A staggering 78% of kids raised in Bible-believing homes leave the faith by the age of 18. In an effort to understand this phenomenon, there are blogs, articles, and books written on this subject, discussing all sorts of ideas, such as perhaps it’s because we shove biblical “heroes” at them, or it’s because they attend youth group far more than they actually attend church, or maybe it’s because we’re pushing them to learn too many Bible verses.
The weakest argument I’ve heard so far is that Christians who use “churchy” language, such as believer, unbeliever, and the Lord willing, are somehow destroying our kids’ desire to follow Jesus. While that one may be the most frail and humanistic of the explanations, I do believe each may have its part in this unprecedented youth exodus. They still, however, miss the point of the deeper issue.
The solutions offered to these ideas address the specific issue thought to be the problem. We’re told that we should show kids that biblical “heroes” were actually liars, fornicators, and drunks. We decide that the youth should attend services once a month. We are warned against using “Christianese”, even though we are, in fact, Christians. And we’re told that we absolutely must show kids that the whole point of Christianity is that God always chases people who run from Him, and He will never give up on them. And yet the youth are still leaving.
These solutions don’t work because they only deal with the surface problems – the ones that exhibit themselves. You don’t really think Satan is going to make it that easy, do you? If we are searching in the wrong places for what is driving people away from the faith, we’ll end up with the wrong results.
To be fair, I have read some very good articles on this subject. One in particular, Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave the Church, should not be missed. In it, the writer states what I believe is the reason we are losing our kids: “We have failed to deliver to them the faith ‘delivered once for all'(Jude 1:3).” We have fed those searching for God a flimsy and idolatrous idea of what grace is and does. A counterfeit faith is no faith at all.
Apart from the true message of the Gospel, everything becomes superficial and unsatisfactory. So first, let’s take this out of the context of kids alone, and realize that for anyone – young or old – to stay rooted in the faith, we must understand what the Gospel truly is.
The message of the Gospel begins not with us or our need, or even God’s meeting that need. It begins with God – a God who is ultimately concerned about His glory, and who created man in His image to reflect and bear that glory. But from even before He created man, God knew we would mar His image through sin, and deeply grieve and displease Him. So from before the foundation of the world, God set about the business of redeeming and restoring His broken images, showing us love, mercy, and grace throughout history, ultimately culminating in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His only Son.
“The work of the cross only strikes us as awe-inspiring,” one author wrote, “after we have first been awed by the glory of God.” But a great many people have been led into the kingdom of God by Christians who teach a watered-down version of the Gospel. Many prefer to tell people how much God loves them and wants to be with them forever, but shy away from talking about the bloody price of sin. Jesus died a brutal death to defeat sin and unite us to the Father through Him.
Love is power. And a self-centered, counterfeit gospel always leads to sin’s dominion again exerting itself. The primary reason sin gains power over believers is because we love it. If sin did not attract us and was not pleasurable, it would have no power over us. So what drives love of sin from us and cuts it off at its root?
A surpassing, transforming love.
And what fills us with this powerful, sin-displacing love?
“Amazing grace…that saved a wretch like me.”*
He loved us before we knew Him, He died while we were yet His enemy. He holds us when we fail, He keeps us when we fall. He forgives us when we sin, He removes our sin as far as the east is from the west. He fills our hearts with surpassing love, He empowers us to keep every commandment.
Without love for sin, the world has no dominion over our us, for grace leads to godliness. A preeminent love for God, based on His love for us, makes doing His will and pleasing Him the believer’s greatest joy, and in this joy lies the strength to remain in Him (Neh. 8:10). And this joy lies only in this refrain:
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!**
The power of grace, the power of the true Gospel, is the power of all-conquering love. This alone can keep our kids – can keep us all – in the faith.