Dear Teenagers of Trinity Reformed Church,
How are you? I am fine. Nice day, isn’t it?
With those phatic pleasantries now warmly exchanged; I can get down to the purpose of this letter.
I write to encourage you to begin living with the full ramifications of your Christian faith. You must put off childish things and stand firm in the faith, like men (1 Cor. 16:13). Christianity is a religion with a particular kind of calling. Our Lord was tortured and crucified (Mark 15:6-41). The one who paved his path was beheaded (Mt. 14:1-12). Those who preached about His love were thrown in prison (Acts 12:1-19; 21:27) and killed (John 21:18; Acts 12:2). Who are we to think we deserve better (Mt. 10:24)? It’s a particular kind of calling, as I said.
If you are a teenager right now, then it is okay for you to think like a teenager, the reason being that you are a teenager. Teenagers, though, are caught in the middle. You look back and remember your childhood. You look forward and imagine your adulthood. And then you look down and think you are just biding your time. All this looking around makes you dizzy; dizzy to the point of floating. What is floating? It is not trying. It is living in the diffident shadow of passivity. It is waking up each day with as much purpose as a squirrel crossing the road. Floating is living with all the grandeur of a get-by, doing just enough to get by until your real life begins.
Nothing is commoner than a teenager who doesn’t bother. The problem is that the teenager who doesn’t try now becomes the 30-year-old who still thinks and acts like a teenager. Imagine a grown man who still loves, longs, and lives like a teenager. This is a travesty. Not only that, it is sin (Eph. 4:14). The Poet Ogden Nash once said, “You are only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely.” The way to stay immature indefinitely is to live your teenage years with the uncertain flashes of purposelessness. The way to maturity is to live like a ferocious archangel, full of incontestable purpose.
Because you are a teenager you spend a lot of your time coloring inside the beastliness of schoolwork. Ahgg. Schoolwork. Its majesty is your horror and it’s starting to make you weary. When you get weary you go through the motions and when you go through the motions you do things for no purpose. Purpose. There’s that awful and sacred word again, singularly peculiar to the human experience.
You can either squander your teenage years or not. Squanderers know they are squandering their lives. They feel the clouds full of thunderings gather upon their minds, “I’m spending too much of my life on a screen and my soul is seized with stupor.” “I’ve become cynical toward God, insincere toward people, and frivolous with my time.” “I have plenty of time to acquire personal and professional skills, but then waste it in riddles and wrongs.” “I don’t have to be a responsible person now. That’s for the future. I’ll pay attention in the future. I won’t have to give an account of my teenage years.”
My encouragement to you is this. Rather than continue the march to that yawning pit of slumber, stir up the dubiousness of your heart and awaken the Christian convulsion called conviction. Don’t be a get-by. Don’t passively wait for life to happen. Banish the flavor of wicked wilt. Spit it out with repulsion. As a covenant child, you belong to the Lord. You were given this gift at your baptism. It is your job now to receive it with faith. Purpose is not something you create. It is something you receive from the Lord. Each Christian receives different talents and gifts which establish their role in God’s Kingdom. Yet each Christian, by receiving the promises of their baptism by faith, has the same role, namely, to worship and obey the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, how can you live with purpose now? How can you be more than a get-by? How can you take your course in God’s Kingdom? How can you faithfully live these teenage years? Consider two pathways to get started. But understand that it requires exceptional vigilance. You will need to pray for the Holy Spirit’s help. You received the Spirit at your baptism (Mk. 1:8; Jn. 1:33; Acts 1:5). That’s what it meant when the water was poured on you (Is. 44:3; Acts 10:44-48).
Think of these years as basic training. You are being taught how to handle your tools and weapons to wage war on sin. Look around the world and tell me what you see. Sin is all around.
The world is full of, not just individual acts of sin like lust or hate, but whole systems of thought and ways of thinking that train people’s hearts to sin and shift people’s thinking away from Jesus. Your response to sin is of the utmost importance.
Your parents are giving you a Christian education. This means you are being trained to think biblically, speak biblically, write biblically, and act biblically. In your studies, you will come across armies, ideas, philosophies, and beliefs. Take care to notice that all people either obey and trust God or disobey and distrust. The current trend in this country is insisting that we order our lives, culture, arts, and beliefs without reference to God. It is called secularism. But the bargain is not completed. You can be part of a wave of godly leaders who confess this is God’s world. He made it. Christ inherited it, and we are to take dominion of it to his glory.
Today, purpose in your heart to work hard, to read, study, learn, think, write, speak, and gain wisdom to more fully align your life with Scripture. The only way is to depend entirely upon the grace of God, for not only does God’s grace, through Jesus, cover your sins, but it enables your fight against sin. Faithfulness is as active as ants. It is the virtue of licking up as much living water as each situation spouts. It is also as arduous as it is rare.
You will strike out a lot in your intellectual pursuits. Your parents and teachers, if they are any good, will give you critical feedback. You will be tempted to think, as did Jacob, “All these things are against me” (Gen. 42:36). In reality, this feedback is for your good. “Reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” Scoffers hate those who reprove them (Prov. 9:8). Maturity doesn’t arrive by the caprice of change. Maturity always grows out of immaturity. Every mature person was once immature. The process of transformation from the one to the other is gradual and continual. Whether or not you stay immature or grow into maturity begins with how you receive the correction of your parents and teachers. If you scoff at correction then you too will suffer from the chronic condition found in the church today called delayed onset maturity.
A modern evangelical might use the word spiritual rather than moral. But since the differences are negligible, and since the word spiritual today has been redefined to mean some hokey hooey about finding the Real You, I’ve used the word moral. To grow in Christlikeness is to grow in morality and this growth happens in the power of the Holy Spirit.
1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” You probably know this verse, a favorite for young people. The problem is that most youngsters can quote the first part of the verse without applying the second half of the verse. Paul is suggesting that the way to be despised is to speak foolish words, live with sinful conduct, embody hate rather than love, express skepticism rather than faith, and live pornographic rather than pure lives. The way to be admired in the Kingdom of God is to have virtue in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.
The biblical prescription for growing in moral maturity is imitation. In 1 Cor. 11:1 Paul says “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” In Philippians 2:19-30, Paul presents Epaphroditus as a model for the Philippians to follow. Epaphroditus is merely a servant. But that is Paul’s point. Epaphroditus illustrates the kenosis humility of Jesus described in Philippians 2:5-11. Since Epaphroditus exemplifies the self-sacrificing service of Christ, the Philippians should live like Epaphroditus.
So, the biblical program of sanctification means to find those Christians who have more active virtue than you, who obey Christ more than you, who speak more wisdom than you, who live in the light more than you, who love sacrificially more than you, who pray in faith more than you, and who walk in purity more than you. And don’t just find them, spend time with them and imitate them. This is the Apostle Paul’s youth discipleship program for the church.
Grace and Peace,