Truth be told, I get a bit nervous when I hear a youth worker say that the goal of their youth ministry is to “just bring people to Jesus.” I don’t question the intentions. I don’t question the fact that Jesus is our Savior, Redeemer, Master, and Friend. I don’t question the fact that Jesus is the one and only Way, Truth, and Life. I don’t question the reality that salvation is found in no other name. What I question is what is meant by the phrase, “just bring people to Jesus.”

My concern is rooted in how “just bringing people to Jesus” is not only understood, but functionally pursued. I’ve heard the phrase uttered as a response to questions like “What are you teaching your students about sexuality and gender?”, “What are you doing to lead your students into a deeper understanding of the great truths of the Christian faith?”, and “What are you doing to help your students understand how to live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ by integrating their faith into all of life?” It’s as if the response is accompanied by a kind of slow-down-and-whoa kind of posture. . . a posture that indicates that our chief goal is to see kids come to faith through a one-time decision – as if that is the goal – while leaving the rest to chance. In the end, it’s not uncommon to hear this: “I’m not interested in talking about those things. I just want to bring people to Jesus.”

The problem is that our justification cannot be separated from a lifetime of self-denying discipleship which results in the growth of believers, also known as our sanctification. You see, truely coming to faith is always followed by living a life of gratitude marked by willing obedience to Jesus Christ. Justification and sanctification cannot be detethered from another, yet functionally that’s often where we wind up . . . and it is in effect misleading to our kids.

The problem with this “just Jesus” approach is that it gets one-half right, while getting the other half wrong. The first half is the wondrous and grace-filled invitation of Jesus to “Come as you are!” Is there anything more astounding in all of life?!? What it gets wrong is everything that comes after coming to Jesus. You see, while Jesus does say “Come as you are!”, Jesus never says “Stay as you are.” Rather, he calls his followers to count the cost that comes with denying one’s self, submitting one’s self to His will and way, and then carrying the cross of dying to self. This is true faith. To somehow communicate that the Christian faith is a “just Jesus” faith in this manner is actually a half-truth that is just as deadly as a complete lie.

Yesterday, my long-time friend, Dr. Gary Parrett, co-author with J.I. Packer of the book Grounded in the Gospel, sent me his breakdown of “Salvation in Three Tenses: Already; Even Now; Not Yet.” Gary’s breakdown was timely as I’ve been reading and re-reading Paul’s short little letter to Titus over the last week. Gary correctly breaks our salvation down into three tenses, all of which are clearly seen in Titus 2:11-14. What does Paul say to Titus?

First, we have been saved. This is our justification, that instantaneous salvation that comes through the finished work of Christ on the cross and through his resurrection. In Titus 2:11, Paul tells us that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” When we “just want to bring them to Jesus,” this is typically how far we functionally go. But why would be begin a journey that requires step after step after step, only to take a first step and then stop, thinking that we are actually on the journey when we aren’t on the path at all? Speaking theologically, why would we emphasize justification and then de-tether it from sanctification? Let me correct how I just wrote the words of Titus 2:11. You see, that’s not a complete sentence. Where I put a period, Paul puts a comma, indicating that there’s much more. And that’s where Paul continues into Titus 2:12, where we learn that. . .

Second, we are being saved. What Paul tells us is that following our justification, we enter into a lifetime of “training” where three things happen. Our training leads us first to renounce or say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions. Second, we are called to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present. We are to seek to move out of our old life, and into this new life in Christ. And third, to engage our patience, waiting for our blessed hope of the consummation, restoration, and glorification of all things. And that leads us to number three.

Third, we will be saved. This is what we are waiting for with great expectation: our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ!

But there’s something more. For those of us called to teach and lead children and teens – whether we are parents, pastors, or youth workers – Titus 2:15 commands us that we are to “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” We have a responsibility to recognize and minister in the reality of a salvation marked by all three tenses of past, present, and future. . . the grace of God that has appeared, that is appearing, and which will appear after this present age.

John Stott relates that way back in 1880, Canon Hay Aitken wrote this about the inseparable union between justification and sanctification” “Grace not only saves, but undertakes our training.” You see, we have to desire and do ministry that is about not “just leading kids to Jesus,” but leading them into the freedom-giving life of deep discipleship.

This short prayer from the Seeking God’s Face daily prayer guide captures this past, present, and future flow of God’s good gift of salvation: “Saving Lord, you save me from sin by Christ’s death, but you also raise me with him to a new life. Because I am grated into Christ, strengthen me this day to walk in that new life, producing good fruits of gratitude. Amen.”

Let’s do more than “just lead them to Jesus.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Our Blog