This last week I met with a couple of students who are madly in love. They are both seniors, both love Jesus, and both can’t see straight because of their intoxicating emotion for each other. We met because they genuinely wanted some counsel as they plan their next steps towards graduation and college. And as we talked I couldn’t help but admire their almost blinding love for each other and at the same time patronize their naivete. As much as I wanted to help them understand how silly they sounded, and how shortsighted they were, there was part of me that found joy in watching very young love. Even though it was a very long time ago for me, I caught a glimpse of myself when I was only a year or two older wrapped up in a blinding love relationship of my own.
Upon reflection it is so easy to look down my nose at this young couple, and even at my younger self, at how much I thought I knew about love, and the reality of how little I actually got it. This couple is in fact in love. I too was in love like that. But that love was only a shadow of the love that I experienced when I got engaged to and then married my wife. After almost 14 years of marriage and 2 kids later, I look back and laugh at how much I thought I understood love and how much I loved my wife. The love I experience today is so much deeper and more significant then the more simple version of it I experienced earlier in my life. And when I am married for 50 years, I will look back at myself today and smile at how this love is only a shadow compared to the depth and richness of a lifetime together.
In a similar way, over the past 25 years I have grown in depth and richness in my love with Jesus. The ways I understand the gospel, the transformation and healing I have experienced, and the application of my growing faith into my life makes my simple confession of faith as a middle schooler look ridiculous. As an adult follower of Christ, I find myself wrestling with an entirely new set of questions and applications in my faith. Some of my foundational understandings have been smashed.
With just a little bit of tragedy and suffering I can see that my life is not the center of God’s universe or history. With just a broader understanding of sanctification, I can see that the gospel is simply not about personal salvation from hell, but total salvation beginning now and onto eternity. And with a bigger picture of the world, I can see that the thy kingdom come, isn’t something that God does at the end of time, but calls his people to do here and now. To love mercy, to do justly, and to walk humbly. As shallow as this three sentence synopsis is, it is still dramatically deeper and more complex then the gospel I said yes to in middle school.
If you are anything like me, then you too have forgotten what the world was like when I was 11. I forget how I approached life, girls, my parents, school, whatever. The best I can do is reflect back and fill in the blanks based on my current worldview and understandings. The same is true with love. I couldn’t even fathom a deeper understanding of love then, and only upon reflection I see how I have grown. And the same is true of my faith now. I have no idea what another 50 years of life will do to my faith.
And if you are anything like me, you HATE it when people older than you tell you how much you just don’t understand. How you will be a really good pastor some day, how you better cherish this time with your kids because it goes so fast, or how they patronize your passion. If this is true for me, then I am assuming that these statements would feel just as awful to the students I work with.
Middle schoolers and most of our high schoolers are not going to get the social justice or even missional piece of the gospel. Their entire world revolves around them. This isn’t a criticism, this is a developmental reality. And I am afraid that we might be doing more harm to their faith by making them bite off more then they can developmentally chew. We, unintentionally, take our understanding and application of faith, and put it directly onto these early adolescents. But the early adolescents that we work with need different things than we do. And I think the “Four Spiritual Laws” might be the new-old remedy.
Everything about the four laws is vital and applicable to faith development of our students:
PREFACE Just as their are physical laws that govern the physical universe, so their are spiritual laws that govern your relationship with God. In a pluralistic world where there are no rules, it is a good reminder that there are rules and laws. We can’t escape or change the law of gravity, and God’s laws are the same.
LAW 1) God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life. The foundation of the gospel is that we are loved. God sees us individually and no matter our background, our issues, our strengths, or our weaknesses, God’s stance towards us is one of open armed loved.
LAW 2) We are sinful an separated from God. When situational ethics rules the day, sin no longer has any touchpoints. But sin is the dark side of the good news, and one that needs to be addressed and worked through. We need to help our students see that they are sinful, rebellious, and broken. It is only then, that they can be healed, transformed, and saved.
LAW 3) Jesus Christ is god’s only provision for our sin. This sin we have does have real consequences. And the ultimate consequence is death. Because of his love, Jesus willingly takes our sin and brokenness upon himself and will exchange it for healing and life. It is not a self-help or good works strategy. It is about surrender.
LAW 4) We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The gospel is a personal to surrender the bonds of sin and brokenness and exchange them for the gift of salvation. And this is something that doesn’t happen by osmosis, but is an intentional act of our will. It is something that happens at a point in history. It is the beginning of the divine romance.
It is the simple, old skool, gospel that allows early adolescents to actually get their mind around what it means to be a Christian. It begins to shape their worldview, it answers their identity questions, and confronts them with an intentional choice, and it actually allows space for the Holy Spirit to enter into their life and begin the life long work of sanctification and transformation. This gospel is not all that there is to faith, but it is a strong beginning.
With all of our efforts to give our students a bigger picture of faith and the application of it, maybe it is ok to remember that they are 11. With a strong foundation and intentional discipleship they will grow in their faith and understanding and will come to understand the deeper things of faith. None of us start out with the depth of love that people who have been married 50 years have. We all start out with intoxicating wild love that is blinding and immature. And through time, that love grows into something deep and beautiful. In the same way, students don’t begin their life of faith as advocates for social justice, or about expanding the kingdom. It begins with a simple trust in Jesus to cleanse them from their sins and lead them into the abundant life.