Three Steps to a New Teenager

by Andy Gleiser

three teenagers facing away from the camera looking at a vista

“Why don’t you just grow up?” Could there be any more unfair words to a teenager? There is no magic growth button young people can press that will automatically mature them into responsible adults. There are daily steps of growth each of us must take to progress in maturity. Only after consistently taking these steps will we grow and change.

And the same can be said for Christian growth. The Bible teaches progressive sanctification for every child of God. Just as a child must steadily grow little by little, so the disciple of Christ progresses from glory to glory one step at a time in Christ.

In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul provides a memorable three-step process of becoming more like Christ every day. But before he shows the pattern, he lays out the truth as it is in Jesus. When your teenager came to faith in Christ, something vital and irreversible occurred to him or her: They died! The old self has been crucified with Christ, the new self has come to life, and every day the Holy Spirit is renewing the mind by God’s truth.

I would encourage you to take the time to regularly remind your teens all that has happened to them in Christ. As they grasp their identity in Christ, they will more clearly understand their activity for Him. Their new behavior will flow from their new birth, which brings us to Paul’s pattern of Christian conduct.

Beginning in 4:25, the apostle highlights the three-step process to live as a new person in Christ. And he gives it to us as a PATTERN. I emphasize that word pattern because once you see it, you’ll continue to see this three-fold pattern all over the New Testament. Few things have helped me more in “living for Christ” than this pattern, so we will focus on it the rest of this post.

Okay, so Paul’s pattern of conducting yourself as a Christian has three elements: Negative…Positive…Motive.

Another way to look at it is:

  • Put off (negative)
  • Put on (positive)
  • Christian reason why (motive)

Your Christian teenager longs to grow and change. How do you help? What are the steps to take? The first step is a negative step. Because she has already put off the old self once and for all at the moment of her regeneration, so every day she needs to put off the old corrupt conduct she still wrestles with.

The second step is a positive one. Because she has already put on the new self once and for all at the moment of her regeneration, every day she is to put on the righteous behavior that comes with the new self.

The third step is the motive. She desires to put off the leftover corruption and put on the new righteous conduct because she is a new person in Christ. She understands who she is in Christ. This knowledge motivates her to new living.

Look at the pattern in Ephesians 4.

(negative) (positive) (motive)
1. Lying & deceit Integrity We are members one of another
2. Sinful anger Righteous anger Lest Satan gain advantage
3. Theft Labor So we might bless others
4. Corrupt speech Edification So we might minister grace
5. Malice Forgiveness For God has forgiven us

Though each step to the pattern is vital to Christian growth and change, I would argue that the motive, the “Christian reason why,” is most important . For example, many nonbelievers discipline themselves to put off lying in order to tell the truth. What makes this type of living distinctly “Christian” if non-Christians can put off negative conduct and put on positive behavior? It is the motive that makes this conduct Christian and thus pleasing in God’s sight.

Let me put it like this: what makes behavior Christian is not what you do but why you do it. This has been so helpful for me in shepherding young children and teenagers in my home and church. We don’t just emphasize the conduct; we embrace the Christian reason why we do what we do!

The next time you feel the need to admonish your daughter or son to just “grow up,” take them back to Paul’s pattern of Christian growth. Have them say it out loud and work out the particulars. Put off…Put on…Christian reason why.

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