“I wish I was better looking”
“I wish I was smarter”
“If only I could do…”
“If only I hadn’t done…”
“Why couldn’t I be…?”
“I guess I’m not good enough/smart enough”
“I need to get my life right before I can…”
One of the hardest parts of student ministry is to hear the despair in students. They are broken over things like past sins, current struggles, regrets, but most of all they are broken and distraught over the performance mentality that so dominates their life. It consumes them, because the smartest get the scholarships, the best athletes get the attention, the most active get the class superlative, and everywhere they look there’s someone prettier, someone stronger, someone faster, someone who’s more serious about their faith, someone who can do or know something they cannot. And in the performance culture, this quickly escalates to hopelessness.
Spiritually though, this can be more than disappointing, it can be devastating. When students buy into the myth that their performance leads to their acceptance or value before God, the result is a constant pursuit of “do better, try harder, be gooder.” Because performance is so tied to value, the system that dictates class rank, playing time, and community attention is carried over to their faith. Rather than seeing themselves rooted and grounded in the work of Christ, students substitute that for a Deceiver who whispers to them “you’re not good enough to be a Christian, you need to do better to be accepted by God, you know if you don’t do everything the way you’re supposed to then you’re nothing but a fraud.”
I love the book of Ephesians. I spent a semester teaching through it, and would love to dedicate longer to it in the future. I continually come back to Ephesians 1 as a tremendously valuable passage of Scripture in helping students see who they are in Christ. At the core of this myth is an identity problem. Students who buy into the performance mentality believe that their identity is connected to what they do (or, what they don’t do). As we walk through what Ephesians 1, in particular v. 3-14, says to us, let’s remember first and foremost that our identity, our value, and our acceptance is based on Christ and our being found in Him.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Chosen (v. 3) - God has chosen to have a relationship with you, yes you. The God of the universe, in grace and love, wanted to have a relationship with you and pursued you with the love of Christ. You are valuable to God in Christ. You don’t have to be a blue chip recruit or an All-American to be ‘drafted’ by God. He chooses you to be a friend and does so in His kindness through Christ. In verse 11 Paul uses the term “predestined” to describe us. Basically, that means that God, in wisdom and love, has decided to pursue you and draw you to Himself for His glory and for the blessing of others.
Holy & Blameless (v. 4) - In Christ, we’re no longer seen in our stains, guilt, and shame. Instead, God sees us as He does Jesus - in all His righteousness. You are made right with God. Romans 8:1 declares that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ. You are not the mistakes you’ve made, nor the things you’re able to do or not able to, you are in Christ and therefore you are holy.
Adopted (v. 5) - Don’t ever fail to be amazed by this. God not only calls us friends in Christ, not only does He forgive us and give us a new hope, but He adopts us. You, as a Christian, have God as your Father. He has brought you near to Him. No matter if you had a great family or if your family belongs on Jerry Springer, in Christ you are given a whole new identity and you have the God of the Universe as your Father. You are loved and valued and accepted by God because He has decided to adopt you and make you His child.
Blessed (v. 6) - We find our blessing in the Beloved (aka Jesus), in whom we have everything we need. Regardless of whether you grew up rich or poor, in a single-parent home or stable family, if you have new shoes or have to buy from consignment, if you go to a great school or to one that rewards you for not getting arrested/pregnant, you have everything you need in Jesus. When our needs/wants are shifted from what we think we must have to what God does, it changes our perspective. Psalm 37:4 says this “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” When our primary place of delight, joy, and satisfaction is in God, everything else falls into place.
(Thursday's post will continue helping us understand the lies we believe with The World's Half-Truths For Teens: If I Am Better I Will Be Loved Pt.2)