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Your Students' View of the Bible Starts With You

In the course of teaching or writing about discipleship, I’ll often find myself turning to a familiar passage to talk about the outcome or the goal of discipleship. Whenever this comes up, I almost always go to Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:1. I believe the ultimate goal of our lives is to be “imitators of God.” Plain and simple. If we see that as the goal we’re leading students to, it serves as a pretty good measuring stick for all our efforts.

The interesting thing comes when you take this idea of God-imitation as the goal, and ask yourself how you see the role the Bible plays in that process.

I think this is actually a very important question. Study after study has done nothing but reinforce the idea that young people and adults alike simply don’t value the Bible as an important part of their lives. This is kind of a big deal, as the Bible is God’s main way of making Himself known to us. How can we follow, love and relate to someone we don’t know?

So, how we think about the Bible as it relates to helping us imitate God is extremely important.

In my experience, I’ve usually seen this look one of two ways.


The First Way: Automated Correct Response

The first and what I believe might be the most prominent way is where God’s Word is viewed as a means to condition automated correct responses in students. In this model, we teach the Bible so our students will more or less memorize correct responses so they automatically know how to react to a certain situations. Following me?

We teach what the Bible says about sex, or gossip, or any number of sins, not in view of God’s character but as a sort of manual for Christian living. Girlfriend pressuring you to have sex? Flip to this chapter and verse. Tempted to cheat on a test? Go to page so-and-so. Read verse. Make right decision. Done!

Is this teaching people to conform to Christ-likeness? To imitate God? Yes, it is. But this is the wrong way to go about it. When we view the Bible this way, we strip away so much of the relational value, so much of the wonder of it. If I’m a teenager and this is how I am being taught to view the Bible, it’s going to be really hard for me to see the Bible as something meaningful and important.


The Second Way: Vehicle for Relational Engagement

The other way to see the Bible’s role in leading students to imitate God is to view Scripture as the means by which we relational interact with God. In this way, the Bible becomes the vehicle that ushers us right up next to God. When we encounter Christ over and over again in the Bible, our lives begin to conform to God’s pattern. When we teach students to see the Bible as a way to encounter God, and they actually embrace this mindset, the “work” of imitating God gets a Spirit-infused, rocket-like boost!  

The model is Christ. We are conformed to this model through the work of the Spirit in our lives. (This is called sanctification.) The Bible is an amazingly awesome resource in this process. It’s almost as if that’s the reason God gave us His Word. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.)

If we want to help our students value God’s Word and put them on the path of a Spirit-led imitation of God, it starts with how we view the Bible in this process of spiritual development.

We have to break free from seeing the Bible as behavior modification, and embrace the idea of Scripture as God’s No. 1 way of personally interacting with Him.