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Knots.

Why We Do Small Groups: Life Change (and the Gospel)

Monday, June 06, 2011

Life Change is the shorthand response we have adopted to the question, “Why does Southwood do small groups?” As small group leaders we need to have a clear idea what life change means in the light of the Gospel. A misunderstanding of this can lead to legalism and works oriented small groups that place a premium on saying the right things and doing the right activities rather than discovering and rediscovering the surpassing worth of a relationship with Jesus rooted in the Gospel (Phil 3:8). Here are three thoughts we need to keep in mind about life change as we lead our groups.

Life change isn’t essentially about new behavior or disciplines.
Life change starts in the heart with new affections, new desires, and new motives that lead to new behavior (life change). Tim Chester points out in his book You Can Change, “If you don’t see your sin as completely pardoned, then your affections, desires, and motives will be wrong. You will aim to prove yourself. Your focus will be the consequences of your sin rather than hating the sin itself and desiring God in its place.” (p.28) In addition, we will become very skilled at pretending and performing in our small groups, never able to really connect and encourage one another as we have been set free in Christ to do, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works… encouraging one another…” (Heb 10:24-25) The place from which any good work or encouragement springs is the heart captivated by the truth of the Gospel seen in the Cross of Christ.

Life change is rooted in our status before God (Justification), which in turn is the source for change (Sanctification).
It has been well said that sanctification follows where justification leads. (Tim Chester, You Can Change, p.56) Our new status before God is forgiven and righteous, and to the degree that the truth of this new status sinks in is the degree to which change will come to fruition. The challenge is to keep the law and gospel separate; to keep the goal from being changed behavior rather than believing the Gospel deeper.  “Then they said to [Jesus], “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29 ~ Emphasis added) Our work is to believe the Gospel deeper be discovering and rediscovering the glory of the cross of Christ. Martin Luther captures well the implications of a deeper belief in the Gospel and the implications of our forgiven and righteous status:

“It is the supreme art of the devil that he can make the law out of the gospel. If I can hold on to the distinction between law and gospel, I can say to him any and every time that he should kiss my backside. Even if I sinned I would say, ‘Should I deny the gospeI on this account?’ … Once I debate about what I have done and left undone, I am finished. But if I reply on the basis of the gospel, ‘The forgiveness of sins covers it all,’ I have won.” — Martin Luther, quoted by Reinhard Slenczka in “Luther’s Care of Souls for Our Time” Concordia Theological Quarterly 67 (2003)42

Always start with yourself.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Cor 5:21). Tim Chester wonderfully points out (You Can Change, p. 58) that this verse speaks of our new status before God (justification,) and it is that very status that is the source for life change. He offers a challenge to personalize the verse by inserting a sin you struggle with. For example: “God made Christ who had no lust to punished as porn addict for me so that in Christ I might become sexually pure before God.”  Here is a tool Chester suggests to personalize 2 Cor 5:21:

God made Christ who had no ________________________ [insert your sin] to be____________________ [insert what your sin makes you] for me, so that in Christ I might become _______________________ [insert the opposite of your sin] before God.

As leaders we must set the pace of spending time before and never straying far from the cross of Christ, the only source for life change (sanctification). “[The Cross] should often be in our thoughts, on our lips, in our songs, determining our actions, shaping our attitudes, captivating our affections.” (You Can Change, p.128) As starving needy beggar who have found the food of forgiveness at the foot of the Cross, you can and will take other starving beggars there too. The Gospel seen in the Cross of Christ is the only source for life change. As small group leaders let’s work to never forget that.

Comments

Will Spink | June 08 2011 at 6:06 am

Thanks for these helpful reminders, especially your last point. I’m learning this week that it takes me more regularly slowing down to gaze (for a long time) at the cross to remember the gospel for myself, much less to point someone else there.

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Recommended Reading

You'll find most of my recommended books available in the Guest Center at Southwood.

  • You Can Change
    You Can Change
    Tim Chester

    How do we mortify sin? How do we address the sin in our lives that reignite like a trick birthday candle we thought we had already blown out of our lives? This is a careful and thoroughly theological book that is hopeful without avoiding honesty. It is practical without being legalistic. It gets to the root of the sinful areas of our lives without offering a prescriptive regimen to hide behind avoiding the grace that has the only true power to teach “us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus 2:11-14

  • Relationships: A Mess Worth Making
    Relationships: A Mess Worth Making
    Timothy Lane & Paul Tripp

    Small groups would be easy if weren’t for the people in the group! This book will help equip you to see your own sin first and provide the courage and humility to address it in others.

  • The Heart of a Servant Leader

    This is a collection of letters written by Jack Miller to people experiencing real-life concerns and struggles. Through these gracious and honest letters you will learn how to humbly offer to others (and yourself!) hope, repentance, and courage that flows from the truth of the gospel of grace.  Though this isn’t a “how to” book full of nifty steps to Your Best Gospel Life Now. It’s a glimpse into the heart of a person who has found food at the Cross, and you watch (and learn) as he humbly points others to the feast.

  • Comforts From The Cross
    Comforts From The Cross
    Elyse M. Fitzpatrick

    This 31 day devotional will bring you to the foot of the cross to remember and celebrate the truth of the gospel of grace, and develop skills that will help “inform, free, gladden, and enliven your soul every day.” Becoming proficient in applying the Gospel of grace to our own hearts is a key skill that is well worth our effort to develop.

Recommended Listening

  • Christ PCA - Nashville
    Scott Sauls and CPC Staff

    Listen to sermons from Senior Pastor Scott Sauls and other CPC pastors at a sister church.

  • Lookout Mountain PCA
    Joe Novenson and LMPC Staff

    Check out sermons by Senior Pastor Joe Novenson and other LMPC pastors at a sister church.

  • Steve Brown Etc.
    Steve Brown

    Steve Brown’s unique blend of orthodoxy and controversy, humor and profundity, and a refusal to play religious games will give you permission you have needed to stop being so uptight. And even if it’s for 30 minutes, you just might experience radical freedom, infectious joy and maybe even a bit of surprising faithfulness.

Recommended Links

  • Tim Chester: reformed spirituality and missional church
    Tim Chester

    Tim has an incredible way of applying the Gospel of grace that is both practical and honest with a consistent skillful affinity to point us to Jesus. He is director of The Porterbrook Institute; a church planter with The Crowded House in Sheffield, UK; and the author of over a dozen books including Total Church and You Can Change.

  • Of First Importance
    Living Each Day in the Good of The Gospel

    Here you will find a growing collection of gospel-centered quotes to help reorient your thoughts toward the splendor and grandeur of the person and work of Jesus.