group magazine: November-December, 2004
Romans—do all dogs go to heaven?
JUSTIFIED BY FAITH
(You’ll need Bibles, cans of Pepsi and Coke, cups, paper, pens, and a hymnal.)
Before the study, photocopy the lyrics to the public domain hymn “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” (the hymn is also called “Amazing Love,” and you can find the words and music
at www.hymnsite.com) by Charles Wesley. Also prepare and photocopy a handout with this text:
Defining Paul’s Terms
Righteousness of God: God’s faithfulness to carry out his plan of salvation for us through Jesus.
Justified: Acquitted of guilt; declared innocent from the charge of sin.
Redemption: Set free through the payment of a debt;
Sacrifice of atonement: The removal of sin and the turning away of God’s wrath through the sacrifice of Jesus.
Have kids form groups of three. Pass out cups and cans of Pepsi and Coke to each group. Tell half of the groups to build a case in support of the argument that “Pepsi is better than Coke.” Assign the other half of the groups to build a case in support of the argument that “Pepsi is not better than Coke.” Give groups up to 10 minutes to taste their drinks and come up with supporting evidence for their argument. Once they’ve prepared their cases, read aloud this statement: “Pepsi is better than Coke.” Have groups then present their case one group at a time, alternating sides.
Afterward, ask: What points did you find most compelling from the opposing side? How much did your own personal preference for Pepsi or Coke influence your ability to defend your position? Explain. In this activity, what did you learn about what’s effective and what’s not in defending “truths”?
Say: In Romans 1:18–3:20, Paul plays the role of a prosecuting attorney as he builds a convincing case that humanity is guilty of sin. In Romans 3:9, Paul says, “We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.” Now Paul puts on a new hat beginning in Romans 3:21, playing the role of a defense attorney. But how does Paul overturn the guilty verdict that he put forward so well? He argues for our innocence not by defending us, but by defending the gospel.
Pass out the “Defining Paul’s Terms” handouts, paper, and pens to each group, then have them read and discuss the definitions. Next, have groups read Romans 3:21-31 and work together to write a creative summary, outlining and explaining Paul’s main points. Give each group a unique assignment. Have one group summarize the passage as if they were explaining it to a farmer, using farming lingo; have other groups explain the passage to a surfer, a scientist, a child, and so on. Gather everyone and invite groups to each share their unique explanations.
Say: Though you’ve all said it different ways, we’ve zeroed in on the key point of Paul’s defense strategy: Even though we’re guilty of sin, God offered his Son Jesus as a sacrifice so that we who believe would be redeemed from sin and death, and declared innocent and righteous.
Have teenagers discuss in their groups: What verse, phrase, or word in this passage means the most to you personally? How could this passage change the way you live?
Conclude by reading aloud as a group (or singing) the lyrics to the hymn “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” n
Abraham, the Father of Faith
(You’ll need Bibles, masking tape, newsprint, a marker, pens or pencils, a CD player, and Jeremy Camp’s CD Carried Me: The Worship Project.)
Before the study, make up three or four fictitious news stories. On one side of the room tape a big T and on the other side a big F.
Begin by reading these strange-but-true news tidbits, intermingled with ones you’ve made up. After each statement, have kids stand by the T if they think it’s true or by the F if they think it’s false.
• The University of Georgia heats some of its buildings using chicken fat.
• In the spring of 2004, the Mexican air force videotaped 11 unidentified flying objects.
• A woman in Washington, D.C., was arrested and handcuffed for chewing a candy bar while entering a subway station.
(Other weird news stories can be found at www.abclocal.go.com/wls/news/strange.)
Afterward, reveal the correct answers. Then ask: How did
you decide which of these stories were true or false? Why did you believe some false stories? What does it mean to believe? How is belief different than or similar to having faith?
Write “faith” at the top of a newsprint sheet taped to a wall, then lead kids in a brainstorming session, writing down their definitions for faith. Have kids use their definitions as they
discuss: What does it mean to say that someone has faith in something? What does it mean to have faith in Jesus?
Read aloud Romans 3:21-31, then ask: What does Paul mean by the word “faith” in this passage? Say: In Paul’s defense of the gospel of Jesus, the idea of faith plays a very important role. Paul writes, “righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe”(Romans 3:22). Here, in Romans 4, Paul defends the idea of faith by citing a “legal precedent”—the faith of Abraham.
Form trios and give them each at least one Bible and a pen or pencil. Have groups study together Romans 4:1-3, 16-25; Genesis 12:1-5; 13:14-18; 15:1-6; 17:1-8; 21:1-7; and 22:1-19. Give groups copies of these discussion questions and ask them to record their answers next to each question: Why does Paul use Abraham’s story to demonstrate the idea of faith? How does Abraham’s example compare or contrast with your definition of faith? How does the issue of faith relate to Paul’s defense of the gospel in Romans 3:21-31? What does Paul mean in Romans 4:23-24 when he says the words were also written for us?
Gather again and have a spokesperson from each group share its conclusions. Then introduce kids to Soren Kierkegaard, the famous philosopher from the 1800s (for information on Kierkegaard, go to www.kierkegaard.org.uk). Explain that in
Fear and Trembling, he calls Abraham the knight of faith. When comparing Abraham to other great people, he wrote, “They shall all be remembered, but everyone became great in proportion
to his expectancy. One became great through expecting the
possible, another by expecting the eternal; but he who expected the impossible became greater than all.”
