Awakening to Righteousness
A Message to Adolescents
I received a letter from a mother troubled by her daughter’s stated intention to sleep with her boyfriend, in spite of the teaching and example of her parents of purity. I also had conversation recently with a woman troubled by her husband’s unconcerned attitude toward his immoral behaviour prior to their marriage. In considering and responding to these, the Lord has been bringing out to me the need of our souls being awakened to God, and His righteousness.
I am particularly burdened for those of you who may be adolescents or young adults, not because I think that “my generation” knows better, but because it is generally a long, painful process (and many never get it) to understand how much of how we think and do is shaped by the cultural environment in which we first “awakened.”
We have a natural tendency to dwell in the temporal; that is, the things obvious to our physical senses—seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting. In our adolescent years in particular, we are coming alive in so many ways both mentally and physically, and we are particularly prone to place our focus on those things that have to do with our thoughts, our reasonings, our senses and our feelings, and the very exercising of our reasonings and feelings puts our focus on them, as though they were the primary reality. And so, although God’s Word is more reliable by far then our thoughts, feelings or perceptions, many who name the name of Jesus are really living primarily by their own thoughts and feelings and senses, and that which “sounds right” or “feels right” to them is really their standard of behavior rather than the truths in the Bible.
In the Old Testament, because it was not yet possible to have God dwelling in men’s hearts, God focused on a great many things that had to do primarily with the physical senses to get people’s attention focused on truth and living right. So He had a tabernacle built with certain objects and designs and forms, and He had worship instituted with many sounds and smells and sights (incense, burnt offerings, priests in special clothing, musical instruments playing, etc., etc.). He dealt with people in a very physical way, with His people forming a nation and winning wars over other nations (when His “nation” was being true to Him). Many sins were punished by physical death. Physical prosperity was often the reward of living right. But always God had a higher, better standard in mind, and was interested always in the motives of the heart.
In the New Testament, God accomplished His purpose of making it possible to live with hearts changed, and filled with His Spirit. The focus is on the inward motivations and the heart, but it results in outward actions meeting God’s standard of righteousness (“If you love me, obey me,” and at the end of the fifth chapter of Galatians, the works of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit). But the fact remains that we are still people naturally focused on those things that we encounter in our feelings and senses. The only way to live a life pleasing to God is in having something stronger working within us. And we must voluntarily seek Him for it.
Psalm 68:18-19, prophesying what Jesus would do, says, “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive, thou has received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them. Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation.” And I mean no offense by what I say now, but please consider the truths needed here. We need, not our best thinking or reasoning, our best feelings and senses, but gifts from Jesus to both understand and do in such a way that God can dwell with us. We are rebels unless and until we make peace with God by repenting and being changed by the Lord, and even after getting right with God are full of ways of thinking and doing that seem sound and right to us, but are really just part of the particular spirit of the age we live in.
Jesus says, “if ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) When I was an adolescent and young adult, I went through the experience of recognizing that my parents (and adults in general) were fallible, didn’t always think as clearly as I supposed I did, and whose advise and counsel didn’t always seem to prove out. I didn’t realize how deeply this worked into me, and even after getting saved and living for the Lord, I found it completely natural and apparently right to lean on my own understanding to figure out how I should live and what to believe was right or wrong rather than humbly asking the Lord to teach me. I read the scriptures that tell us to “lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) many times, but it is so natural to do it.
Our age is so absorbed in setting “doable” goals for ourselves that we automatically seem to doubt or reject any standard if it seems too hard at the present to follow. I see over and over again people who made vows to stay with their spouse “for better or for worse,” but now they find that “worse” seems really too hard to bear in their current circumstances. So many young people who as children accepted their parents’ standards of behavior (including chastity before marriage), come to a point where they don’t find in their own thinking any good reason to resist the passions and feelings that seem to them so good, and they commit fornication. The contests of values (“pro-life” vs. “pro-abortion,” “straight” vs. “homosexuals,” and on and on), are argued and debated over so much on the basis of what people can bear or over what their supposed “rights” are (the unborn have a “right” to life, the mother has a “right” to choose abortion; our children have a “right” to being led and taught by straight people instead of homosexuals, the “gays” have a right to fulfillment in their ways because it is unreasonably hard for them to be “celibate,” etc., etc.). Yes, the standard of truth in the Bible is appealed to sometimes, but so many decide (either for or against) upon a basis of what seems to be a reasonable standard to their thinking.
But rebellion against God isn’t just about rejecting parents’ or society’s current standards—so often it is manifested in establishing one’s own standard of righteousness, apart from Him. Many who profess the name of Christ are not receiving the gifts from Jesus to be able to live with God—the change of heart that enables us to value spiritual things above physical, the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, the victory that enables even the adolescent in full “bloom,” so-to-speak, to “see” and live a morally pure live in spite of all that surrounds him or her. We read in Colossians 3, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify [deaden, deprive of power] therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.” (Colossians 3:1-7)
To speak to the particular sin of fornication that was referred to in the examples at the beginning of this article—we know the great power of the physical and sexual attraction between a man and a woman, how loudly it speaks, how much joy and goodness it promises, and how hard it is to deny its claims when it is actively at work, particularly when we are young and we have not yet reaped the bitter fruit of it being done other than God’s way. We must know the greater power of God, to work in us “both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)
We cannot know this power if we are not willing to call good, good and evil, evil. If we will not agree with God’s thinking about things, we will simply have a man-made religion, one we are setting up, not one revealed to us from God.
In the book Light from Heaven, by Christmas Carol Kauffman, there is a passage that illustrates God’s power “both to will and to do.” It is dealing with hatred rather than fornication, but the principals are the same:
As he sat pondering in his own room, it seemed every mean thing his father had ever said or done loomed up before him like a hideous monster with horns and claws. It would kill him and send him to eternal doom. Then suddenly he heard once more his mother’s gentle voice telling him the story she had so often told him in his childhood. “And the pit was deep and dark, and it was lonely down there too; but God loved Joseph all the time, and Grandfather Stokes used to tell us that he liked to think that when everyone else had gone away, God sent a light from Heaven to shine down on him.”
Joseph sat with his face in his hands and thought and thought. The clock below struck one. Finally he opened his Bible and read Psalm 77, then Psalm 40. Still he wasn’t satisfied. Turning to Deuteronomy 32 he read part of that. The clock struck one-thirty. He fell on his knees beside his bed, but he could not pray. Then he read Genesis 49, and before he closed his Bible that terrible feeling toward his father was growing less. He could not pray with it there. He had tried to, but the words only clung to the ceiling. “Dear Lord,” he cried in anguish, “whatever it is that I need, please give it to me. Of myself I can’t overcome this feeling toward Father; but give me that same spirit Mother has. I give myself up to You. It’s all I know to do.”
[Christmas Carol Kauffman; Light from Heaven, pp.337]
Until “all I know to do” is give myself up to the Lord, then all we are awakened to is our own abilities and thinkings and reasonings and feelings. But God wants to awaken us to His righteousness—not just good morals and good behavior, but morals and behavior drawn from Heaven.