The struggle for personal freedom is a hallmark characteristic of adolescence. When they are young, our children look to us with the knowledge that they need us for just about everything, until one day — it clicks. They realize they can function independently.
They begin to understand that they can, and must, begin to make decisions on their own. Believe it or not, this epiphany is just as scary for them as it is for us. While this is a healthy and important part of growing up, it provides a prime opportunity for the flesh to rear its ugly head. While all teens go through a stage of self-proclaimed invincibility, young believers have the added insight of knowing that their eternity is secure. While this is an unbelievably wonderful comfort, it can lead some teens to abuse the grace that they have received. Many teens adopt the mindset that mistakes are part of growing up, and God has already forgiven them, so anything goes.
While assurance of salvation is critical to affirm, the lessons in this stage don't all have to be trial and error and there is certainly no need to see our teens learn everything the hard way. As we deepen our walk with God and seek His wisdom, we can help our kids responsibly handle their growing understanding of their freedom in Christ.
Freedom through Obedience
The idea of finding freedom under God's law seems crazy on the surface, but once you've experienced it you never want to go back. Remember the time in your own life when you accepted Christ and discovered the freedom from sin and shame that only He can offer? We are no longer in bondage to sin; we are free.
Helping your teen shift her focus away from the desires of the flesh and toward the will of God is an ongoing process. Just like when they were little and we set boundaries for their safety, we must remind them that God's boundaries are there to protect their freedom. An obedient child is free to play in the yard under the watchful eye of a parent who is ready to call them in at the first sign of danger. A child who does not respond to instruction, however, is safer in the confines of a fenced yard, under stricter supervision. The same is true of our spiritual lives.
As our children mature into young adults, we help them understand that the more we begin to love God's law and heed His instruction, the more freedom we have in life to honor Him. Our desires become like His desires and our choices bring Him glory. As we help our teens learn to love God and His Word, we help them to love His boundaries; not because we have to, but because we are free to!
Paul reminds us of this freedom and warns us of the responsibility it carries. He says in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24, "Everything is permissible, but not everything builds up. No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person." In other words, we must keep in perspective that while we have been freed from sin and death, we have been freed to pursue holiness.
Ask the Right Questions
When you observe that your teen is exercising his independence with little regard to the consequences, encourage him to talk through his motives with you. A young person may ask "What does the Bible say about ____?" It's easy to feel like a deer in headlights when you don't have a chapter and verse memorized to answer their question. You could fill in that blank with just about any topic related to decision making in the social life of the average teen.
I have come to consider these types of questions as "milkshake moments." These teachable moments are better handled by sitting down for a discussion over a milkshake than by rattling off an oversimplified answer.
First, we must consider their motivation. When a person wants to know if the Bible approves or disapproves of a given topic, there is usually a decision looming behind the question. In order to know how to guide them, we must first probe their motives. Either they are looking to seek God's wisdom before they act (conviction), or they are looking for a loophole to avoid guilt (rebellion).
Helping them investigate their own motives is a great place to start. We all need to be reminded that God's Word has insight that can help us make wise decisions. Help your teen shift his thinking with a simple question swap.
Replace questions like, "How far is too far?" or "Does the Bible say I can't?" with questions like, "Do my actions honor God in this moment?" or "Will this decision point others to Christ?" In other words, let's move the thinking away from pursuing what we are entitled to in life, and place the focus back on how we can make decisions that will honor God and show the world that we belong to Him.
Train Them for Righteous
As with every area of our parenting, it is not enough for us just to have the right answers. We want to model a thought process that will help our kids internalize a desire to seek wisdom and practice discernment. Freedom in Christ is a gift from God that we are intended to embrace, but more importantly, use for His glory. When they leave our watch, we want them to be guided by a desire to live in a way that honors Christ and points others to Him. This will not come from a list of do's and don'ts, but from learning to weigh every choice carefully and seek God's best.
I love the imagery in Psalms where children are described as being "like arrows in the hands of a warrior" (127:4). We are the warriors here. We fight for our kids as we train them for righteous living. We are all in this battle together to show the world the love of God, and our children are our greatest resource. As we train them up to wisely embrace their freedom in Christ, we prepare them to be launched into the world as God's ambassadors. As we live life alongside them, they will see our passion. As we spend time talking with them, they will hear our heart.
As we pray for our teens and seek to guide them through their decisions, let's remember God's promise in 2 Peter that His power has given us everything required for life and godliness ... to escape corruption.
With this assurance we can encourage our teens to pursue goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, and love, as God's Word promises (1:3-8). As believers, we are free to embrace these virtues and pass them on to those entrusted to us.
This article is courtesy of Parenting Teens magazine.