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.
So here’s an interesting question: If your teenagers were to imitate your attitude toward the Bible, what would happen? Would you be OK with the outcome?
I think this is actually a very important question. Study after study have 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 that our students will more or less memorize correct responses so that 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 relationally 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.