Dear Teenager, The Gospel is Not Complicated
“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil One.”
These words, taken from 1 John 2:12-14, provide a very important reminder both for me (your youth pastor) as well as for you.
I’ll admit that it is easy to sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed in youth ministry. As I hear reports of the high percentage of young people walking away from the faith, and as I think through the constant challenges that this culture will undoubtedly bring your way, it is easy to respond in a way that can both make the Gospel and your calling sound far more complicated than either really are.
As a result of working with enough students for enough time, I know that you, too, might begin to view the Gospel as overly complex, and to view yourself as far too immature to live out the Christian calling.
It wasn’t all that long ago that I felt that same sense of inadequacy as a teenager. I assumed, like so many other Christian teens, that I was years away from having the necessary amount of Biblical knowledge and maturity to follow Christ.
As I read these words of 1 John, though, I am reminded of the precious simplicity of the Gospel. The Apostle John wrote this letter to believers who also faced serious challenges to their faith. Although the Church was still young, there were already numerous false teachers and the world was already hostile to the Gospel of Christ. In light of those very real challenges, it would have no doubt been tempting for an aging Apostle like John to approach young believers with a sense of panic. And yet throughout this letter there is nothing but confidence in the saving knowledge and necessary abilities of the youth in his audience.
While John’s audience might not have understood every biblical doctrine, they knew Christ.
Even the newest of believers who received John’s letter were described as those who knew their sins had been forgiven, and that they had been brought into a relationship with the Father. Other slightly more mature believers were similarly encouraged for their saving knowledge of Christ – knowledge that made them victorious over the Evil one. Obviously, John’s confidence in both groups is found not in their deep understanding of biblical theology; it lies in their understanding of what Christ accomplished for them on the cross. And that’s what matters most.
You might still be a young child of Christ, and you may still have many questions about how the Trinity works or how God’s sovereign will is at work in your life, but remember this: you know Christ and his Gospel.
Along with the simplicity of that truth, John offered further encouragement in the simplicity of their calling. 1 John reminds us that believers are not called to do anything all that complicated. They are to simply obey Christ (2:3, 2:29, 3:10, etc). They are told to love one another (2:10, 3:16, 4:7, etc) and flee from idols (5:21). While there are, of course, many other biblical commands John could have included in his letter, he left his audience with this very basic summary of the Christian life. And in that simple summary we can all, as believers, find great encouragement: it is something we all have the power to accomplish through the Holy Spirit who indwells us.
You are relatively young in your faith. But, again, you have not been called to do anything that is beyond your abilities in Christ. He has given you the Holy Spirit, who will produce the fruit of Christian faith. That fruit includes a love for others, self-control, and an enduring faith. Similarly, the Spirit offers you guidance and strength to face the very many temptations that this world will bring your way. So while you might feel overwhelmed by your calling, you can find great encouragement in knowing that your God-given calling is made possible through Christ’s gifts, work, and abilities – not yours.
Despite the many complexities that you will face in this life, and despite your own occasional sense of inadequacy, please remember John’s message:
“We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” (I John 5:20)
You have everything you need, because you have Christ.