If you don't know, let me tell you. Teaching theology to teenagers presents some challenges. How do you sum up enormously important topics like grace in a way that doesn't sound condescending? Here's one way in which I tried.
Since we're reading his book, Enjoying God's Grace, I borrowed an example from Terry Virgo. I asked the youths if they've ever traveled a long distance into another time zone. Most of the kids raised their hands. "The car radio clock or your wristwatch might say it's 3:00 PM, but anyone in Atlanta would tell you it's 4:00 PM. Which is true? Is it 3:00 or 4:00? Or maybe some of you have flown several hours and gone into another part of the world. Now, not only does your watch tell you a certain time, but your body feels like what your watch tells you. It may feel like bed-time, but it's early in the afternoon where you've landed. Which is true, what your feelings tell you or the time set for that zone?"
After becoming a Christian, I still sinned. I was and continue to be kind of a bonehead. So which was it, was I a sinner or a saint? I asked the youths this question. Most of them said "sinner". One kid said, "both".
The Bible tells us when we put our trust in Jesus and make him the Lord of our lives, we go through a transformation. Paul said in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
Paul further describes this change in Romans 6:6-11. "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus."
After having one of the youths read the passage from Romans 6 aloud to the group, I asked them the question again: Are you sinners or saints? You may feel like a sinner, but scripture says your old self has died and you are no longer enslaved to sin. You've been set free. Death no longer has dominion. It doesn't rule over you. "It sounds like it's one way or the other," I said. "You're either a sinner or a saint. That's your identity. The Bible says I don't have to pay for my sin or carry the shame of it. Which should I trust more, what the Bible says is true or how I feel?"
I told the youths I knew it was a lot to take in. I'm nearly thirty and I still have a hard time remembering all of this. I told them to think about our discussion and talk to me if they had questions. After the meeting, one of the guys thanked me for leading the discussion. "Yeah, thanks," I said. "I don't know how well I explained it."
"Even if we don't get it all right now," he said, "it was good just to talk about it."
Maybe it would be good for the rest of us to talk about it as well.
Next I'll talk about the other object lesson I gave them. It'll be shorter and more disgusting.