Author: Ron Graham
Many young people are leaving true disciples of Jesus, including some raised in Christian families who obeyed the gospel with genuine faith.
Children entering their teens, become more and more responsible for their own attitudes and actions. Parents and mentors exercise less control. We can still advise and encourage; we can approve or disapprove; and we can refuse to give our permission for things we believe to be wrong.
Our ability to forbid or punish becomes limited. Thus we should make it clear to the young person that any decision he or she makes, contrary to our best judgment, is the young person’s own responsibilty before God, including the consequences to everyone involved.
"This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith" (1Timothy 1:18-19).
The world encourages young people to exercise their “right” to follow their own wishes, seductively called “being true to yourself ”. Young people must be smarter sailors than that, and acknowledge that life is not about “doing your own thing” but doing the very best thing possible.
It's hard to understand why many young people, especially those who believed in Jesus as children, allow their faith to be shipwrecked. There may be several reasons, but the following five are worth considering.
Young people might not take ownership of their faith. They do not grow from a parent-based faith into a personal and independent faith. So they fail the first challenge.
Timothy knew the scriptures from childhood under the guidance of his mother and grandmother. But Paul encouraged Timothy himself to continue in his faith. He was to take ownership of his faith and bear full responsibility for it (2Timothy 3:14-17).
As Paul earlier said to Timothy, "Take heed to yourself and to the teaching. Continue in it, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you" (1Timothy 4:16).
Note: Parents and mentors need to recognise this need of personal ownership, and begin preparing the child for it. This way it can be a gradual process rather than a sudden crisis.
A mature faith no longer relies on earthly parents and mentors, but on the Heavenly Father, and Jesus our Master and mentor.
The faith of little children will not sustain young adults. The latter need to develop a mature faith that will build them up to meet their challenges. "But you, dear friends, building yourselves up in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God..." (Jude 1:20).
However, young people may assume that faith is a childish thing. In adulthood, they encounter opposing philosophies, whether atheistic or pseudo-christian. So they may assume that these are what grown ups should believe.
In one sense, a mature faith retains a child-like character. Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom as a little child will by no means enter into it" (Mark 10:15). Even a mature faith should be humble, innocent, unsophisticated, and uncorrupted.
However there is nothing childish about faith, and it doesn't stop with Sunday school. As a child, we were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic at a level suitable for our age. But do we consequently treat literature and science as childish things?
Faith has to endure trials. God doesn't always give us what we want, or do as we think he ought. Young people may wonder why God allows deprivations and tribulations. Why is the world in such a mess, and why do innocent people suffer?
For such reasons, young people find it hard to relate to God. Of course we can say, "God is in control and God knows best". But many young people won't see that as true. John has a better answer: "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1John 5:19).
John is referring to a world that's in a bad way because the devil is active, not because God is lax. Many people let themselves be deceived by the devil, whilst only a few stand firmly with God.
"No longer be children, tossed back and forth by waves, and carried about by every wind of teaching, by people's trickery, by crafty and deceitful schemes" (Ephesians 4:14).
God requires each of us to help him fight the wicked one (Ephesians 6:10-17). It's not up to God alone. By being disenchanted with God, and allowing their faith to become powerless, corrupted, or destroyed, people only help the wicked one to hold sway.
One of the reasons that young people become disenchanted with God, is that God imposes rules that seem unreasonable and outdated.
One can "draw near to God with a true heart in full assurance of faith" (Hebrews 10:22). However one draws away from God when that full assurance is compromised by arguing with God. For example, God’s rules about sexual relationships seem so ridiculous to many young people that they lose trust in God.
There is every encouragement in the world to doubt God, even to doubt that God exists. "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20). That's exactly what today’s philosophy is like.
The world condemns the Bible for calling evil what the world sees as good. Young people are daily experiencing the world’s contrary view. It is difficult for them to remain sure of God’s word. But the young person can be sure nevertheless.
All the things we have discussed, from taking ownership of faith, to gaining maturity of faith, to achieving endurance of faith, to reaching full assurance of faith —all these need to be encouraged.
You cannot force this process on young people, but you can support it if they allow, and put their hearts into it. God will then grant them the achievement of a saving faith. No other achievement in life can come anywhere near that.
There may be various opportunities to support and encourage young people in their adventure of faith. Above all we can pray for them. Our prayers will lead to God’s providence helping their progress.