Play the song “Walk by Faith” by Jeremy Camp on repeat during the following discussion. Ask groups: What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “knight of faith”? What words or characteristics might describe a knight of faith? What made Abraham’s faith so great? What in your life makes it hard to be like Abraham? What about Abraham do you admire? How does expecting the impossible relate to having faith in Christ?
Lead teenagers in an affirmation exercise based on Genesis 15:6. Using the name of each person in the group, have them say aloud together: “[Name] believed the Lord, and he credited it to him [or her] as righteousness.” Conclude by reading together Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12, then praying. n
Reconciled to God
(You’ll need Bibles, a TV, VCR or DVD player, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers video or DVD (regular version—not extended version), several newspapers, cardboard, glue sticks, aluminum foil, paper, scissors, a dictionary, and permanent markers.)
Before the study, cut the cardboard into a large cross and cut the foil into 8-inch squares (or larger). Start with a clip from The Two Towers beginning at 2:10:20 (set your timer at 0:00:00 when the studio logo appears) when Gimli says, “You could’ve picked a better spot.” Press “pause” at 2:13:20 so the picture is frozen on the yelling Uruk-hai. Have teenagers form trios, then discuss these questions: Which character in this scene is most like you? Why do you identify with him or her?
Say: Though most of you didn’t say it, we should most
identify with the attacking Uruk-hai. In Romans 5, Paul says that our sin makes us God’s enemies. Gesture to the TV and say: This is what our sin does to us. Ask: How does it feel to be called God’s enemy? How has sin made us enemies of God? Explain.
Turn off the TV, then pass out newspapers and challenge kids to each find and tear out an article that shows the way people or governments deal with their enemies. Ask them to share summaries of their articles, then hand out glue sticks and have them work together to affix their articles to the cardboard cross, covering it with newspaper. Prop up the cross and say: This is how God dealt with his enemies. Jesus took upon himself the sins that make us his enemy when he died for us on the cross.
Have trios read Romans 5:1-2, 6-11, then discuss these questions: What phrase stands out to you the most from this passage? How does it make you feel when you realize Jesus willingly died a brutal death because he loved you, his enemy?
Ask a volunteer to read aloud the definitions of “reconcile” in a dictionary, then ask trios to decide which dictionary phrase best fits the passage. Then challenge trios to paraphrase Romans 5:9-10 into their own words.
Say: Jesus’ death on the cross truly reconciles us to God.
We can be God’s friends! Ask: How can friendship with God be like friendship with a person? How can it be better than with
Explain that though we are reconciled to God and have peace with him, it doesn’t mean we will lead peaceful lives. Have trios read Romans 5:1-5 and discuss these questions, giving specific examples in response to each question: How does the Christian life involve suffering? What does Christian perseverance look like? Christian character? Hope? Pass out the foil and markers. Ask: How will you grow in your friendship with God?
Prompt students to write a one-word commitment on their piece of foil (such as “pray” or “repent”). Then have kids work together to cover the cross with foil by molding and gluing their pieces to the cross, covering up the enemy articles.
Read Romans 5:8-11 together as a closing prayer of celebration.
A Study in Grace
(You’ll need Bibles, a bright light, a screen [optional], 3x5 cards, a large newsprint banner, markers, tape, poster board, a CD player, and U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind CD.)
Before the study, write ideas for shadow-charades on 3x5 cards, such as “dog,” “boxer,” “elephant,” or “cheerleader.” Set up a spotlight shining onto a wall. Hang up the newsprint banner and write “grace” at the top. Last, write this quote on a poster: “[The abundant grace] we have received is not just a medicine sufficient to heal the wound of sin, but also health and beauty and honor, and glory and dignity...when they are all put together in one there is not a trace of death left, nor can any shadow of it be seen, so entirely has it been done away with.”—Chrysostom
Dim the lights and pass out the cards. Have kids play shadow-charades by stepping in front of the light and using their hands or bodies to create shadows representing the subjects on their cards while the rest of the group guesses.
Afterward say: Children often try to escape from their shadows—but it’s impossible. Similarly, we can’t escape the shadow of sin—it’s permanently stuck on us. Let’s look more closely at how sin got started and what it looks like in our lives.
Have students form trios and read Genesis 2:15-17 and 3:1-13, 22-24. Then have them discuss these questions: Would you have eventually done the same thing as Adam and Eve? Why is it so hard to escape sin?
Explain that in Romans 1–5, Paul builds a case against humanity and explains the gospel. Invite groups to read Paul’s closing “summary” of the court case in Romans 5:12-21.
Say: Paul makes the point that Adam’s sin results in condemnation for all humankind. Ask groups: Does this seem fair? Do you think you “inherit” Adam’s punishment, or do you think you’re sinful and deserve consequences for your sin? Explain.
Say: Paul also explains that Jesus’ death results in grace being available to all of humanity. Ask: Do all people inherit God’s gift of grace, or must it be received individually? Explain.
Play the U2 song “Grace” on repeat and explain that this song is one band’s creative definition of grace. Ask kids to quietly listen to the song as they think about what grace means to them. When they’re ready, they should use markers to write (or draw) their personal definition of grace on the newsprint “graffiti wall.”
Have teenagers review what others have written, then post Chrysostom’s definition of grace and invite a volunteer to read it. Say: God’s grace miraculously frees us from the shadow of sin and death. Through God’s grace, there’s not even a trace left!
David and Kelli Trujillo have ministered with teenagers together for many years. David teaches Bible and Theology at a Christian school, and Kelli is a writer and editor. They live in Indianapolis.