Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Bauer, Michigan. *This is the substance of a speech delivered to the Parent Teachers Association at Heritage Christian School.
It is difficult to live a godly life. It is difficult for all of God’s people, but it seems especially difficult for young people (and for their parents).
It has been said that it is harder to be a godly young person today than it was in the past. From one perspective this is not true. The people of God in every age live in a spiritual battle. This battle began when God separated the seed of the woman from the seed of the serpent. The devil has been unrelenting in his efforts to destroy the Seed of the woman. This makes for constant spiritual warfare. The Heidelberg Catechism, while explaining the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, declares that every believer faces three mortal enemies against which he has to fight all his life. These mortal enemies are the devil, the world, and his own flesh. Believers have always been in this same spiritual battle, which manifests itself a little differently in each generation. And in every age believing young people fight this same spiritual battle, but they do so without a high level of spiritual maturity. The devil knows of this weakness and makes every effort to take advantage of this lack of spiritual maturity. So today’s believing young people face the same mortal enemies their parents and grandparents faced when they were young.
However, from another perspective the battle is more severe today than in the past. With the return of the Lord ever closer, the devil knows that his time is short. His efforts to destroy the cause of Christ are more desperate. With craft and guile the devil makes use of this present evil world as an instrument to attack and destroy the people of God, either individually or collectively. But believing parents and their believing young people must not fear. They have no more reason to fear today than God’s people ever did. God’s grace is always sufficient. Even in the last days, immediately before our Lord’s return, we find I Corinthians 10: 13 to be true, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
The devil uses many forces to attack God’s young people. These forces vary depending on the age and personality and position of that young person. The devil is extremely crafty and most wise (worldly) to use what he knows to be the most effective instrument to make each elect stumble and fall. Believing young people and their believing parents must be aware of those instruments of the devil which threaten a godly walk.
A great threat to a godly walk in our day is substance abuse. By that I mean the use of tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs. I learned that researchers found marked increases in the use of tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs during the past five years among eighth and twelfth graders in the state of Michigan. These researchers believe that the rise in cigarette smoking among teens may have contributed to a parallel rise in marijuana use. It is believed that attitudes and beliefs about the dangers and consequences of drug use continue to soften among teens, which softening is largely responsible for the increased use. These researchers found that teens today know less about drugs and the dangers of drug use than the previous generation of teens. This is due in part to a significant drop in anti-drug messages. It is also a fact that more of the music industry is blasting out a pro-drug message in their music, words, and titles.
Another threat to living godly as a believing teen is ungodly music, and the influence of television and videos. In these media horrible sins are portrayed without any expression of God’s righteous judgment. Take only the one example of the taking of God’s name in vain. How frequent is not the name of the holy God misused or damned?! Then consider how the Spirit directed the Reformed fathers when they said that there “is no sin greater or more provoking to God,” (Heidelberg Catechism, q. 100). Our silence “makes us partakers of these horrible sins in others” (q. 99). Also we must be aware of the fact that Walt Disney has deliberately shifted away from “family values” toward acceptance and approval of homosexuality and of New Age values. Ungodly music, television, and videos are also serious threats to godliness in young people. Believing parents must ever be on guard against the devil’s use of these instruments to cause the less mature to fall into sin.
Parents must be alert to another instrument the devil is using to attack godliness in young people, namely, the evil uses of Internet. It is not uncommon that young people and also children know their way around computers and the Internet more than their parents. There are three particular uses of the Internet which I will mention here as threats to godliness. First, pornography and nudity are readily available. Also, the cults make use of web sites, in which they present themselves in the best light and where they recruit members. Finally, on the Internet are chat lines, where one can easily connect with others who can assert an ungodly influence. Parents must be aware of these evil uses of the Internet and must monitor their children’s use of the Internet.
Another threat to godliness is an excessive attention to sports, whether by participation or by spectating. It would seem that sports is an innocent alternative to all the other threats. That it is, when, like most other things, it is used in moderation. All things without moderation are sins, and it takes spiritual maturity to exercise moderation. Already as believing teens we must be aware that “bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things,” both for this life and for the life to come (I Tim. 4:8).
