Liz Edrington, Youth Minister at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, VA, writes the first contribution in our new series called “The Pursuit of Holiness”.
“Impressing the importance of holiness in the Christian life.”
Three years ago, this phrase would have produced small retching noises in the youth ministry portion of my brain. “Surely, there are enough sources of ‘morals & values’ teaching bombarding our kids- at school, in ‘family-oriented’ tv shows, by parents,” I would have thought. And I’d seen so much of youth ministry offered in a WWJD format (or a ‘being a Christian means imitating Jesus’ format), that it would have been difficult not to react adversely to the phrase ‘teaching holiness’ because it would have been associated with a youth ministry M.O. I simply couldn’t (and can’t) swallow- one which often sacrifices focusing on the gospel of our Living Lord for the need to see/provide ‘results’.
But here, we are considering the question, “How do we teach holiness while maintaining the love of Jesus as the anchor?” This is something that interests me much more, as it contains the most essential thing I think we can offer kids as youth ministers: the love of Jesus as an anchor. We must begin there and end there. But we are also responsible for teaching our kids what goodness really is, and for using Scripture to share examples, pictures, and stories of that.
There is no question about it: we are called to be perfect, and to be holy. (Matthew 5:48 and 1 Peter 1:16- from Levitical references, 2 Peter 3:11, etc.). And we cannot do this; hence, Jesus died for us and we are now seen as perfect and holy in Him. But even as believers, we are still sinners who fail to live into our calling to be perfect and holy- although we have the Holy Spirit in us Who works to help us know and do what is right and good.
So I offer you this: do we really want what is perfect and holy (and therefore Good)?
I think we are made for it, and our kids are made for it. We are made for God (the only One who is Good-Mark 10:18), and to be in relationship to Him. But I think sin (and Satan) confuses us so deeply that we often lose sight of this great goodness we’ve actually been made for- which is freedom! That confusion turns the law- and the importance of holiness- into duty, obligation, and something that seems like it must be generated by the self. I think we need to be addressing holiness from a perspective of goodness and gift (inseparable from the gospel); it is living toward freedom (by/in/through Jesus) from sin (which causes so much damage and so much pain). Run from sin, run toward Jesus, toward Love, toward goodness (which includes holiness).
And when kids can’t run, or because sometimes nothing you can say, do, or teach causes them to do this sort of running (as only the Holy Spirit can), be assured that Jesus did all of the running (in the form of dying on the cross) for them and for you. And He runs after them and after you. Without an understanding of this suicide marathon on our behalf (the most ultimate, incredible love ever to be offered), talking about or teaching on holiness will never be anything but ‘hamster-in-a- wheel news.’ Living in and toward holiness (which must always remain connected to living in and toward Jesus, as He is the Holy One) is actually freedom from non-holiness (‘bad’ness) and for goodness, which is great news! But we will need the forgiveness, grace, and Presence of the Lord with every breath, so we must keep the gospel as the starting and ending point for any teaching we do on holiness- otherwise it can seem an endpoint in and of itself. Goodness, Himself (Jesus) is the endpoint we need to remain connected to in everything we do.