Identifying Pure Love
Parenting the Youth of Today
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” - 1 John 3:1
Words: Scott McKinnon Read: 0 - 5 mins Published: 19 August 2022
We are in a strange new world.
Everything has shifted over the past 10 years, let alone the past two years. I mean, we can FaceTime a family member on the other side of the world. Online dating is now readily available through Apps like Tinder. Instant messaging has turned into instant snapping (that’s Snapchat for everyone over 20). The same device used to peruse Scripture can now be used to peruse pornography.
Technology has changed. Politics have changed. Sexuality has changed. Identity has changed.
Speaking into how thinkers and activists have redefined identity around the sexual revolution, Carl R. Trueman, comments:
“Not only is the inner space of feeling now fundamental to identity; it is also defined primarily by its sexual desires. Sex is no longer a matter of behaviour, or what we do; it is a matter of who we are.”
Sex is not what we do. Now, sex is who we are.
Trueman makes the point that sex has now turned away from the blessed behaviour of being fruitful and multiplying as a form of subduing the earth. Now, it is not only attached to the behaviour of a person, but to the very identity of a person.
So how do we lead and parent young people especially, through this strange new world?
The temptation is to simply focus on the actions of young people, but we cannot afford to simply look at the outside and external behaviour and actions. We have to look internally, toward the heart.
Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?
It’s familiar because, this is what Jesus did.
Countless times in His ministry, He would speak not simply to the external parts of people, but to their heart.
To the Pharisee He says, “first clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:26).
To the adulterous women He says ““neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Now go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
Or on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “that everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. (Matthew 5:28)
Jesus is a heart reader, and He deeply cares for the innermost parts of our lives.
Rather than a simple solution of “don’t have sex before marriage”, or “stop looking at porn”, which are the behaviours that we would like to see, instead we have to commit to the long-term and constant duty of teaching our young people about their identity as a child of God. Morality, for the young generation is not enough. An inner peace and rest is what they are after. And much of this isn’t tied up in behaviour, it’s tied up in identity.
Research at the Fuller Youth institute showed that young people today are wrestling with a few key issues when they come to their identity. The first issue that young people find is that they are not enough and never will be. With the pressures of parents, friends, schooling and society, there are just too many pressures to fulfill. This leads to a negative view of self, stress, depression and anxiety.
Secondly, young people struggle with not only their image, but becoming their image. Just like Nike, or Zara, so too do young people want to fit in and then project their ‘brand’. The struggle for some people to find this brand is tough, especially with the pressures of the over-sexualised society that they are swimming in. This is why youth movements and cultures are backed with such force.
And the third challenge plays against the previous one. For some youth, the labels that people put on them as a generation, serve as the fuel to the fire of becoming everything that the world says they cannot be. If we say that they are anxious and unstable, they will work hard to create safe (usually online) spaces to love one another as a means of promoting self-care.
Each of these three issues is a barrier to young people stepping into their identity as a child of God. Each of these create an unknown and uncertain new world for our young people.
But the truth is, as Andy Root the practical theologian says, “No identity is discovered in a vacuum; we cannot truly find ourselves without finding ourselves with someone.”
Fortunately for us, as believers, we find our identity as a child of God, not on a desert island, or in a vacuum, but in the family of God. We find our identity “in Christ”. Is this family perfect? Not yet. How do you find your identity in this family? You humbly come to the Father of grace. Who tells us what our outward actions should look like? God through the Scriptures.
When sexuality and sexual behaviour is the norm in the world, the church, you, and me, need to remain true to our identity as children of God and welcome those who are struggling with their identity, into the loving arms of the Father.
And, perhaps more than ever, this is why we need to create spaces, as the church, for young people to step into places of invitation and welcome. Whether on a Wednesday afternoon after school, youth on a Friday, or Saturday after a footy game, as we cross to the other side, we need to follow Jesus who embraced the sinner, who created spaces for welcome and ministry and ultimately looked towards the inner parts of their lives.
There are many young people who are wrestling through sexuality and identity at the moment. Old-school biblical ethics, while true, cannot remain as hypothetical ethics. More than ever, they need to land in real life situations, firmly linked to an identity as a child of God, demonstrated by a loving church who invite and welcome the sinner.
It’s a strange new world, but it’s a world that Jesus died for.
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