As Christians growing up, we are bombarded with every kind of example you could imagine. And many of them are good ones. We may attend church services every week, listen to the sermons and take part in the teen classes where we are taught positive lessons and shown examples of who we are supposed to be—who Jesus intends us to be.
So why is it, then, that when we know the right decisions, we often make the wrong ones?
In an attempt to answer this question, we need to understand how society and human nature impact our decisions. These do not excuse wrong choices, but they are powerful influences.
Beyond all the complex elements of peer pressure and our own desires, it comes down to this: When we rationalize our behavior, the line blurs between right and wrong, between what we want and what God commands.
For example, when it comes to underage drinking, society tells us that when you’re hanging out with your friends, it should involve some type of alcoholic beverage. We know as youth that we shouldn’t drink because it’s illegal and that, even where permissible, we shouldn’t drink when unsupervised. But again, we rationalize that we can handle it, that it’s no big deal because it’s not like we’re using drugs or something “bad.”
In some situations parents unknowingly set bad examples. Some allow their children to drink to excess at home, thinking, “If they’re doing it at home, at least they’re not out getting drunk at some party where I can’t watch them.” This type of approach doesn’t work because it promotes the idea that bad behavior is acceptable in certain contexts—and the proper context can always be rationalized.
I’m not as bad as …
Often we feel we are completely in control of ourselves and we don’t want to believe that we could ever be wrong. We console ourselves with the notion: “Well, I’m not as bad as some people. I drink, but I don’t do drugs or smoke” or “I don’t have sex; I just fool around a little.”
It shouldn’t be difficult to see how constant rationalizing and “riding the fence” in our own spirituality can make us borderline Christians. As young people, we need to ask ourselves, “Is this who I really want to be?”
We have to remember that change is possible. While we have all sinned and made mistakes, we must realize that our failures are not the end but a beginning—a chance to start over. But the honest truth is that it is always better to start obeying God sooner rather than later in life.
Galatians 5:25 Galatians 5:25If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
American King James Version×says, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” This scripture shows what is expected of Christ’s followers. We cannot honestly claim to be Christians if our lives are constant compromises between desire and purity.
Paul wrote to the young evangelist Timothy, “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12 1 Timothy 4:12Let no man despise your youth; but be you an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
American King James Version×). The Greek word for purity here, hagneia , means to be free from all taint of that which is lewd. What can we do to obtain this purity that is so necessary in our lives? One of the most difficult things is to figure out how to move when we’re firmly stuck in the middle of something.
The Bible tells us in 2 Timothy 2:22 2 Timothy 2:22Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
American King James Version×to “flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” This scripture is telling us that we should literally run from anything and everything that stimulates lust—and to turn and follow things that are godly and right. It is also telling us to seek and enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.
None of us has achieved sinless perfection at this point, but God knows that we can move in that direction if we will strive with every fiber of our being as we seek and rely on His help. In our quest for purity as young people, we will have to separate ourselves from not just our own wrong ways and actions, but also from the ways and actions of others who do not share our goal. This may be one of the most difficult decisions to act on, because all of us have or have had friends who are not on the same road in life. The fact that we part company does not mean we hate them—just that we’re going different directions.
Often our friends cannot fully respect or agree with our values and decisions, because then they would have to admit that they’re wrong in theirs. In these situations we have to ask ourselves: Would a true friend want to hinder our spiritual growth as we strive for purity of mind, body and spirit?
Our example in the Church
An even more difficult situation is when bad examples are set by our friends in the Church, especially by those a little older than us.
Those of us who are older among the youth in God’s Church need to take our roles seriously and understand that we are looked up to by younger teens and that our behavior is often imitated. When we set poor examples, it becomes easier for others to rationalize doing the same things.
I return to my original question: Why is it that when we know the right decisions, we often make the wrong ones? Perhaps it all comes down to the fact that with all of the examples we have been shown, all of the sermons and teen classes we’ve sat through, it all comes down to us.
When we make choices, whether good or bad, we are responsible for them. When we rationalize that our lifestyle choices are “not quite sins” and that living in the gray areas is okay, we are hurting ourselves and affecting others in a negative way. Sins can be forgiven and, of course, are every day when we pray and repent, but there are often repercussions—be they physical, emotional or spiritual—that leave an irreversible imprint to which no one is immune.
We need to remember that in God there is peace and hope. Through prayer we can ask Him for help to become the people He created us to be, not what the world is trying to make out of us.
I recall the verse from the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost: “… two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” VT