Young people have always played an important part in determining the future direction of a society. For this reason, many groups are highly interested not only in what this segment of the population currently believes, but also how they might contribute to the shaping of their beliefs over time. Businesses, schools, politicians, etc., are all interested in what young people think and also how they might influence their thinking moving forward. With that being said, today’s youth continue to be bombarded by mass messages which often contain some truth, but are often comingled with lies. In history, we can see the attempt to influence youth through Nazi Gemany’s establishment of the Hitler Youth and the Soviet Union’s use of Little Octobrists, Young Pioneers, and the Russian Young Communist League. Today, we see this influence in China in the Communist Youth League and, closer to home through a multitude of schools, politicians, and public companies that are now determined to rid society of the Biblical morality that has been a part of the Judeo-Christian heritage of our nation since its founding.
Many youth unfortunately grasp onto whatever message provides pleasure, financial gain, importance, purpose, etc. While the secularist cultural majority attempt to rid the culture of religious influence, many false religious groups also seek to attract young people into their way of thinking. I have seen this firsthand, through the years, and recently we have seen an influx of youth being lurred into the works-based religion of Islam. Young Muslim women have also shared with me that they were taken in by the Muslim faith, but admit they do not fully practice or even fully understand the beliefs. One woman stated to me that wearing the burqua and the hijab are attractive to her because as she stated, “they have an element of mystery and allure.” I have also encountered the mystical world of New Agers who often have a cornucopia of askewed beliefs and self truths.
How has the church attempted to meet the needs of youth? There are varied, diverse responses. Over the years, some movements have focused more intentially on youth ministry and some have neglected it totally. One movement that has hit some seminaries and churches in recent years has begun to declare youth groups as “evil” and “a failure.” This can lead to discouragement for faithful men who serve as Youth Pastors. There are some pastors who continue to love youth and hold firmly to the Bible as their ultimate source of truth and teach exegetically God’s Word. Praise God!
Reactionary movements can cause a stir but the problem with youth is much bigger and deeper than proposed. The issue is man’s heart. If I could suggest one man you should get to know, it would be Augustine, who transitioned from a philosopher, a man of the world, to a theologian, a new man in Christ. One book that he wrote over the course of his life beginning as a young man into adulthood is, “The Confessions of St. Augustine.” I highly recommend this autobiographical book.
Augustine’s transparency in print is amazing as he discloses the depths of his sinful heart. And a key truth he undeniably proves is that, “all sin is rooted in pride—the desire to be like God.” He lays out his troubled soul for all to read strictly for the glory of God. Page by page, you can see how God transformed a depraved man into a new man in Christ. A man who had no hope, groveled after the cares and pleasures of the world, was inflicted by much shame and sorrow, and was endlessly seeking for love as he understood it. God drew Augustine to Himself and he could finally see the beauty of Christ and taste his goodness. You can clearly see how well-versed he was in the philosophies and false teachings of the day, but he traded it all for the absolute truth found in God’s Word.
When we go out to share the gospel, we also see many men and women who sometimes admit, but often do not recognize, what Augustine later realized about himself, that he “had only one foot in the boat; one foot in the church and one foot out.” Augustine openly admitted that he was in bondage to lust. Man’s heart is still the same, I will let the prophet Jeremiah describe this calamity, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10) Even King David wrote in the Psalms, his desperate need for Christ, in his own confession of repentance after sinning against the Lord and man in pre-meditated adultery and murder, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) Psalm 51 is a great picture of what true godly sorrow and biblical repentance look like.
What awakens us out of our stupor and alerts us to our greatest need? The answer is only God’s Word and the gospel of Jesus Christ. All men, regardless of age need a Savior.
Looking at Augustine’s raw words help to emphasize God’s power to save, “Perish everything! Dismiss these empty, vain things! I’m going to focus only on the search for truth! Life is miserable, death is uncertain. If it steals me away suddenly, what state am I going to be in when I go away, and where am I am going to learn what I’ve neglected here? … Why, then, am I delaying to abandon worldy hopes and give myself wholly to searching for God and the blessed life?”
He continues, “But wait! Worldly things are pleasing. They have sweetness. I mustn’t give them up lightly, for it would be embarrassing to return to them again… But I delayed in turning to the Lord. From day to day, I postponed living in you, but I didn’t postpone dying in myself everyday.” God’s mercy and grace towards us all is so long-suffering. Yet, God’s providence in this man’s life revealed to him clearly that, “the very toys of triviality and emptiness, his old mistresses, still held him,” and that nothing the world offers can provide true satisfaction and completeness.
Young and old alike, we all have the same diagnosis “born into sin,” we are all made in God’s image; yet, without believing and trusting in Jesus Christ alone for eternal salvation, our best attempts to fill our soul’s emptiness, can only be a temporary fix, even worse, they can deceive us and lead us farther from God’s wisdom found in His Word. Satan is very skilled in the art of distraction and more recently, at encouraging society to isolate from one another. The message that penetrates our ears is that we should strive for independence. That we do not need others, and tragically this includes the church. As one man on the street bluntly proclaimed, “the church and the 10 Commandments are outdated.” In my September ministry blog post, I admitted that I too self identify as an introvert. I can also be easily persuaded that independence is good.
So the question I often try to ask youth and others is this, “Who do you serve?” The truth is, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (possessions, fame, status, or whatever is valued more than the Lord).” (Matthew 6:24)
The second question I try to flesh out when sharing the gospel with people is, “where do you get truth?” or “what is your standard?” The answer I hear quite often is, “myself.” Let those words sink in.