The last threat I would mention in this article is that of an increasing disrespect for those whom God has placed in authority over us. Teachers report that, while there has always been the sin of disrespect, today the disrespect seems to be more blatant than in previous generations. I wonder if this is not in part because school-aged children no longer fear that they will “get it worse” from their parents than from teachers. (The world seems to be influencing the church concerning the use — rather, lack of use — of the rod.) Also, in the world about us there is an increasing disrespect for those in authority, for example, for the President of the United States. It is believed that disagreement with the President’s policies and politics gives license to disrespect. The Scriptures demand otherwise. And the Heidelberg Catechism is again a wise guide in teaching that I must “show all honor, love and fidelity … to all in authority over me, and submit myself to their good instruction and correction, with due obedience; and also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand” (q. 104). Our Reformed fathers were well aware of the human tendency to be disrespectful to those in authority when we see their weaknesses and sins. As parents we must ever be mindful of the necessity and importance of our showing only respect for all in authority over us, so that we might be good examples. Also, we must not weary to place before our children and teenagers the demand of their heavenly Father’s law that they honor those He has placed over them. And this demand must be enforced.
There are threats to godliness in our believing young people and children. How do we respond to the threats and how do we respond to our children when they fall before the threats?
First, are we aware of the real power of the threats? Their power is what the Heidelberg Catechism calls the mortal enemy of “our own flesh.” The strongest and fiercest foe of the trio of mortal enemies is our own flesh, which in Scripture is called our “old man” and “the body of this death.” Godly parents, young people, and children must fight this war in the consciousness that this trio of forces is greater than we can withstand in our own strength. But through Christ we can do all things. So let us constantly be striving to know what it is to fight in the strength of the Lord. Parents must guide their young people and children in the effort to fight in the might of the Lord.
Another source of the power of these threats is peer pressure — especially for school-aged children. Peer pressure — the desire to be liked — is a tremendous power in every age, but especially when one is young, whether a believer or an unbeliever. The desire to be loved and noticed makes each threat so powerful.
The awareness that the power of the threats lies more within us than outside us in the instruments the devil is using should influence believing parents as they nurture their children in the fear of the Lord. This means that the banning of these threats is not really fighting the battle where it has to be fought. Believing parents must constantly be teaching their children to fight against their own flesh and the desire to be wanted or liked by others. This must receive the focus of godly parents’ attention as they strive to teach their children to be godly.
Secondly, godly parents must pay much attention to the kind of life which is being lived in their homes. Is it the setting for good communication between parents and children? Parents, as the more mature, must not stop trying to establish rapport. This they can do by listening when their young people do talk and by showing they understand even when they disagree. Parents should talk about non-threatening subjects; and they should avoid constant criticism and nagging. They should speak to a problem and behavior instead of personality traits or the child’s value as a human being. And remember that we are always showing them how to respond to the threats — by our example.
And thirdly, do we keep the big picture in view? Remember that we are the adults and they are the children. Do not make their experiences yours, so that you live their life or you live your life through them. Parents must be aware that this is a constant danger arising from their own flesh. It is so easy for parents so to identify themselves with their children that they forget that they are the adults.
Remember the nature and limits of our calling as parents, because believing children are God’s children. They are God’s far more than they are ours, from the viewpoint both of salvation and of creation. This means that we are not to hold them too closely. We must love them as God’s children with a biblical love which is unconditional; and we must love them as our children conditionally. We are not to be conditional about their person or obedience. We must be able to let them go if they show themselves to be unrepentant and unresponsive to our repeated admonitions and those of the church.As parents we teach and teach and teach, and we pray and pray and pray. Instruct constantly in God’s Word, which is the armor which protects and equips them for spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6). Most simply, teach them God’s commands. Demand unconditional honor for those by whose hand God is pleased to govern them. The purpose of our instruction is that our children be disciplined, i.e., that they be able to say “No” to their own flesh, be ready to repent quickly, and be able to grasp quickly the truth of forgiveness in the blood of Christ.