The Beauty of The Great Exchange for Youth Ministry

Rooted asked contributors: How will a theological concept you’ve learned or come to understand better influence or change the way you do things in the new school year?  This article is one in a series of what they had to say.

After 13 years in student ministry, I am still fighting to find new ways to say the same thing: “Christ loves you and gave Himself for you, repent and believe.” Thankfully, this fight is not that difficult when we have the Bible. Oh, the depths of the cross that I crave our students hear and see every time we gather together!

It should not surprise us when Paul says to the Corinthians, “and when I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” I do not believe for a moment that Paul had in mind that the Gospel is shallow, but that it is clearly straightforward, coupled with amazing depth.

I began to learn the depths of the cross in Bible college when I studied the meaning of expiation and imputation—expiation being the removal of our guilt that separates us from Christ (Romans 3:25), where we see the Christ taking out our condemning sin and placing it on Himself on the cross, and imputation being that righteousness that Christ puts in us (2 Corinthians 5:21), also called the great exchange. Those days I reveled in learning the depths of the theology of the cross; however, I had no idea how life-changing it would be for teenagers.

In my experience, students struggle with the power of their sin, mostly the guilt that they cannot seem to shake loose; it is a constant weight. This is probably true for most adults, too. Way too many students know the surface of the cross and that their faith in Christ saves them, but they never explore the ocean of its beauty. When students understand that their sins that hold them guilty before a righteous God are stripped away by the cross and that Christ’s righteousness fills them, it makes dirty sinners feel clean. It brings a flow of fresh and pure water to a sin-stained heart and mind. It also puts to death the idea of trying harder to defeat bad patterns when all they really need to do is submit and surrender to the grace of Christ working in them and through them.

The doctrine of expiation and imputation is why Paul can open all of his letters in the New Testament with “Grace and peace to you.”  With our guilt stolen away and replaced with the clean and pure righteousness of Christ, we are free, and our students need to feel that. Hopefully, we can put to death the notion that theology is for the scholars and not for our students. As we should know by now, theology is the study of God, and our God is trying to communicate to us and our students the depth of His powerful love dispersed through the crucifixion of Christ.

Together we all begin this new school year with a renewed passion of a new start. Tell your students what their soul is really crying out to hear, so that in acceptance of this they might find peace. Give your students the depth of the Good News that tells them that in the midst of an evil and tempting world, they are clean as snow in the presence of Christ and free to walk in obedience and confidence in Him. No matter how hard the hearts of our students, from the atheist to the apathetic to the self-righteous student, the love of Christ softens all hearts.

I was once told that theology is much deeper than simply, “Jesus loves me.” With my whole mind and heart, I know that is, in fact, the deepest theology sinners can know.

John is the Pastor at Jackson Way Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. John is a candidate for a Masters in Divinity at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. John has been serving in ministry for the last 13 years as a Student Pastor. John's heart is to preach and communicate the Gospel to the world by serving the church and making disciples. John's writings have been published on The Gospel Coalition website, and The Vision Room website.

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