It’s so simple. The fact that Jesus is greater than anything else we will come in contact with today seems so basic, so elementary. This simple truth could alone embody the principle behind the saying “familiarity breeds contempt.” It’s as if, in our quest for something greater (transcendence, if you will), Jesus just seems so…common. I mean, don’t get me wrong, He’s cool and all. But there is something about Jesus that is disconcerting. After all, you can never really tell what He is going to do next in the New Testament. I mean, one moment He is forgiving someone who, the spiritual leaders of that day, had condemned to die for the wicked, debauched life that she was living, and the next he is overthrowing the moneychanger’s tables in the temple. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jesus. He died for me, and in so doing made it possible for me to go to Heaven one day. But it’s not heaven that I struggle with…it’s the space in between. This little area called the Christian life is no cakewalk. And that is where I find most teenagers. They believe in Jesus. Most teenagers I deal with have even accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and are trusting in Him to take them to heaven one day. But it’s not the “one day” that they are struggling with. It’s the here and now.
I suppose that I could go into the reasoning behind why the younger generation is struggling with believing that Jesus is greater than every issue, struggle, trial, and personal valley that they might encounter…I mean after all, they had to learn it from somewhere. But my goal is not to point fingers at those who have gone before. I simply wish to expose incorrect thinking in the theology, ideology and philosophy that has been passed down…in essence, what we believe about God in general. Specifically, what we believe (or don’t believe) about Jesus. You see, even the most basic of Christians, regardless of denomination affiliation, understands that without Jesus, our salvation is in trouble. We have grasped that it takes Jesus to get us in, but somewhere along the way we downshifted back to our old way of thinking. Paul calls it the carnal mind in Romans 8:7-9, and he doesn’t have anything good to say about it:
"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." - Romans 8:7-9
Literally Paul says that those who operate in the carnal mind (flesh) cannot please God. Then he tells the Christians in Rome, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit…” If there is a cynic out there, I’m sure right now you are saying, “See, Jesus saves me, and then His job is done. Now it’s the Holy Spirit’s turn.” My response would be, whose spirit is the Holy Spirit? Paul says specifically that it is the “Spirit of Christ.” Why are so many Christians struggling not with salvation but with sanctification? Why are so many teenagers fighting against a sinful habit that, according to the Word of God, Christ has already freed them from? Simply put, while they understood that it took the finished work of Jesus Christ to save them, they have forgotten that it is the same finished work of Christ that keeps them. We have exchanged a daily walk with Christ for a daily performance of our flesh. And, as we try to keep up face, pretending like we don’t have issues, problems, or addictions, at the end of the day we are only hurting ourselves more by developing habits that will cripple our spiritual lives. The real question then becomes, “Why?” Why do we settle for a performance instead of a transformation? The reason is simple enough, but so intricately woven into everything other part of our life that we miss it. We can’t see the forest because of the trees.
There is no arguing that the teenage years are some of (if not the most) formative years in a young person’s life. Scientifically, mentally, emotionally, physiologically, spiritually, etc…the list could go on, but the point has been made. Teenagers are in an incredible developing process…in reality seeing and in some aspects choosing whom they will become for the rest of their lives. And it is during this time that they learn a terrible truth that makes the world go round – performance-based acceptance. Now it isn’t called that. Sometimes it’s called talent. Other times it’s called genius. Still others call it genetics. But here, at their most impressionable stage, they find out that opportunities do not come to those who wait, but to those who perform. If they want to make it into a good college, they need to work hard, study harder, and worry hardest. If they want to make it on the football, track, basketball, or baseball team, hopefully they have been practicing their “performance” since they were five years old. If they want to be popular they better have whatever combination of looks, attitude, and personality traits that society says is acceptable to have at that point in history in order to be popular. And thus the cannon is fired, marking the understanding of performance-based acceptance in their lives, hearts, and minds.
Now let me stop a moment and put your mind to ease about something. The Bible is a full of Scriptural principles about hard work, due diligence, and worthy rewards (Eccl. 9:10, Col 3:23-24, II Thess. 3:10, Luke 10:7, I Cor. 9:9-10, I Tim. 5:17-18). Even the Christian life is compared to a race, a fight, and a war. The danger is not in learning and understanding performance-based principles. The danger is when performance-based acceptance reigns king in our lives and relationships…especially our relationship with God. You see there are some relationships that God has graciously provided as pictures of the fact that the hurdles of our acceptance being based on our performance need not be jumped. The greatest of these is our relationship with Him. Our eternal acceptance is not based on our performance, and neither is our daily acceptance. Probably the strongest picture that God gives us of His acceptance of us is when He declares that it is even stronger than an earthly parent-child relationship. In Isaiah 49:15, He emphatically states to His children: "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee." God is telling His people that when it comes to our relationship with Him…it never has been and never will be performance based. Now God, as any loving Father would, will teach us hard work and due diligence, and He desires us to grow in our knowledge of His Word. But all of our Christian life is to be based on the foundation that Christ laid, which is acceptance by His finished work on the cross of Calvary, not our performance. That’s exactly what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 3:11 when he said, "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." He goes on to talk about our responsibility to build on this foundation, and that our works will be tried as to what sort they are. But to be honest, I don’t personally see very many Christian teenagers struggling with understanding the fact that their Christian life should be consistently growing. Rather, I see them struggling with trying to keep up a performance when it feels like everything is falling apart on the inside. What then is the key? How can we overcome? By revisiting the truth that Jesus is greater than our failures! How can we defeat temptation both before and during the hour of temptation? By remembering the truth that Jesus is greater than our weaknesses! Jesus is our beginning, our journey, and our goal as Christians. When we realize that Jesus is greater than anything…than everything we will encounter in the next hour, day, and week, we free ourselves up to consciously choose Jesus every time over our addiction, weakness, or secret sin. The acceptance, love, and fulfillment that we get from Jesus…and from understanding that Jesus is greater, fills a void that cannot be filled with anything else. I love what C.S. Lewis said in his book, Mere Christianity. “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” How true that is!
This year our theme is simply “Jesus >”…because He is.
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