As a drummer, I’ve had the privilege to lead worship at many conferences and camps. The furthest I’ve traveled is from Kansas to Florida to play. Getting to see young middle and high school students get high on Jesus is always a good time, right? Usually the students forget what they learned a month later it seems. But that’s beside the point, or maybe a result of what I’m about to say.
I aspire to be a pastor someday. I obtained my degree in Religion from Liberty University last December, hoping that I will get to preach and teach for a living. Because of this, I pay close attention to what is actually being said at these things. Right now, I’ve been getting hands-on training at my church, Crosspoint, and I speak at other churches on Sunday mornings here and there.
This past year though, I’ve been playing drums at multiple Christian conferences and listened closely to what the speakers choose to preach to the students. I really don’t remember exactly what the speakers would say. I wish I obtained quotations. That would provide much more credibility, but I will have to use generalizations since I don’t have quotes.
Some speakers I witnessed taught the gospel and did a phenomenal job. They spoke truth and it was fruitful. For others, there’s been a consistent theme preached within my radar. It’s been the behavior modification theme. And it’s been sad. Preachers that try to enforce behavior modification within the church miss the opportunity to teach the depths & riches of the gospel.
First, know that I am a big fan of conferences. I gave my life to Christ at one in 2010. God shows up when people gather to worship him. Making high school students enjoy summer camps usually involves funny content and playing games. I’m not against those things. It helps the boys and girls enjoy being away from home more. If you can make some kids laugh then they’re going to see you as a more credible speaker when you drop the heavy stuff later. I get it. Share some jokes, share funny stories from family memories, then blast them with the gospel. This has been the usual pattern.
Where I think most get hung-up is when they are asking the question, “But what do I DO?” Or people think, “I don’t feel like I’ve really accomplished salvation.” What people need is the clear, full, undiluted gospel. We cannot accomplish the gift. We receive it. You don’t leave and just change your behavior from now on in order to earn favor with God. You receive Christ. While hidden in Jesus, we escape the wrath of God. We become born again. A new life blossoms and there’s no going back. No man can earn right standing with the Father by changing behaviors. Though it is accurate to say that our behaviors do change after salvation, it’s not what saves us. We are granted freedom only when we place our faith in Christ and in Christ alone. By his grace we are saved, and by this grace we stay saved.
Many need to hear this plain explanation even if they have grown up in church their whole life. Why? I believe that the gospel is not only how we get saved, but is for all peoples of all spiritual ages. Tim Keller states that “the gospel is not just the ABC of Christianity, but the A to Z.” We never outgrow our need for the gospel. It is the power of God. It sanctifies us. Whether you’re 2 years old (spiritually) or 80 years old (spiritually), you need the gospel.
Here’s why I really wanted to write this post, you cannot atone for your own sins. So, it’s really an atonement thing. Changing your behavior doesn’t do anything to cover former sins or future ones. Many people today need to get this. What we need is to connect to Jesus.
I think of the typical high school kid going through life. They probably experience poor parenting, addictions, raging hormones, a desire to look real good for their classmates, and enormous pressure to figure out life without a solid father figure. After attending a Christian conference the default response is to go and fix what’s unbiblical in their life. But this won’t fix anything really. We are lost and broke, DEAD for that matter. The issue is that we need to be born again. We need to connect to Jesus. We must abide in the Vine first. This is the first step. Connect to Jesus.
My heart has been heavy for people who hear “try harder.” You need to submit and lay it all down at the feet of Jesus. If you are someone who feels like trying harder is what needs to happen in your spiritual life, it’s a false security. The apostle Paul said it like this to those in Galatia, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse,” (Gal. 3:10). By the way, the book of Galatians hits on this stuff really well. I encourage you to read the book (only 6 chapters).
So whether you’re a student or not a student, I hope this applies to you. Originally, all of what I am saying sparked from leading worship throughout the country and hearing the speakers at many camp gigs explain very little the clear redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Understand that Christ is our all-in-all. A change in behavior isn’t enough to wash away your sins.
What I’m not saying is that you don’t need to repent. I’m a great advocate for repentance because it’s biblical and necessary for salvation. We must repent of sins because sin leads to death. But we are justified by the blood, not our works.
“God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood–to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished,” (Rom. 3:25). “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:1). These two amazing passages sum up my heart’s cry. Read these until you see it.
Rock of Ages is probably my favorite hymn. One of my favorite things is gathering with other believers and singing old hymns really loud. This whole song is amazing, but one section of the song states,
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
Take that in. Preachers, when you get done preaching, the congregation should want to sing lyrics like these after experiencing the grace of God. This is the God we serve, the God of grace. The subject of atonement is not something we’re supposed to hear in confirmation class once then forget about it. This is powerful stuff. I think on this truth of being justified by God’s grace, adopted by his love, and sustained by God inside me often and it’s refreshing. Not only is it truth, it brings life.
1 Timothy Keller. Galatians for You. The Good Book Company (2013), p. 9.