. "For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ."
This purpose of the resurrection is the beginning steps in our Christian faith. We are sinful people separated from God and it is Christ who takes our sin upon himself and bears our punishment in our place. And in exchange we become righteous, not because of our works, but because of our faith.
It is this understanding that most of our church kids understand and even accept. This is an intellectual understanding of faith and the transaction that happens because of the cross. But if our faith understanding ends here, we are left with a boring and selfish version of Christianity.
The Gift of the Holy Spirit: The second purpose of the resurrection is that the Jesus we love and follow is not just a sacrificed savior, but is actually alive. In John 16 5-15, Jesus tells his disciples that he must go so that the Holy Spirit can come. And it is the Holy Spirit that leads us into truth, convicts us of sin, comforts us in our sorrow and grief.
The Holy Spirit is the key ingredient to transform a generational faith into a personal one. Without the Holy Spirit, our students are destined to be simple religious people who will be good church folk. But when our students actually recognize that the Holy Spirit is alive and active, who wants to lead and direct their lives, they have an opportunity to actually develop a relationship with a God who is alive.
Conversing with the Holy Spirit is dramatically different than the religious duty of confessing sins, thanking God for our blessings, and offering prayer requests. We must help our students realize that the Holy Spirit is what separates our faith from simple religion. And access to the Holy Spirit cannot be transferred generation to generation. We can only have access by our own confession of faith.
Power over Sin and Death: "Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God's law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin." Romans 7:24-45 about sums it up!
Death and sin are the signatures of this world. We experience grief and heartbreak because of this broken world. Peoples horrible choices impact us and crush us. Our choices impact others and crush others. This world is broken!!!
For our church kids and for most of their peers, the world is broken and good works, charity and recycling is the answer. The resurrection is our answer. Death and sin no longer have the final word. We do not have to be good people trying to make the world better. Rather in Christ we are new creations. We are being transformed into the image of Christ, we are being healed and made whole.
This process of transformation is not by works but by the work of a Savior who is active and alive. Jesus' resurrection proves that he has true power over the grave and over sin. And 2000 years of church history prove that this power is real. Telling your story and the story of people in your own community is vital to help shape the reality of this transformation.
Students aren't old enough to have the perspective to see the gradual healing that the Holy Spirit has done in our lives. But this is the testimony we must proclaim. Gutter to Glory stories aren't helpful for their faith development. Jesus is alive and is at work in our lives in big and small ways and we must be faster to point that out and celebrate together.
Ushering in a New Kingdom: This last purpose of the resurrection is the most exciting and least selfish. So far the beneficiaries of the first three purposes are ours. We are the ones who are forgiven and made right. We are the ones who get direction and comfort from the Holy Spirit. And we are the ones who are being transformed and freed from a life dominated by death and sin.
But the last purpose, and I think the main purpose of the resurrection is to usher in a brand new kingdom. Colossians 1:13 says, "For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son" We pray, "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done." The resurrection is about the suffering servant regaining his proper place in creation at the right hand of the Father.
The resurrected Lord is now king of a kingdom that is nothing like the kingdom of this world with all its death and destruction. It is an upside down kingdom where the poor, the meek, and the pure in heart are blessed and the pride are taken down. It is a kingdom that is rueld by faith, hope and love.
What is mind boggling is that the risen Lord invites us to be part of the ushering in. We are the body of Christ and it is our job as people with a genuine faith in Christ and access to the Holy Spirit to roll up our sleeves and get to work. The mission trips we do, the acts of compassion and mercy we do, the justice work we do are all part of bringing in this new kingdom.
Helping Our Students Get It: This Easter faith can not be transferred down from their parents. Our students need us to help them understand where they are genuinely at with their faith. Do they simply have intellectual assent to the work of the cross? Do they have a one way relationship with the Holy Spirit? Did they know that they can be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit, not by them trying harder? Did they know that they are part of God's solution for healing and life on this planet?
Adolescence is the appropriate season for them to separate from their parents' identity and faith and to figure out their own. We must not be blind to good church kids saying having good theology doing good things and miss a faith that is connected to the power of Easter. Let's ask them the hard questions and be praying our guts out for them as they figure this out.
May this Easter faith be just as alive in me too. He has risen.
Some Questions For Reflection: 1) Which purpose of the resurrection do you most identify with and why? 2) How do these purposes manifest itself in your life? 3) What is the purpose after the one you picked and how can. you lean into that more this week? 4) What is your biggest hang up with really living like we believe in an alive God and not a dead religion? 5) What is one thing you can do this week to live into the reality of the resurrection?