WiW: Repentance from Dead Works

Five weeks ago, my Sunday school class turned a corner.

We finished the Old Testament and began the New Testament.

Last week, we reached another bend in the road. With the book of Acts, we entered the era of the church.

And my job as a Sunday School teacher got a lot harder.

I have a dozen students, give or take. Some have made professions of faith, others have not. Some are likely regenerate, others may not be.

Teaching the Old Testament is easy.

Almost every line tells of our desperate need for salvation and our absolute inability to effect salvation of ourselves. Every line points forward, from where many of my students likely are (unregenerate) to Christ’s work.

Teaching the New Testament is hard.

The epistles are especially hard, since they’re written to believers. Most of the epistles answer the questions “What just happened?” and “Now what?”

Good questions, necessary questions, but ones I have a hard time teaching to little unbelievers.

The epistles can quickly become either a set of doctrines to memorize or a set of rules to follow–unless one has already been gripped by the reality of the gospel.

Which is why I must be wary.

I cannot follow the popular Sunday School treatment of the New Testament–in which the armor of God becomes something one works hard to put on and the fruit of the Spirit become something one works hard to produce.

Instead I must point my students backwards, ever backwards.

The author of Hebrews speaks of leaving the elementary doctrines of Christ, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God (Heb 6:1)–but I cannot do this.

I am laying a foundation. My students are not yet mature. To teach them mature doctrine would be fatal–for without the foundation of repentance from dead works, I set my students up to become self-righteous dead men.

“It is easier to save us from our sins than from our righteousness.”
~C.H. Spurgeon, quoted by Tim Challies

If my students are allowed to think that they are good, that they know much, that they are wise and holy and right, I have failed as a Sunday School teacher.

Because good, holy, wise, and knowledgeable students see no need for Christ. Which means that good, holy, wise, and knowledgeable students will die in their sins.

“I am indeed a sinner in this life of mine and in my own righteousness, but I have another life, another righteousness above this life, which is in Christ, the Son of God, who knows no sin or death, but is eternal righteousness and eternal life.

For if the truth of being justified by Christ alone (not by our works) is lost, then all Christian truths are lost.”

~Martin Luther, quoted by Vitamin Z

This is what I strive to teach my students, even as we move from the simpler to the more complex portions of Scripture. I must forever point them backwards to the futility of their works and the absolute sufficiency of Christ for salvation. Any other teaching, at this point, would be presenting a false gospel.

The Week in WordsDon’t forget to take a look at Barbara H’s meme “The Week in Words”, where bloggers collect quotes they’ve read throughout the week.

1 thought on “WiW: Repentance from Dead Works”

  1. I so appreciate your carefulness in teaching your class. I can’t imagine teaching a book like Romans to very young children. Though it’s based on and emanates from the gospel, teaching concepts to young children is harder that teaching a story and then bringing truths out from it. But it’s essential that in our attempts to place those concepts “on the bottom shelf” for children that we don’t subtly change them, and I commend you for being alert to that.


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