Everyone needs grace. But perhaps teenagers need it a little more than others. They are at a point in life when they want and need to know they are acceptable, period. Teenagers are most likely to discover and understand grace when they are in relationship with grace-filled leaders.
Romans 5:18–19 says: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
Grace flows from the gospel. Pastor and author J. D. Greear puts it this way: “The gospel is that Christ has suffered the full wrath of God for my sin. . . . Second Corinthians 5:21 says that He actually became my sin so that I could literally become His righteousness. . . . When I receive that grace in repentance and faith, full acceptance becomes mine. . . . That means that God could not love me any more than He does right now, because God could not love and accept Christ any more than He does, and God sees me in Christ.”
Pastor and author Tullian Tchividjian says: “Even though in ourselves we’re completely unrighteous, God counts us as righteous because he has appointed Christ to be our representative and substitute. Therefore when Christ lived a perfect life, in God’s sight we lived a perfect life. When Christ died on the cross to pay for our sins, we died on the cross.”
The sermons of John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul call people to repent. Genuine repentance opens the door to grace. Scot McKnight explains: “Telling God the truth awakens forgiveness. Sometimes one gets the impression from misguided experts that God is holding a club over our heads, and the moment we tell the truth he cracks us a good one and then says, ‘You ugly little sinner!’ . . . Truthtelling is not an opportunity for head bashing, but an opportunity for the heart of Abba to be thrilled by reconciling forgiveness.”
For your teenagers, grasping grace will be a wonderful discovery. Nishioka says: “Grace is completely unexpected. There is no logic and no reason as to why God, who is the maker of the universe, should love us so incredibly that God would send Jesus to die for us.”
Teenagers are likely to make the grace discovery when they share life with a youth minister who is drenched in grace. And, by parents and volunteers who are as well.
Swindoll explains the results of grace when he says: “All who embrace grace become ‘free indeed.’ Free from what? Free from oneself. Free from guilt and shame. Free from the damnable impulses I couldn’t stop when I was in bondage to sin. Free from the tyranny of others’ opinions, expectations, demands. And free to what? Free to obey. Free to love. Free to forgive others as well as myself. . . . Free to serve and glorify Christ.”
What motivates teenagers towards such obedience? Tchividjian says: “Paul says that when we divorce obligations from gospel declarations, then our obedience becomes nothing more than behavioral compliance to rules without heart change. But when God’s amazing grace in the gospel grips our hearts, the motivational structure of our hearts is radically changed, and we begin to obey out of faith not fear, gratitude not guilt.”
Greear adds: “those people who get better are those who understand that God’s approval of them is not dependent on their getting better. . . Abiding in Jesus will produce all of the fruits of the Spirit in you—but not by having you concentrate particularly on any of those things. You concentrate on Jesus. You rest in His love and acceptance, given to you not because of what you have earned, but because of what He has earned for you.”
Some youth leaders may hesitate to say much about grace and freedom in Christ, fearing that teenagers who hear that message may plunge into a life of sin. Swindoll would want those leaders to know that, “Grace never means we’re free to live any way we wish, whatever the consequences. Grace does not mean God will smile on me, regardless. It means I’m free to choose righteousness or disobedience. If I choose the latter, I will have to take the consequences: mental anguish, a guilty conscience, hurting and offending others in the Christian community, and bringing reproach to the name of Christ.”
Teenagers, volunteers, and parents who have experienced the grace of God are prepared to offer to grace to each other. Scot McKnight says, “Instead of sinful humans getting what they deserve . . . they are granted forgiveness. . . . This loving act of forgiveness reveals God’s inner nature: he is a forgiving God. He preemptively strikes the human condition with an offer of grace. That strike of God’s forgiving love to us produces in us a cascading flow of forgiveness to others.”
Perhaps all this is helping you envision a youth ministry filled with believers covered in God’s grace and extending that grace to each other. Swindoll says, “Fortunately, grim, frowning, joyless saints in Scripture are conspicuous by their absence. Instead, the examples I find are of adventurous, risk-taking, enthusiastic, and authentic believers whose joy was contagious even in times of painful trial. . . . The contrast between then and now is staggering. The difference, I am convinced, is grace.”
Grace-filled relationships within the body of Christ are wonderful, but they are not the end of the story. Pastor David Platt lifts our eyes to the bigger picture when he says: “Enjoy his grace and extend his glory. This is the twofold purpose behind the creation of the human race. . . . God blesses his people with extravagant grace so they might extend his extravagant glory to all people of the earth.”