The sinner teen
Ricky was born into a dysfunctional home. His dad was an angry drunk and his mom was a bitter, hurt, and lonely wife. His brothers were angry and unkind, all of which left Ricky in unresolvable chaos.
He smoked his first cigarette by the time he was 12-years old. At thirteen he was a novice shoplifter and pothead. At fifteen he was arrested for breaking into his local high school.
He spent five days in jail and received two years probation. Everyone in his life had given up on him. He was on his own to figure out life. He left home when he was sixteen.
Mercifully, there was one person who had not given up on Ricky. God interrupted his life at 25-years old. He was born again. His new life with God was underway.
There were no more drugs, alcohol, filthy language, or bad companions. His desires began to change. He found a local church and became a member.
Christ became his life. He was getting high on Jesus and had surrounded himself with like-minded friends who were just as passionate about the Savior. His exuberance for God grew each day. Ricky was a new man.
The Christian teen
Lucy’s home was characterized by etiquette, fun, and Jesus. She can’t remember the first time she “went to church” or was part of a Sunday school. Every summer meant Vacation Bible School and Christian camps.
Lucy enjoyed family vacations all over the United States. Her life was pure, wholesome, and healthy. Her parents were Christians and she never drifted outside her hermetically sealed Christian bubble.
She made a profession of faith when she was five. Her biggest known sin was stealing a pack of Lifesavers when she was seven-years old. She repented immediately and never did anything like that again. Lucy was the model child.
She went to a Christian school and served on all the appropriate committees. When it was time to go to college, there was no choice to be made; it was going to be a Christian university.
Lucy had friends who were boys, but she never dated. She was a virgin when she eventually married. Her parent’s were blessed with a great kid. She met all the assumptions and expectations of children who live in Christianized homes.
Ricky marries Lucy
Though Lucy made a profession of faith as a child, she was never gripped or profoundly affected by the Gospel. She would later say she felt “God got a good deal when He got me.”
From a functional and emotional perspective she lived her Christian life self-righteously. She knew this was wrong, but she could not change. Sadly, Ricky did not know how to lead his wife.
She was a good person. She had no perceived flaws. Her sin list was minuscule compared to Ricky’s list of wrongs. They were in a helpless spot. Neither one of them knew how to help a good person love Jesus more passionately.
All teens are bad people
From a cursory, behavioral perspective Lucy was characterized as a good child. If good and bad were determined by the length of their respective sin lists, then there was no doubt of her goodness and Ricky’s badness.
Upon reflection, Lucy now sees how her version of Christianity as a child was more like a method, rather than a relationship with a Redeemer. Her religion kept her out of trouble, but it did not transform her.
Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” – Luke 7:47 (ESV)
Both Ricky and Lucy were legalists. Ricky thought his passion was because he was forgiven much, as measured by his sin list. Lucy thought her passionless-ness was because she did not have a long sin list.
Both of them misunderstood a practical element of the Gospel. The Gospel does not see people stuck somewhere between good and bad. The Gospel sees all people the same–worthless before God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. – Romans 3:12 (ESV)
We’re all the same
Behaviorally Lucy was a better kid than Ricky. From an Adamic perspective she was just as wicked as Ricky and just as in need of a Savior as Ricky. From an Adamic perspective there is no difference between Hitler, Bin Laden, Ricky, or Lucy.
Ricky and Lucy needed to come to terms with the Gospel, though they were coming at it from two different perspectives. Ricky needed to get rid of his lengthy sin list, realizing it was not his sin which separated him from God, but it was the fact he was a worthless sinner.
Lucy had to realize her lack of sinfulness did not merit any favor with God. She was just as much of a lowdown, dirty, rotten sinner as Ricky, though he had the lengthier sin list.
Ricky began to be transformed by the Gospel at twenty-five–when God saved him. Lucy began to be transformed by the Gospel at thirty-five–many years after her salvation. They were two rebellious teens. One was regenerated and the other was not.
Ricky’s rebellion against God was obvious to all. Lucy’s rebellion against God was masked by her self-righteous legalism. Today, they are two former rebel teens, happily married and living in the freedom of the Gospel.
Here are two quick conclusions you can draw from this story:
- Does your teen love much? He who is forgiven much, loves much. The question speaks less about behavior and more about passion for the Savior. A person passionate about the Savior will behave well. A person who behaves well may not be affected by the Gospel.
- Does your teen rebel much? If your child is a rebel, don’t give up on him. He needs the Gospel not to reduce his sin list, but to transform his heart.
For further reading
In this series
- Troubled Teens – Myth or Truth – 1.0
- Troubled Teens and dads who lead poorly – 2.0
- Troubled Teens and the false continuum – 3.0
- Troubled Teens – the good and bad teens marry each other – 4.0
- Troubled Teens – telling mom the truth – 5.0
- Troubled Teens rebel because they are rebels – 6.0
- Troubled Teens – caution for the counselor – 7.0
- Troubled Teens and the liability of counseling – 8.0
- Troubled Teens – Is there hope for my kid? – 9.0
- Troubled Teens – Where to go from here? – 10.0