There is much talk in American culture about young Christians going off to college or into life and abandoning their faith. I’m sure there are many reasons why this is so, but I think one consistent reason is that teenagers see their parents and people in church live out a faith they simply cannot relate to. I came across an example in a piece about a young rap singer who grew up in a church where his father was a pastor, and while it doesn’t appear that he has completely abandoned the faith, he’s definitely abandoned the “religion” he was raised in. What exactly was it that alienated him?
I just got tired of people pretending like they were perfect, or at least ‘holier than thou.
This is tragic because the very last thing Christians should do is pretend they’re perfect. This tendency in evangelicalism has a long pedigree, and what it essentially does is reduce the Christian faith to moralism. Basically what this means is that the essence of the gospel and Christianity is turned into moral improvement. Everything about this “religion” comes down to some notion of better behavior. For sinners, which we all are, this is an impossible load to bear. All it leads to is unresolved guilt because we can never live up to our standards, or others, let alone that of perfect holiness.
One of the best things we can do for our children is to let them know we’re sinners too, that we are far from perfect, and that our only hope is the gospel rightly understood. And what is the gospel? It is the good news that no matter what we do we are by nature under the condemnation of God for our sin. We are born, the Apostle Paul says, objects of God’s wrath. We are literally he says elsewhere, at war with God (the word Paul uses for enmity or hostility is to be at war with; in our natural selves we want to kill God!).
In the cross, God’s wrath (not a popular term in modern evangelicalism) has been satisfied, and he no longer is our judge. This is very good news indeed! Instead, as we put our faith in Christ, God the judge becomes God our Father. We are adopted into his family, and we no longer need to walk the moralistic minefield. We know that we must live a life of daily repentance because we cannot not sin. Yet because of the eternal covenant God the Father made with God the Son, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). Christians tend to interpret this statement, that God will “purify us from all unrighteousness” to mean that somehow we can achieve moral perfection in this life, or at least that we’ll see consistent improvement in our behavior. And sure, when the Holy Spirit comes into your being, and you are raised spiritually from the dead, there will no doubt be change. How can there not be! But the point of the gospel isn’t our righteousness, but that God in Christ gave us his! One of my favorite, and most freeing, verses of the Bible is this 1 Corinthians 1:30:
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
No matter what we do, don’t do, or in between, the only thing that matters, and the only thing that counts in the end, is that Christ himself is our acceptance before our infinitely holy God and Father. It is very sad that Sir the Baptist wasn’t raised on this gospel, one that frees us from a stifling moralism, and a “religion” he would never want to abandon.