Teens live in a world with many struggles. They have many hard questions they have to as themselves. How should they interact with their friends of different religions? How can they stay away from drugs, but still minister to their friends that are using? How should they treat those who completely reject God?
This reaches to the root of a very important discussion: How do we tolerate and accept people while at the same time remaining intolerant of sin? In other words, how do we associate with the world without compromising and becoming like the world?
In this article I will try to provide and answer to this question from the Word of God. However, my primary focus will be on how we as Bible class teachers, youth ministers, preachers, and parents can teach our youth how they should interact with their unbelieving friends and family.
We Must Teach Our Youth to Love God and to Not Love Sin
The most important thing we could ever teach our youth is to love God. No matter what discussion is at hand, this is the most important thing. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38 ESV).
If we can help our youth to put this into their hearts and minds, it will translate into their actions and help them to better interact with their unbelieving friends. We must also teach them that loving God requires that we accept additional principles from the Word of God and to reject certain behaviors. We must teach them that Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV). In other words, there is a difference between right and wrong.
We must teach our youth that in order to keep God’s commandments, we must give up certain behaviors and beliefs in order to truly follow Jesus. We can teach them this principle by letting them hear the words of Jesus when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 ESV). Following after Jesus means we must say “no” to certain behaviors and worldly pleasures.
While we must teach our youth to love God, it also requires us to teach them to not love sin. The Bible says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-16 ESV). This passage teaches that we are not to love the world—which is in reference to sin. Sin cannot be tolerated as an accepted behavior for a Christian. We must teach our youth to not tolerate sin.
We Must Teach Our Youth to Love Others and to Not Judge Others
On the other hand, the second most important thing we could ever teach our youth is to love others. Jesus continued the thought we started in the previous point by saying, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 ESV). Jesus places this second commandment directly after the greatest command, which is to love God. We must stress to our youth how important this principle is for God’s people.
Therefore, while we must teach our youth to not tolerate sin, we also want to make sure that in doing so we do not teach them to hate those who do sin. We are to love our neighbor, not cast ugly judgment against them (Matthew 7:1). This is not to say that there will not be a judgment one day. It is simply to say that day has not yet come and it will be Jesus who makes such judgments (Acts 17:30-31). Our job is to love and to teach.
Unfortunately, some of our young people have not had good role models in this area. Some well-meaning older Christians have been known to cast judgment, when the protocol was to love and to patiently teach. In my experience, I have known older Christians who were so intolerant of sin, that they forgot the second greatest commandment—to love their neighbor.
My purpose here is not to simply speak in generalities and group all older Christians as having failed in this area, because that simply is not true. I do have several experiences that I could share, but I could also share several experiences where I have seen older Christians who have shown the grace, mercy, and love of God to those who are different than themselves. However, this is not my point. My point is that we as older Christians must model this if we truly want to teach our youth how to be intolerant of sin and to love our neighbor at the same time. It is very difficult, but this is what Jesus calls us to in this life. We must train our youth to hate sin, but to love their neighbors—even if their neighbors live, think, and act differently than they themselves have been raised.
We Must Teach Our Youth to Share the Gospel and to Not Share in Sinful Behavior
We must teach our youth to love God and hate sin, to love their neighbor and not judge them, and finally, we must teach them to use their friendships to influence their unbelieving friends without being influenced to live like their unbelieving friends.
We want our young people to know the difference between right and wrong, and at the same time we want them to love others and not cast an unfair judgment. How can they do both? Jesus calls us to do both—and in doing so we will be able to share the gospel with our unbelieving friends—and so will our youth.
Yet, it gets even more difficult at this point, because it is so easy to be influenced by the world when trying to influence the world. How many among us have become like the world in an effort to share the Gospel with the world? It is always so tragic when this happens.
Paul set the bar high when he wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 ESV). Paul conveys a classic Christian dilemma here. It is difficult to try to teach the world the ways of Christ without being taught and sold to the ways of the world. Yes, we need to be eating with the tax collectors and the sinners—this is loving your neighbor as Jesus did. However, we also need to be careful that we do not become one of their number. We must not become what we have set out to change. The world needs the message of Christ and we must take it to them, but we must also protect our hearts. This is what we must teach our youth.
What is the best way to teach this to our youth? We as the older and stronger Christians must teach it verbally to them, but we must also set the example and model it for them.
Parents you must be so intentional to speak kindly about others in your community, your child’s school, and what is going on in our country as a whole. Your child needs to see that you have love and grace to those who are in sin.
Preachers, teachers, and youth ministers, how do you describe those with whom you disagree with when you are preaching or teaching a Bible class? Do you speak of the opposing view in love?
Everyone in the body of Christ is responsible for modeling this for our young people. Next time you think about making a judgmental statement about someone or a group of people who think and live differently than we do, ask yourself:
- “Does this statement honor God?”
- “Does this statement show that I love my neighbor?”
- “Will this statement help me win others to Christ?”
Let us all hold fast to the Word of God and never be ok with sin. Let us also refrain from being a self-righteous people, but instead be a people of grace and truth. Let us passionately share the Gospel with people from all walks of life. Finally, let us fervently teach and model this to our youth, because they are looking for answers.