“Teens will be teens.”
“They have to sow their wild oats for a while.”
“They’ll grow up someday.”
Such is the prevalent cultural perspective on adolescence. Western society, by and large, expects the teen years to be ones fraught with immaturity, listlessness and wasted time. Pretty much anyone from the ages of 13–18 is bound to be rebellious, carefree, dramatic, self-centered, and unstable. Adolescence is presented as this weird and awkward no-man’s-land between childhood and adulthood. And there’s really nothing any of us can do about it.
This perspective on adolescence has permeated Christian homes and churches as well. But before we embrace our culture’s conclusions about the teen years, we as dads, parents, and fellow church members need to ask this question: are God’s expectations for Christian teens different from those of Christian adults? Why or why not? The answer to those questions has a massive impact on how we instruct and encourage the teens in our homes.
No, God does not have a different set of expectations for young people. His Word makes clear that He expects them to be servants just like adults. God has a high standard for young people, and that standard is one of ever-increasing sanctification, maturity (physical and spiritual), and excitement for service. With our teens, we shouldn’t accommodate a rebellion against high expectations but instead emphasize a rejection of low expectations.
So what are those expectations God sets for our teens? God’s Word presents several realities to which Christian teens must align their lives and thinking. Here are a few to earnestly ponder and faithfully teach to the young people God has entrusted to us.
God Expects Growth
The redeeming work of Jesus in the heart produces a fundamental change in a person. God’s Word calls it being a new creation. That’s an instantaneous change, but it has ongoing and increasing implications for the life of a believer. That ongoing work is called spiritual growth.
Scripture makes it very clear that Christians, no matter how long they have been saved or what age they are, are called to grow. Grow in grace. Grow in your knowledge of God. Grow in your constant commitment to his Word. Grow in the knowledge of your purpose. Grow away from the distractions that will distract or derail you from your new purpose. Grow in your love for God.
We have a perfect example for this. God’s Son Himself is held up as the ultimate example (Luke 2:52). Jesus grew. Yes, his body grew and matured, as did his mental acuity and social skills. But so did his favor with God—Jesus grew in his walk with his Heavenly Father.
As a redeemed sinner, you’re all about someone else now. You are not your own person anymore. You have been bought with the price of Christ’s blood for the purpose of bringing glory to God in your life. That calling is placed upon your believing teens at the moment of their conversion. It’s not something they can start pursuing later. Growing spiritually starts now. And God promises to accomplish that in our teens as they submit to that process.
Look up 2 Cor. 5:17; 2 Pet. 3:18; 1 Cor. 6:19–20; 1 Thess. 5:23; Phil. 1:6 with your teens and discuss with them what mindset the truths found there must produce in them. This is for everybody! All believers. No exceptions made based on how young you are.
God Expects Christlikeness
The ultimate goal of all that growth is looking like Jesus. Romans 8:29 tells our teens that God saved them for the purpose of making them like Jesus. Teens must learn that Jesus didn’t just save their lives; he now is their lives—their purpose and goal.
This reality flies in the face of what our culture expects of our teens. But it also runs counter to what they want—what their natural desires are. Look at Romans 13:13–14:
Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in… sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
A believer’s life is to be worthy of our calling in Christ—different! Life is not all about selfish fun anymore. “Sensuality” is pursuing anything that makes me feel good. It’s all about me! Quarreling (an argumentative spirit) has no place in the conversation of believers. Jealousy is an immature and wholly self-centered way to think about others. These are exactly the traits our society expects in teens.
Instead, all believers are commanded to set aside their desires and to put on Jesus. And again, this is for everybody. All believers. No exceptions. There’s no middle ground during which it’s ok with God for you to still live for self while you wait to “grow up”. This is your believing teen’s calling—right now: be like Christ.
God Expects Service
Throughout the New Testament, God’s people are commanded to be active in serving their Savior.
- We are told to go and make disciples of those around us by proclaiming what Jesus has done for them (Matt. 28:19).
- We are commanded to assemble with God’s people and encourage each other to the growth we’ve seen above (Heb. 10:24-25).
- We are commanded to actively seek out the needs and interests of others and humbly meet those needs (Phil. 2:1-4).
- We are instructed to use the gifts and talents we’ve been given to serve others in the church (1 Peter 4:10). And by the way, every believer is gifted to serve in some way and is indispensable to what Christ is doing in his church (1 Cor. 12:22).
- We are encouraged to help others who are struggling with sin and restore them to a close walk with God again (Gal. 6:1).
This list just scratches the surface of the entire picture of what serving Jesus means. And each one is something a teen can do—and must do! These are not callings for grownups, they’re callings for followers of Jesus. Period. The teen years are not too early to serve. In fact, they’re a vital time to set lifelong patterns of activity! Encourage them to serve, model that service yourself as their parent, and make active participation a non-negotiable.
What God Says to Young People
Throughout this article we’ve emphasized the reality that God does not have a different set of expectations for young people. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t communicate those expectations directly to young people! Check out these verses, written for those who are perceived in their culture as being young. See how the message is the same? No low expectations here!
- Psalm 119:9–10 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
- 1 Corinthians 16:13–14 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
- 1 Timothy 4:12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
Dads, share these truths with your teens. Seek God through his Word, and he will keep you faithful. Be mature—show it in your vigilance against sin, the firmness of your faith, and your gentle love for others. And remember, no matter what your age, you are called to grow and serve God.
Growing Fathers Team
Chris serves as an assistant pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, with a particular emphasis on the youth and on church-wide edification. He and his wife, Laura, have two children—Patrick and Kinley.View all posts by Chris