Over the next couple of months I am going to be doing a series on how we can help to lead our children into fuller maturity. In next week’s message I will frame this series and introduce the specifics, but before doing that I want to take a moment and explain why I focus on what I do and why I take the approach I do.

I have had a few great conversations over the past few weeks and I always appreciate your feedback!!! Some of you have noticed that I talk a lot about building character and forging virtue. Why is that?

First, when I came of age my understanding of the Gospel was one “cheap grace”. That is, I thought ‘God loves me no matter what, so I may as well do what I want.’ I had no burden or desire to become a man of character or virtue. As a result I had good intentions, but nothing more and I often made a mess of my life and the lives of others. Because of this fairly gaping hole in my youth I tend to focus more on what I lacked.

Second, over the past decade I have spent far more time with teenagers than with adults. And a lot of them are in rough shape. There are a substantial amount of young men that play more than forty hours of video games a week and a substantial amount of young women who spend that much time on social media. I’ve seen dozens of young men and women burning with a desire to change things, thirsting for justice, but incapable of committing themselves to any type of group or organization that could effect any real change. I know far too many young people that desire to get married, but they lack the wisdom, self-control, and selflessness to take even the first steps towards marriage. In response, I tend to focus on the things that I see undermining their growth in godliness—the things that make us into shallow, vapid, weak people that lack character.

However, in the midst of this it is important to remember that behavior modification is not the goal—Jesus Christ is. Christ did not die to make us better, but to save us from sin and death and remake us in His image so that we can enjoy Him forever. While we need to understand what we are moving from in order to grow and overcome, our focus is not on what we are rejecting, but Who we are pursuing.

We have a saying in our house, ‘we say “no” to some things so that we can say “yes” to others.’ For example, we say “no” to lots of junk food so that we can say “yes” to better health. I want my children (and God commands them) to say “no” to laziness and greed so that they can say “yes” to industriousness and generosity. Because we can’t have things on our terms—we can’t eat what we want and be fit; we can’t have complete and radical independence and autonomy and have friendship or community. I think it is absolutely necessary to say “no” to bad things in order to pursue good things and we must talk about and understand what we are rejecting. Yet our ultimate focus, the central desire of our heart, must be in the thing we are saying yes to. The merchant that sold everything he had to buy the Pearl of Great Price found in that Pearl ‘more than he could ask for or imagine.’ But he had to sell everything to get it! As I write and speak against things that hold our children back from virtue, please remember that my goal is to help them to overcome sin and infirmity not so they can become better people, but so that they will be freed from the things that hold them back from knowing, loving, and becoming more like Christ.