Joy as a Response to Joy

Quest for Life

This lesson focuses on exposing youth to the grace of God.

Quest for Life

Duration: 60 minutes

Enhancer of Joy



60 minutes

Lesson Developed by

Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne


A Response to Joy that Revitalizes Our Practice of Justice

Tips to Prepare

Prayerfully reflect on Psalm 95:1 and Ephesians 2:8-9. Consider moments of encounter with grace in your own life. How did it feel? Where was joy in the picture?

You may find more suggested material in this proposal than can be covered in a single session.  Consequently, you may have to choose which part(s) of what is suggested in this proposal will have to be eliminated.  Perhaps you may want to cover the suggested program in more than one meeting

Materials Checklist

  • Copy of lyrics of “Amazing Grace” by John Newton (1 per person)
  • Index cards with questions for the activity (if it is a large group and needs to be broken into smaller groups)
  • Copies of “Joy to the World”

Setting the Atmosphere

Chairs should be set in a circle as the young people arrive, but at some point during the meeting there should be freedom to rearrange the chairs in three or four smaller circles for discussion of specific questions as suggested in part III.  Rearrange the chairs in a circle when the group finishes section III.

Scripture Focus

  • Psalm 95:1
  • Ephesians 2:8-9



In this session, participants will gain a fuller understanding of the grace of God, as well as what it means to extend grace to others. The session will pose questions that help young people consider not only the significance of grace for them personally, but also grace might alter their thinking about social justice issues.


youth will examine taken-for-granted statements about grace, and question whether fairness should set some limits for grace. The session will explore how subjectively experiencing grace from God and extending grace to others generates joy.


Gather (5 minutes)

Greeting One Another:

Be sure to greet each student by name as they enter.  Have adult and/or student leaders greet arriving youth and engage in conversation and hand out song lyrics.

Opening Prayer:

Have someone open the group in prayer.

Introducing the Session:

  • Have the group sing the old hymn “Amazing Grace.”
  • After singing the hymn, ask if there are any concerns about what the hymn says about us.
  • Explore the implications of the phrase that has the songwriter describing himself with the words, “a wretch like me,” – is this a proper self-concept that God wants us to have?
  • Also; when the song writer says “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,” ask the group, “is that what grace does?”


Engage (30 minutes)

Activity 1: Defining Grace 

  • Ask the members of the group to give their own definitions of grace.  Then, to lighten the discussion, give them this definition of grace given by a boy at junior high camp:

Suppose I’m driving down a highway at 90 miles per hour and the speed limit is 55 mile per hour and I get pulled over by a police car.  The cop walks along side of the car and when I roll down the window he tells me he’s giving a ticket for a travelling violation, I have no room for complaint- because that’s justice.  If he only gives me a warning-that’s mercy.  But if, when I roll down the window he gives me a Krispy Kream Donut- that’s grace. 

It’s a surprise!  It’s undeserved!  It generates joy!

  • Then ask the members of the group if they can think of instances when they were joyfully surprised by grace.
  • Then talk about how this relates to God’s grace.  Hopefully the discussion could lead to the conclusion that there is nothing that any of them can do that could get God to love them less; and nothing that any of them could do that could get God to love us more.
  • Then play (if you are able to secure the recording of the song by Bono and the U2 band, “Grace on the album “All that you Can’t Leave Behind.”).  Even if you were not able to secure the recording to play you can still go over the lyrics of this song with the group and ask which song they think best expresses God’s grace- the song by John Newton or the song by Bono?
  • Read the story that Jesus told as recorded in Matthew 20:1-15:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’”

  • Is the householder doing what is fair?
  • Is it fair that a person who has lived a good Christian life over many years should receive the same benefits from God in the end as the reprobate who has lived a sinful life but repents in the last hours of life?
  • Does the man in the story who complains that the householder was not fair have a good cause?
  • Is grace fair?
  • On the other hand, reflect on the joy experienced by the man who received the unexpected pay, having worked just one hour.
  • What does this say about each of us, especially in light of what is written in Ephesians 2:8-9?

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

  • How do we balance the need to show grace when there is a need for society to maintain order by establishing rules of law and requisites for just punishment? The following segment of the lesson provides time for participants to discuss the implications of grace for real-world scenarios in which the demands for justice seem to conflict with extending grace.


Reflect (20 minutes)

Activity 2: Justice and Grace

  • Choose some of the following questions to discuss as a group. Alternatively, if the group size allows, divide the young people into small separate groups, giving to each group one of the following questions to discuss.  If this is done, be sure to have the questions printed out or written on index cards to be given to each respective group.
  • Each group should chose a spokesperson who would report back to the entire youth group the questions asked and the answers given.

Grace and Social Justice

  1. How do we show grace when there is society’s need for justice? For instance, a mass murderer goes into a high school in Florida and slaughters seventeen students and teachers. What should be done to the young man responsible for that horrendous crime?  How do Christians show grace in such a situation?  Is there room for joy in any of this?
  2. The Bible suggests that our response to crime should be restoration rather than retribution. How does this fit in with the common belief that criminal must pay his/her debt to society? What are some ways that grace can be extended within today’s penal system?  Is there room for joy in any of this?
  3. Usually when a criminal is brought to court she/he is apt to say, “I’m sorry for what I have done and the hurt that I have brought into the lives of others.” Is this genuine repentance or is that person really sorry that she/he was caught? How much repentance would there have been if the person had gotten away with her/his crime?  What is true repentance?  Should there be a requisite for a possible “paying back” to the victim of a crime as a condition for extending grace?  Is there joy in any of this?
  4. A famous German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, coined the phrase “cheap grace.” What do you think he meant by that? Does grace require that the recipients of grace change their behavior, or is it freely given?  Is there joy in any of this?
  5. Given the nature of grace, can Christians support capital punishment? And what are the beliefs of people in their local church on this matter?

Grace In Our Personal Lives

  • Read the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10.  Point out the joyful response of Zacchaeus to the grace shown to him by Jesus.  Also, note what Zacchaeus did in response to the grace extended to him (his works of repentance).
  • What does this story suggest to those of us who have become aware of God’s grace to us through Jesus?  Here is a prayer of confession that is part of one church’s liturgy.

“Gracious God, our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and too deep to undo.  Forgive what our lips tremble to name, what our hearts can no longer bear, and what has become for us a consuming fire of judgment. Set us free from a past we cannot change; open us a future in which we can be changed, and grant us grace to grow more and more into your likeness and image, through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen.”

  • Do you think there was a joyful response to this prayer on the part of the congregation?  Maybe they should have sung the doxology or sung some expression of joy?

Send Forth

Send Forth (5 minutes)

  • Have the group sing the Christmas hymn, “Joy to the World.”
  • Then have the group say the following prayer in unison:

God! We are overwhelmed by Your grace and the salvation it brings to us.  Help us to show the grace You have shown towards us by forgiving them for the sins and hurts that we have experienced from them.  Show us ways to extend grace, not only in our personal lives but in working for social policies wherein grace is manifested in the world.  In all these things, may there be joy.  In the name of the God of grace let us say Amen!

  • End by giving God a round of applause for His grace.  Make sure the session ends on an upbeat note.

Related Video Clips


This Resource includes the following downloadable content:

Yale Youth Ministry Institute