Teenagers and adults are regularly being catechized by our culture—and very often we falsely synthesize the broader culture’s convictions with our faith in Christ. In this series, Rooted writers examine “half truths” our teenagers may be tempted to embrace. Each article represents a common axiom that needs to be informed by the gospel. We hope these articles and the questions provided will help you start a gospel-centered conversation at youth group or around your dinner table.
Some months ago I heard a sermon in our church that left me unsettled. The minister recalled how, as a teenager, he reluctantly agreed to be a counselor at a special needs camp, and that experience changed him profoundly. He went on to say that by the end of the session, he looked at this camp community and knew the Kingdom of Heaven was a place where it did not matter if you were wheelchair bound, or had Down syndrome, or were visually impaired.
My problem with the message of this sermon is that its claim, while inspiring and beautiful, is only partially true. Yes, in God’s eyes we are all His beloved, just as we are. However, His promise to those who follow Jesus is that we are being transformed to wholeness and glory. We live in a fallen world full of suffering, but we are people who have the assurance of change and deliverance.
For those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, who have been given his righteousness to cover our broken and sin-ridden selves, the Kingdom of Heaven is where former things will pass away. We will be made perfect – in new, perfect bodies – and limitations will exist no more. This is the nature of God. His creation will be restored to perfection, not merely a place where it is ok if we use a wheelchair or have a mental disability.
Our children live in a world that tells them they are great just the way they are. They can be their own “best” selves. They have power and beauty and awesomeness just because they are who they are. This sounds like a positive and healthy worldview, but, again, it is only partially true. The “wisdom” of our current age insists that our goodness is completely intrinsic and we only need to actualize it. In my experience as a human being, my “own self” lets me down every time.
We ARE God’s image bearers. He created us and called us good, but then came sin. From that moment on we have not been able to repair our brokenness. We need, and we have been given through the atoning work of the Cross, an extrinsic savior who imputes to us a righteousness before God and each other that we do not possess in our own flesh. This is a message of freedom: freedom from the tyranny of self-help formulas and a world that tells us to “just do it.”
It seems even within the walls of our churches our kids can hear something that is not the whole Gospel. The preacher of the aforementioned sermon sold God short. God does not want us to be “ok” in our own skin, His will is to transform us and make us completely new. He is in fact, “making all things new.”
How do we parents impart this to our impressionable children when there is so much noise to the contrary? I offer these several suggestions:
Start where the message of the culture and the message of the Gospel can agree.
It is a good and holy thing to respect, honor, and love everyone. The second clause of Jesus’ Great Commandment is clear: love your neighbor as yourself. Disabilities do not define a human being, and that is something Jesus and the Americans with Disabilities Act both preach.
In the same spirit we teach our children, that as Christ followers, we are in no position to judge the marginal, the outlawed, the different, and the seemingly unlovable. In God’s eyes we are no better than those we are inclined to see negatively. Our brokenness might present differently, but we need a savior as much as every other human being ever born needs one.
Emphasize the unfathomable love God has for us.
Through Christ’s atoning work on the cross, God loves us as He loves Christ. God’s purpose for us is beyond our comprehension. Continually tell your children, and yourself, that through Jesus, God loves us in spite of who we are. God knows every bad thing we have done, every bad thought we have harbored, every insecurity, all our posturing and competing and coveting, and He still loves us completely. We are not great just the way we are, but God loves us so much He has made us “great” through Christ. Our only “best” self is our self being transformed in Christ:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:17)
When you hear a half-truth or false teaching, within or outside of church, talk about it with your children.
When our kids were little and a commercial on the television would interrupt us, I would talk back against the message. “So, I will have beautiful, shiny hair if I use L’Oréal, and I’m worth it? I need to buy some immediately!” Our kids thought this was hilarious and over time they took their own turns refuting the attractive but false messaging of most advertising.
In the same manner, “talk back” to half-true teachings in front of your children. Explore what the scripture has to say together. Make your case for what is lacking or misleading in a particular half-truth. You are modeling an important skill as well as including your children in your relationship with Christ. I actually had a conversation with two of my grown children about that sermon on the Kingdom of Heaven and they helped me think it through.
There are two lines in the hymn “Just As I Am” that beautifully describe a life in Christ: “Just as I am- Thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve.” God receives us and loves us just as we are. Then He changes us through the saving work of Jesus on the cross. God pardons our sin, cleans up our hearts, and relieves us from the burden of striving to be what we can never be on our own. We parents do well to impart to our children the whole truth of our identity in Christ: God loves us just as we are – even though we are sinners – and that fact changes us profoundly.
Questions to Get Teenagers Talking
- Why do you think the half-truth “God loves us just the way we are” is so appealing?
- In what sense is that half-truth true? And what is the whole truth?
- What do you think is the harm in believing a half-truth? Can you think of other half-truths that our culture, our schools, or own wishful thinking want to teach us?
- When you examine the fact that in Christ, you are a new creation, how does that make you feel? How do you think and feel about the reality that Christ is working to “change us profoundly”?
- “Just As I Am” was written in 1835 by Charlotte Elliott, a middle-aged woman who found herself disabled and depressed, feeling she had nothing left to “give” God because of her physical limitations. Describing Elliott’s mindset as she wrote, one hymn writer said, “She gathered up in her soul the great certainties, not of her emotions, but of her salvation: her Lord, His power, His promise.” Later, evangelist Billy Graham took up the song to play at the end of his sermons, inviting members of the audience to give their lives to Christ. Read the lyrics and think about what this simple and powerful message meant to both Elliott and Graham, and how it ministers to you.