LIE: This is such a minor, insignificant sin! It’s not really a big deal in God’s eyes.
TRUTH: Every sin is a horribly offensive to God. Sin is the sum of all evils, the opposite of all that is good, holy, and beautiful. Even the smallest of my sins required the death of the Son of God. There is no such thing as a minor sin. Every sin is cosmic treason.
LIE: I’ll give into sin this one time, then I’ll be done with it. I just need to get it out of my system.
TRUTH: Every time I give into a sin it becomes more difficult to break the power of that sin. Sin has a way of sinking it’s barbed hooks deep into my heart. I can’t simply sin and then walk away from it unscathed. The more I give in to sin, the more entangled I become. Sin always leaves scars.
LIE: This sin is part of who I am. I’ve always struggled this way and I always will sin this way.
TRUTH: Sin does not define my identity! I am a new creation in Christ. Christ has set me free from the enslaving power of sin. I absolutely do not have to obey the sinful passions that surge through me. I may have always struggled this way, but my past does not define my future.
LIE: I need to give in to this sin in order to be happy.
TRUTH: Sin never provides true happiness. It promises sweetness, yet ultimately delivers a payload of destruction, dissastisfaction, ruined relationships, and hardness of heart.
LIE: God wants me to be happy; therefore it’s okay for me to give in to sin.
TRUTH: God does want me to be happy. However, my happiness will only rise as high as my holiness. Sin ultimately erodes and destroys true holiness and true happiness.
Did you hear about Ben?
No, I didn’t. What happened?
Well… this isn’t gossip; it’s just so you can pray for him. He got caught smoking pot. Apparently, he’s been doing a lot of drugs lately. And I think he might be sleeping with his girlfriend.
Really? That’s sad. Maybe his parents need to get more involved in his life. You know, bring more discipline. Keep him in line. That’s what I do with my kids. I lay down the rules in my house, and if they break the rules, they pay the price. If I caught my kids smoking pot, they’d face some serious consequences. My kids would never smoke pot.
Keep him, and his parents, in your prayers. They need it!
We’ve all had an experience similar to the one described above. A teenager in the church gets caught in sin. Maybe it’s drugs, sex, an eating disorder, cutting, or porn. It doesn’t really matter what the issue is. What does matter is how quick we are to assign blame to the parents of the child.
Many of us, either consciously or unconsciously, hold to the idea that if we do all the right things as parents, our children will turn out okay. If we educate them properly, faithfully teach them the Bible, and pray for them on a daily basis, they will become Christians, pursue holiness, avoid sin, and serve faithfully in the church. We treat parenting like some sort of divine equation. If we input the right things into our children, our children will then output the right things. If this, then this.
When a teenager goes AWOL, we immediately assume that the parents must have failed him in some way. His parents must not have brought enough discipline into his life. His parents must not have prayed for him enough, read him the Bible enough, sent him to VBS enough. If his parents had done the right thing, the child wouldn’t be plunging headlong into sin.
We really need to stop blaming parents for wayward teens.
First, only God can cause a teenager to be born again. In reality, there is no such thing as a “wayward” teen. There are only two types of teenagers: spiritually dead teens and born-again teens. A spiritually dead teen will always act according to his nature. He will plunge into sin with great delight because that’s what sinners do. That’s what you and I did before God caused us to be born again. It shouldn’t surprise us when a teen in the church dives into sin. If he isn’t born again, that’s exactly what we should expect him to do.
In Romans 8:7–8, Paul describes the unconverted teenager:
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
The unconverted teenage girl is hostile to God. She absolutely cannot submit to God’s law, and she absolutely cannot please God. We shouldn’t be surprised when she has sex with her boyfriend. After all, isn’t that what non-Christians do?
Should her parents do all they can to restrain her from sin? Of course. But the reality is, they may be able to curb her behavior, but they can’t change her heart. Only Jesus Christ, the mighty warrior and sinner’s friend can accomplish such a great task. When we blame parents for the sinful behavior of their teens, we put the parents in the place of God. We must stop expecting parents to do what only God can do.
The second reason we need to stop blaming parents for the sinful behavior of their teens is that blaming cuts the parents off from what they desperately need. When a dad is dealing with the craziness and heartbreak of a son on drugs, what he needs most from those in his church is shoulders to weep on. When a mom is dealing with her sexually active daughter, what she needs most is to be reminded of the mighty God who saves even the hardest of sinners. Parents don’t need condemnation or criticism, they need grace. They need their fellow brothers and sisters to come alongside of them, to pray with them, and to pray for them.
As members of the body of Christ, we are called to bear on another’s burdens, and there are few burdens heavier than parenting. There are few things that weigh heavier on a parent than the salvation of their son or daughter. When we blame parents for their teenager’s sinful behavior, we fail to help the parents bear the heavy burden they are carrying.
Are parents called to faithfully shepherd their children in the ways of the Lord? Of course. Will parents fail in a variety of ways? Of course. Despite these things, let’s stop blaming parents for the sinful behavior of their teens. When a teen in the church is sinning, let’s come alongside her parents with love, prayer, and support. Let’s fulfill the law of Christ by loving one another, instead of blaming one another.
Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.
The Christian life is full of utterly impossible challenges. You think you can overcome your sin and live a holy life in your own strength? Have at it my friend! Come back in six months and tell me how it’s going for you. You think you have enough wisdom to help your children navigate all the landmines and pitfalls of life? Well huzzah for you! (Side note: we really need to bring the word “huzzah” back into usage.) Do you think you have enough insight to untangle the sticky relational mess you find yourself in? Do you think you have the strength to sufficiently lead your small group, worship team, counseling team, church planting team, or church? Right. Have at it my friend. I’ll have a bed in a padded room waiting for your return.
