Every now and then I hear things about you young people that are not so good.
No, I’m not a detective. I do not tape electronic sensors to your telephones. I don’t snoop in your lockers at school. I’ve never hidden in the back seat of your car while you are on dates.
Neither, do I hire others to do my detective work. I haven’t bargained with your parents in order to get them to tell me all the bad things they know about you. I haven’t elicited from your teachers any gossip they may have heard about you. I didn’t stoop so low as to dicker with your “kid brother” to have him sneak in the back seat either.
Rather, I know these things because you have told me.
The old adage holds true, “Actions speak louder than words.” You tell me a great deal about yourselves by the way you act. I have only to sit on the sidelines, listen to you speak, observe your dress, take note of your interests, and conclude that some things aren’t so good.
You tell me this when I preach. When a point is made directly for young people, I notice that you pay particular attention. This is good, and by this reaction it is obvious that you realize that you need to be told certain things, you want to be told these things, because things aren’t always what they should be.
Most importantly, you tell me this when you come and talk to me. You have problems of the greatest magnitude. Sometimes you are shaken to the very foundation of your faith, you question whether you are really a child of God or not. Then you wonder how important it is that you continue to be a member of a church that emphasizes doctrinal purity and virtuous living. You cast a glance toward other churches and observe correctly, that there are children of God in other churches, and then wonder why you can’t consider leaving the Protestant Reformed Churches for an eligible husband or wife. When you are confronted with the “wisdom” of the world while you are at college, you are impressed with the scholarly and scientific approach to complex problems and are persuaded that there is more than one way to consider the teachings of the Word of God. You observe the terrible situation in our country and in the world at large. This makes you bitter at times; sometimes in your rashness you would lay all the blame upon your forefathers, and if you kick up enough dust you seek amnesty in the “generation gap.” In your excitement to join the “in” crowd you clash head-on with your parents’ standards of right and wrong. This makes you very bitter at times, sometimes unreasonably so. In your own thinking you even imagine that if only you could have the entire say of your whole life, you would be the happiest kid alive.
Yet, by talking with you I know that there is much more to you than appears on the surface.
Deep inside of you there beats a heart that loves the Lord. If I ask you whether you appreciate your parents and all they have done for you, your answer is unequivocally, yes! When you are in the armed services, you tell me that you never realized how much church and home and school really meant to you. If you attend services elsewhere, you confide to me that you notice a difference, quite a difference, in fact, so much so that when you are honest, you realize that the Word of God means a great deal to you. You may grumble when you have to work hard in catechism, yet I know that you want to learn the truth and desire to have a good foundation in the Word of God.
It is not easy, however, to let this depth of faith dominate your life. In your exuberance, you realize only too often that your sinful flesh is still so powerful a force in your lives. You see sin in others, including your parents, and you quickly brand all religion as “hypocrisy.” You look a little deeper in your own heart and you see that it is not always pure either. “Forbidden fruit” sometimes appears very luscious to you, if only you can convince yourselves that it is justifiable to feast for a little while. You are titillated by the barrage of sexual filth; sometimes you secretly savor its taste. You grow impatient with adult “hang-ups” and argue that you can serve God just as well whether your hairline is at your ears or down to your neck. Why the fuss over the length of skirts, it happens to be style, they go up and they come down, so what?
Down in your heart however, your honesty pricks your balloon of pride. You know that you are the happiest before God when you have a clean conscience. Your greatest burden comes after you have done wrong. It is not first of all that you have hurt your parents, or have acted improperly before someone else, deep in your heart your conscience accuses you before God. This makes you the most restless. If only you could know that you are forgiven for past sins, if only you could find strength not to yield to temptation, that would be the greatest blessing. Beneath the dusty surface, so often stirred up by the sins of youth, you long for guidance, you need a strong hand to lead you through the times of difficulty, you realize that you must be shown the way.
Herein is the glorious truth of the presence of our living Lord.
The Word of God makes this plain for us. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Because He is the life in Himself, He also said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” By means of the truth, Christ is the way that leads us to the life. He is able to do this for He said, “I have the keys of hell and death.” The use of these keys in us brings forth the promise, “If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”
To all of this the child of God responds in the words of the apostle Paul, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”Gal. 2:20.
