I couldn’t wait to be a teenager. My high school years raced by. In college, I volunteered at summer youth camps and church teen groups. I served 13 years as a student ministries pastor. Every year, I preach to Christian and non-Christian teens all over the United States — I LOVE IT. And now my wife and I are blessed to have two high schoolers and one middle schooler in our home! We have enjoyed every stage of our children’s lives, but to be fair, this stage has been our favorite … the best years!
That is not to say these have been easy years. But oh! the conversations we’ve had and the opportunities to disciple our kids during these important years. There have been long talks, long nights, and long prayers. I’d like to share with you what we are learning so far in parenting Christian teenagers in a non-Christian world.
Have you ever wanted a “new” teenager in your home? One who would behave better? One who would act rightly? How do you help your teenager become a young disciple committed to following Jesus? You begin with helping her understand what she once was before Christ and what she now is in Christ.
In other words, your daughter needs to know about the supernatural change that happened the moment she came to faith in Jesus. She is no longer what she used to be. She is in reality an entirely “new” person. To understand the newness of life, she must understand the old life she has been rescued from. This will be the focus of our first lesson.
In Ephesians 4:17–19, the apostle provides a blistering exposé of modern man apart from Christ. Here is the answer to why the world is so messed up. The world has gone wrong because we humans are living in the futility of our minds (4:17), the darkness of our understanding (4:18), and the greediness of our conduct (4:19). Let’s briefly break those down to help our Christian teenagers understand what used to be true of them.
Futility of the mind
When the apostle uses the word “mind,” he means the entire person. After all, the mind controls your thoughts, feelings, desires, and actions. And what was the problem with our minds before Christ? Futility! Vanity! Pointlessness! Here is a picture of mankind living for that which is empty and meaningless. And your Christian teenager needs to see what he used to be.
Watch the ads on your device. No matter the product, they’re all selling the same thing: your happiness. “Purchase our phone to have greater power at your fingertips. Take our pill to feel better. Drink our beer to forget your troubles. Drive our car to be the envy of the neighbors. Install our home security to be safe. Follow our advice to make money easier. Buy our program to melt the pounds off your body.” Need I go on?
Our world is consumed by what promises fulfillment, meaning, and satisfaction. But in the end it’s a cruel joke. It’s never enough. It fails to deliver. Before Christ, we are like children chasing pretty bubbles. Once we catch one, it pops. So we run to another bubble. It promises so much, but delivers so little.
During his life, King Solomon had the ability and authority to buy, enjoy, and do anything that made him happy. In Ecclesiastes 2, he revealed his all-access pass to pleasure and self-fulfillment. He had nonstop entertainment, laughter, pools of water, wine, novel sexual encounters, children, cattle, silver, gold, royal treasure, music, personal servants, vineyards, gardens, beautiful houses, and worldwide celebrity status. Whatever his eyes desired he indulged in.
And how do you suppose he responded to this wonderful life? “So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was unhappy to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:17)
Life apart from Christ is never meant to work or satisfy. It takes from you and leaves you holding the empty bag. Our modern world is messed up because mankind is living for pleasure. Now, hold onto that thought because we’ll apply it to our teenagers in just a bit. But we must continue down the Apostle’s description of people without Christ. Trust me, it’ll make sense.
Darkness of the understanding
If we were living for what did not satisfy, why didn’t we change? Because we didn’t understand what we were doing. We were living in the dark. God had shined His light through Jesus in this world but the darkness did not comprehend that gospel light. Our Enemy had draped a thick veil of ignorance across our minds. (2 Corinthians 4:4)
Oh, I just said a dirty word … ignorance. Is that not the ultimate insult to modern man? Here is a man who claims he is not Christian because he’s an intellectual and a man of science, reason, and philosophy! He has no time for fanciful tales and supernatural events like creation, the virgin birth, or resurrection from the dead. “Surely a thinking man cannot be expected to believe such things. Those who believe in God are in the dark intellectually, but we who believe in science and reason are the enlightened ones.”
But such a man, however brilliant, has been duped by the master deceiver. Even the brightest of intellects cannot see through the mist of spiritual darkness. For you see, this ignorance has nothing to do with mental ability; it has everything to do with spiritual inability. Those who are dead in sins do not have the life of God. Dead people don’t see.
But a remarkable thing occurs at the moment of regeneration! The Spirit of God comes to live inside - God in you! This is Christianity! God moves in. God brings the dead sinner to life. With this new life comes new understanding, true enlightenment. Now he sees. Now he comprehends. The light has been turned on. And this has happened to your teenager at conversion. But let us continue with one more description of life apart from Christ before we bring this first lesson to a close.
Greediness of the conduct
Why is the world the way it is? Because men and women walk in the futility of their minds. Why does mankind live such empty lives? Because the world is spiritually dead and their understanding is darkened. What are the consequences of such a life? A greedy, self-absorbed existence. Hey, welcome to the modern world!
Our world today is callous. Other people’s feelings, sensitivities, requests, authority, time, experience, opinion, or even pain do not matter. Apart from Christ, we are past feeling for them because we are full of feeling for ourselves. And the more we love ourselves, the more unrestrained we will be. We give ourselves over to ourselves in shameless, brazen acts of sensuality and uncleanness. We celebrate what is immoral. We parade what is crass. We post what is pornographic, lewd, or unclean. The motive behind it all is greediness. What matters is me and how good I must feel. It’s all about me and my truth. So I take what I want, when I want, how I want, because I’m all I want.
This is why we keep hurting one another. This is why we hate, shame, bully, deceive, abuse, use, mistreat, and even kill others. This is why the world is so messed up — we are messed up! For all our education, hashtagging, awareness, and advancement, our world is getting no better. All this is vital for your Christian teenager to understand. He or she must see what they used to be for there to be positive change going forward.
Our world is pretty messed up. What is the answer? We need a new humanity!
And this is the gospel! Here is Christianity! God stepped in. He chose and called out from the old race of humanity a new race of men and women from every ethnicity on the earth. One by one, He would bring their dead minds to life. He would grant them faith in Christ. He would enlighten their dark minds with the true knowledge of the gospel. He’d create in them new minds, new feelings, new desires, new understanding, new love, new hope, and a new destiny. And this ever expanding new humanity is to astonish the old humanity! Now there is a new possibility to bring true justice, peace, and love to this old world.
So let us apply this to your teenage boy or girl. To have a “new” teenager in your home, you must help him determine if he is a part of the old humanity or the new humanity. Is your daughter saved? Is your son believing in Christ alone for his salvation? This is the starting point. We will discover from the rest of Ephesians 4 in the weeks to come exactly how new people behave in the old world, but first your teens must come to understand there are only two types of people, new and old. Which one are they?
The Apostle’s whole argument for the Christian, the new person, is to no longer walk (behave) as he/she used to walk. If it is true you have been made alive with a new mind, you should have new behavior and conduct. From this point on, nothing will ever be the same. You say you are in Christ, therefore act like it! No longer behave like you once did without Christ in the vanity of your mind, the darkness of your understanding, and the greediness of your behavior. You are becoming more like Him and less like the old you.
This is where you begin with your precious daughter or son. Start with the gospel. This is what you once were. You are no longer that because of Jesus. You’re an entirely new person now. With new life comes new living. May God give us grace to see this!
Note: Read Part 2 here.