At the high school where I teach, my students and I frequently talk about how to live a Christian life in a world opposed to our faith. These young people are considering what their lives are going to look like once they leave home and live independently. They struggle with the idea of being set apart from the world.
It’s an ancient struggle. In the Old Testament, the Jews behaved so much like their pagan neighbors that God sent them into captivity. When they returned, they were determined to not repeat those same mistakes, vowing to become so righteous that God wouldn’t punish them again. Over time their communities became isolated from the world.
But that’s not what God wanted for them, either. Through the ministry of Jesus, God effectively tells His people that if they’re not engaged with the world, it doesn’t matter if they’re holy and righteous because that righteousness is supposed to show the world what God is like (Matthew 5:14-16).
Isolation or assimilation—believers today face the same dilemma. Some Christians draw back into safe communities, trying to protect their families. Others integrate so much with the world around them that they have nothing to offer. But as we prepare our young people for life outside our home, we can help them see a third option: to engage the world and embrace their mission to show others what God is like.
The following three principles can help equip your kids to pursue this important mission:
Make your faith physical
It’s common for young people to see Christian faith in terms of mere belief—they believe Jesus is their Savior and has taken care of their eternal future. Let’s help them understand a bigger picture: Jesus has called us to be disciples—students who imitate Him, our Teacher.
Jesus calls us to be the physical presence of God in a broken world, a light that will “shine before others” (Matthew 5:16) so that others can see our actions and give glory to the Father. Of course, this only happens if our neighbors can actually see how we live. In other words, God wants us—you, me and our kids—to influence the world by living out His message.
Don’t go alone
Many parents send kids to college and expect them to continue to be faithful to God, even when they stand alone. Sure, it can happen, but God wants His people to remain in community. And so I think the most important thing to look for when sending our kids to college is the community of faith that exists on a campus. Our kids should be able to see themselves as a part of a community that wants to show others what God is like, whether it’s in class, in their dorms or at athletic events.
I’ve seen the importance of this in my own life. The times when I’ve failed God—when I’ve not been a godly witness in an ungodly setting—have always been because I was there without the support of a community of faith. Exhort your kids not to go it alone.
Be immersed in the Word
We must help our young people overcome the powerful temptation to become like the world around them. This means rededicating ourselves and our families to the study of Scripture, so our young men and women are so immersed in the Book that it shapes their thinking and empowers them to live a godly lifestyle.
I was recently asked, “Can’t we defend the Gospel without using the Bible so much?” This person noted the apostle Paul’s famous speech to the council in Athens, where he framed the Gospel message using cultural ideas and metaphors that his audience understood. Yes, Paul was skilled at speaking in the language of culture, but we must not forget that he also alluded to numerous passages of Scripture while speaking in Athens.
Paul sets a good example for us. It is important to understand how to speak truth by employing our culture’s metaphors and addressing people’s experiences, but we mustn’t forget where truth comes from. God wants us to engage our world using His Word.Ray Vander Laan is a historian and teacher and the founder of That the World May Know Ministries.