The reality is, God constantly places us in situations that are far beyond our ability to bear. He places us smack dab in the middle of befuddling, perplexing, overwhelming, even crushing circumstances. Why does God do this? To humble us. To make us painfully aware that we cannot make it through this life apart from him. To highlight our desperate dependence on him. God strips us of our own strength to make us totally reliant upon his strength.
In 2 Corinthians 1:9, Paul says:
Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
God allowed Paul to be pushed and pressed, hit and hammered, even sentenced to “death,” SO THAT he would not rely upon himself, but upon the power of the God who raises the dead. God puts us in situations that are so far beyond our ability to survive so that when deliverance comes, only God can receive the glory.
Speaking of pastoral ministry (but this quote applies equally to a million other situations), Charles Bridges says:
Did we depend upon the failing support of human agency [strength], or upon the energy of mere moral suasion [our ability to persuade] – we should cry out, prostrate in heartless despondency – “Who is sufficient for these things?” But the instant recollection – that “our sufficiency is of God” – “lifts up our hearts in the ways” and work of the Lord. (The Christian Ministry, page 19)
Are you in a situation that is too hard for you? Are you being stretched beyond your giftings and abilities? Are you pushed down and crushed, even to the point of despair? Do you feel like butter scaped over too much bread? You really only have two options.
Behind door number one: give up. Let despair, anger, and unbelief wash over you like an acidic shower, eating away at your faith. Start calling yourself a “realist.” Allow cynicism to have its way with you.
Behind door number two: rely upon the God who raises from the dead. Throw aside any foolish remnants of self-sufficiency and depend wholly upon our mighty, powerful God. Depend upon God to work in your rebellious children. Depend upon God to work mightily in your shaky marriage. Depend upon God to save your “unsavable” relative. Depend upon God to give you physical and emotional strength to serve your family. Depend upon the God who slays giants, shuts lions’ mouths, and rescues out of fiery furnaces.
God does incredible things when we stop relying upon our own abilities and start relying on him. He does incredible things when we finally give up on our own abilities and find all our strength in him.
I am a full-fledged member of the instant generation. I want what I want, and I want it RIGHT NOW! I want to watch television shows on demand. What do you mean I have to wait until next summer for new episodes? I want them now. When I send you a text message, I expect you to get back to me immediately. Ain’t nobody got time to wait around ten of fifteen minutes! I need you to respond NOW! When I select “Two Day Shipping” on Amazon, I expect that package to arrive at my front door in exactly two days. I don’t want any excuses about shipping plant fires, UPS workers strikes, or snakes on a plane. I want immediate results. And if you have the guts to post a video on YouTube, it better play right away without any buffering. Otherwise I’m out. I’ve got other, really important videos to watch, mainly of people putting Mentos into bottles of Coke.
I have been trained, for good or for bad, to expect immediate results.
The only problem is that God doesn’t usually do immediate. He doesn’t usually do fast. He doesn’t do overnight shipping. He works according to his timeline, not mine. And the wonderful reality is that God is usually doing a thousand things when it looks like he’s doing absolutely nothing.
While Joseph sat in prison, it appeared that God wasn’t doing anything. He probably felt forgotten, abandoned, discarded. He probably felt useless. Meanwhile, God was doing a thousand things as Joseph sat idly in prison. God was preparing Joseph’s brother’s for reconciliation, Pharaoh to receive Joseph as from God, and the entire nation of Egypt to depend on Joseph as a wise steward of food.
While David was a fugitive, on the run from Saul, it appeared that God wasn’t doing anything. David probably felt like his best years were being wasted. Like his talent was going to waste. Meanwhile, God was doing a thousand things while David hid in caves and pretended to be insane. God was working on David himself, preparing David to be a man after his own heart. He was teaching David to trust him and to wait on him. And he was preparing Israel to receive their divinely appointed king.
While John Bunyan sat in prison, it appeared that God wasn’t doing anything. Bunyan probably felt like his ministry was being hampered and hamstrung. He was a gospel preacher who wasn’t able to preach the gospel. Meanwhile, God was doing a thousand things while Bunyan languished in his jail cell. God was preparing Bunyan to write the book that would be read by millions and would inspire millions to love the Lord. Bunyan’s prison cell was the womb for Pilgrim’s Progress.
Just because I can’t see God working doesn’t mean he isn’t working. It may seem like my prayers for my children are pointless, because I can’t see anything happening. But my prayers aren’t useless. God is working, and someday I will see the glorious fruit of those prayers. It may seem like my prayers for spiritual growth are futile, because I can’t see much spiritual growth. But my prayers aren’t futile. God is working, and someday I’ll see the fruit of my prayers. It may seem like my prayers for reconciliation with a friend are wasted, because I can’t see anything happening. But my prayers aren’t wasted. God is working, and someday I’ll see the delightful fruit of my prayers.
Just because I can’t see God working doesn’t mean God isn’t working. God is doing a thousand things when it seems like he’s doing nothing.
Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA, where his main duties include leading worship, preaching, and working with youth. He also has written a number of worship songs that have been included on Sovereign Grace Music albums. Stephen is the author of the book Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wannabes, published by Crossway Books in September 2008, and The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, published by Crossway Books in April 2011. When not shining his dad’s shoes, you can find Stephen drinking coffee or playing video games.
Find out more when you visit his blog, The Blazing Center.