Building a Culture of Repentance
The Triad of Life is a distillation of Scripture’s most basic building blocks for the Christian life—a three-pronged, mutually enforcing and informing concept that shapes everything we do as believers. In our writing, in our speaking, and in our equipping the Church across the country, this is the principle we encourage parents and youth leaders to integrate into the lives of their kids, enabling students to use and steward their sexuality for the glory of God.
And the second aspect (check out the first post) of the Triad is a not-so-in-vogue concept: repentance.
A Necessary Repentance
Jesus’ announces His ministry in Mark 1:15 with an enormous statement: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Repent. He’s commanding people to turn from whatever they are hoping in, in order that they might turn towards Him alone. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin and imply similar concepts. Both necessarily imply that you have turned from trusting something or someone and turned to someone or something. And both are worked out practically in everyday life.
But sexual sin makes repentance passé: The narrative of sexual sin says, “Sin is an outdated way to view sexting. It’s an antiquated stance on hooking up.” If sin itself is outmoded, then there’s nothing of which to repent. The narrative of the world tells us there’s nothing wrong with pursuing our own lusts while at the very same time leading us to the edge of the cliff. “It’s okay”, the narrative coaxes, while it pushes us over the edge. You recognize this voice, don’t you? “‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Genesis 3:4-5).
Stewarding our sexuality, then, involves practically repenting from our sin-induced trance and obsession with the sweet words of Satan to listen again to Reason, to Life, to Jesus.
Embody the Language
So how do we begin to create a culture of repentance in student ministry? The first thing we need to do is to actually embody repentance. And this, like faith, is an easy aspect to fake. The question to ask ourselves is this: “Am I a man of repentance? Am I a woman of repentance?”
It means we need to ask the hard questions of ourselves, like, “How have I neglected to practically repent of my sins today? How have I harbored secret doors to porn in my life and failed to turn from it? Am I running on fumes, trying to manipulate spiritual outcomes in my ministry while neglecting prayer, Scripture reading, and communion with God and His church?”
Repentance begins with us, not with our students. And if we want a culture of repentance in our student ministries, it must begin in our own hearts.
Use the Language
Anyone learning a new language can tell you that if you don’t use it, you’ll never truly learn it. This means we need to actually talk about repentance. What would that look like?
- We are constantly calling on students to repent of their sins and trust in Christ in practical ways. And we are also encouraging Christians to keep repenting from their sins. Repentance is not something to be done once and left behind in favor of Christian perfectionism, as if we had no need of repentance on the other side of conversion. And repentance does not mean we will never wrestle with sin again. Every day the Serpent’s voice and our own flesh tempt us to the edge.
- We are constantly drawing parallels between the death-infused voice of sin and the life-giving voice of Jesus. What does the temptation to sext tell us about life in Christ? What practical things does my sin and flesh tell me to do that are absolutely opposed to the Way, the Truth, and the Life?
- We are constantly demonstrating how repentance is practical. Repentance includes getting rid of Instagram and handing the password to our phones over to trusted mentors if Instagram is a porn-problem for us. Repentance includes stepping out of certain friend groups if they are facilitating the downward spiral of sin.
- We are constantly teaching and talking about the kindness of God. Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” The ironic thing about Romans 2:4 is that those to whom Paul is writing are actually ignoring and plugging their ears to God’s kindness. But the intent is still the same. There is, of course, a time for preaching about the coming judgment (Romans 2:5), but I think this is the default way we try to cultivate repentance in our students. Have we tried to cultivate repentance by consistently preaching and talking about the goodness, kindness, mercy, and grace of God in the face of Jesus Christ?
Create Opportunities to Repent
A wonderful way to cultivate repentance in student ministry is to actually facilitate times where students can repent. In my leadership Bible study with eighth grade guys, we had specific times built in for confession and accountability, when we would also encourage each other in prayer and Scripture reading, searching for practical ways to help each other turn from our sin and pursue Jesus.
It is repentance—true and practical—that will enable us all to thrive sexually as Christ works powerfully within us by the Spirit. Ultimately, however, repentance is a gift from God (2 Timothy 2:24-25). In other words, we must be on our knees daily, asking Him to grant passionate and practical repentance to both us and the students we love and serve.