Sometimes when you’re leading student lessons your conversation starters are more successful than others. I had this genius idea where I would ask all of them for examples of things they had done in the past that was “really stupid”, then transition that into a question as to whether they got in trouble or not and whether that was fair. My ultimate destination was a discussion about God’s justice and God’s grace. What I completely forgot is that when I was a teenager those “really stupid things” became badges of honor and the punishment paled in comparison to the awesomeness that was whatever story I now had to tell. So the way that conversation really went was a group of teens sharing a lot of stuff with me that I never intended to hear and just kind of giving me blank stares when I transitioned it to the subject of punishment and ‘justice’. You win some; you lose some!
The main point was still pretty applicable. We do things in the moment because at the time, they seemed like “really great ideas”. Sometimes those ideas put us in really, really bad situations and have some pretty gnarly consequences. Even worse, sometimes things that other people do end up impacting us for the rest of our lives. It’s kind of heartbreaking to look out at a group of teens and know that statistically, someone in that group is likely to have suffered either emotional or physical abuse, participated in illegal activities, or possibly be waist deep in habits and social groups that don’t have their best interests in mind. When you’re 15, it may be hard to comprehend what a life of guilt, shame, or other emotional baggage can do, but we can all relate to those moments when we know we’re in trouble and just want someone to step in and make all of our troubles go away. Whether those troubles are a big test that threatens to force us into 3 months of summer school or knowing that we’ve made some mistakes with our significant other and are now facing a pregnancy scare. We can all relate to feeling like our lives are at a standstill and that we are in need of a life-saver to save the day.
Our lesson brought up the prophet Ezekiel talking about salvation and the loving God that wants to make our baggage “go away”…
But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. All their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live because of the righteous things they have done. (Ezekiel 18:21-22 NTL, Source: Bible Gateway)
As confusing as some of us like to make God sound, He’s really made this whole ‘salvation’ thing pretty simple. Are you sinning? Welp… cut it out. Still tempted to sin even after asking forgiveness? No worries, we all make mistakes. Just continue to seek God and try to turn away from the sinful things you keep doing. That’s not that hard of a message to comprehend.
But really, the idea that God wants us to stop sinning and turn to Him isn’t anything ground-breaking for most church-goers. Even non-Christians understand that the entire crux of the Christian faith is “accepting Christ to be forgiven”. What may not be as obvious is the motivation behind God’s grace: His motivation isn’t obedience, it’s giving His creation life.
“Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. (Ezekiel 18:23 NTL: Source: Bible Gateway)
There is a stark difference between saying “God wants me to repent” and “God wants me to live”. God created mankind in perfect harmony with Himself. When mankind sinned, it introduced separation between the creator and the created and that separation is what we call “sin”. When God continually asks us to turn from sin, whether through prophets, scripture, or through Jesus or the Holy Spirit, what He is really asking is for us to remove the separation because the result of that separation is death (Romans 6:23).
It’s important for all of our teens to know that whether they are ready to hear it today or whether it just becomes something the balding youth leader says in 2014 but they don’t “get” until 10 years later, God is always standing there with open arms. All we have to do is turn away from the sin (separation) in our lives and pursue things in our lived that glorify Him and His creation. It’s the story of a God who says there is no sin too old, too dark, or too deeply ingrained in who we are to escape the power of His grace if we only believe.