It is your privilege to make this confession as covenant youth.
I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me!
By the resurrection of Christ from the dead, you are assured of forgiveness of your sins. For this you long, don’t you. When the pangs of guilt weigh down upon your soul, and when you look to God from the depths into which you have fallen, you desire to be able to get on your knees and say, O Father, I have sinned, forgive me! Free me from this burden in order that I do not have to carry it around every day. It is your privilege to get down on your knees after you have had a terrible argument with your parents. Just at such a time when you feel so alone, so hurt inside, so shameful before God, you have the liberty to take that burden to God in prayer and for Christ’s sake have it lifted. At night when you return home from the date and confess before God how tempted you were to sin, and sometimes how you have yielded to temptation, your fevered soul may rest in the certainty of divine forgiveness.
All this is rooted in the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
The death of Christ on the cross was not His death, it was our death. The sins He bore were not His own, they were ours. The hellish agony He suffered was not His hell, it was ours. And, now Christ is risen from the dead! As certainly as we may say, His death is our death, we may also say, His life is our life. If Christ had not conquered death and made perfect satisfaction for our sins, God could not have justly raised Him from the dead. The empty tomb is the certification of the pardon of our sins upon the basis of the perfect atonement of Christ in our behalf.
The certainty of the forgiveness of our sins becomes ours in the way of confession and repentance. Hence, you young people must spend much time in prayer seeking that forgiveness. Through prayer, the burden is lifted.
Not only do we desire to have the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins, as covenant youth we desire to have the victory over the power of sin in our lives. We know that sin creates a terrible barrier between each of us, our parents, our fellow students, our neighbors, but especially between us and our God. We realize that it is not sufficient that we find forgiveness of sin and then turn around and say, I may sin all I want because I can nicely go to God in prayer and have forgiveness! Then the precious truth of the forgiveness of sin would become excuse to continue in sin and justify sin. This thought itself is horrible in God’s sight. We desire to be freed from the tyranny of sin. We cry out, O, if only we could resist the devil and see him flee from us. If only, we could love our parents and not get into trouble with them, how pleasant life would be. If only we could live clean and holy lives, how much richer our lives would become. We confess that we feel the best when we have the strength to resist temptation, for then God means the most to us and is closest to us.
Here too, the power for a sanctified life is our living Christ. Paul correctly says, “I do not live, but Christ liveth in me.” The source of spiritual virtue is not to be found in our own person, for all that is of ourselves is sinful and brings us to grief.
Christ liveth in me!
This we know because He conquered death! Having overcome death in all its horror, God raised Him to His own right hand and crowned Him with the Holy Spirit. By the working of the Spirit, Christ lives in us. He resurrects us from our spiritual death by regenerating our heart and calling us by the gospel. He renews our heart in. such a way that we consciously realize that God is our Father and Christ is our Savior. We love His Word and earnestly seek to direct our lives according to it.
The means which Christ uses to “live in us” are the means of grace. In response to the preaching of the Word, and through the use of the sacraments, we say, “the life we now live in the flesh we live by the faith of the Son of God.”
This presence of Christ living in us becomes for us the source of spiritual identification. Sensuous jazz, long hair, short-skirts, late dates, sit-ins, are not the marks of identification for covenant youth in whom Christ lives. The living Christian does not have to resort to the far-out, the exotic, the glamorous, in order to make his identification known, rather it is manifest as an inner beauty that radiates in our thoughts, words, and deeds.
What are the identification marks for covenant youth in whom Christ lives?
First, the praying youth wrestling with God in tears and supplication seeking forgiveness of sins.
Secondly, the attentive youth who drinks deeply of the pure milk of the Word and begins to digest some of its meat, in order that he may be strengthened by the living Christ and so by faith serve the purpose and will of God.
I hear some bad things about you, that is when you live according to the flesh.
Let’s confess together, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me!”
We sing this so lustily in one of our favorite songs, “He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today, He walks with me and talks to me along life’s narrow way. He lives, He lives, salvation to impart. You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.”
And God is glorified in the days of our youth.
(Upon request, this article is published as the substance of a speech delivered to the Youth Mass Meeting, held Easter Sunday, April 6, at Hudsonville Church.)