Introduction for Leaders During adolescence and teen years, youth experience growth, change, and confusion as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. Much of this process is a discovery of who they are and who they want to be. Inborn temperament and personality as well as life experiences, friends, family, teachers, the media, and hopefully the church all contribute to the formation of their identity. The goal of this study is to help students discover an accurate perception of themselves and their worth in the context of their relationship with God and other people. The world and people around us value and define us by what we can offer: if we are rich, our value and identity lies in our money; if we are beautiful, they lie in our looks; if intelligent or fast or strong, they lie in our abilities. Unfortunately, even in the church we frequently value people according to how they look and what they can do. This mistake is devastating in two ways. First, it perpetuates the lie that a person’s worth comes from what he or she can offer. Those who are gifted or beautiful can easily depend upon themselves instead of on Christ to find their identity and value and can have a distorted or inflated sense of their own importance. Those who appear less gifted or beautiful struggle with their selfesteem, believing they are of lesser worth. Secondly, it perpetuates the belief that what you do determines who you are, rather than affirming the Biblical perspective that who you are determines what you do. Satan uses this lie to keep Christians from achieving freedom in Christ and spiritual maturity. How can we help young people discover an accurate and balanced perspective of their identity and their worth? By helping them see themselves accurately in the context of their relationships with God and with others. We know that, before creating mankind, God was complete and was love because He had relationships within himself. His very identity comes from those relationships: there can be no Father without a Son, nor Son without a Father, and no Spirit can exist without being the spirit of someone. Part of what it means that mankind is made in the image of God is that we too derive our identity from relationships, from our relationship with God and our relationships with others. Just like people can’t know what they look like until they look in a mirror, God and others are mirrors we must “look in” to learn about ourselves. But what happens when people tell us lies, like that we are worthless or insignificant unless we produce what they want from us? Like the rest of God’s beautiful creation, this way of learning about ourselves was damaged by Adam’s sin and the fall. Sin in the lives of other people causes them to distort how they perceive us and what they reflect to us about ourselves. For example, manipulative or abusive people make others feel worthless or insufficient with no basis in the actual worth of the object of their abuse. A proud parent or grandparent might overestimate the talents or virtues of their offspring, causing a selfish, spoiled child to think of herself as quite giving and virtuous. Often what people reflect to us has much more to do with what they think about themselves or with something going on in their lives at the moment than with who we are. An alcoholic parent may cause his child to think, "If only I were more obedient or didn't fight with my sisters so much, my dad wouldn't drink. But it is clear to everyone else that the parent’s drinking is not dependent on the child’s behavior at all.
The difficulty in seeing ourselves clearly in relationship with those around us does not all stem from the distorted reflection they present us with—even in a hall of mirrors you can still tell what color your hair is. At times we misunderstand what people are trying to communicate. At other times we're either unable or unwilling to see ourselves as we really are. Our idea of the world and of ourselves forms a kind of filter through which all of our perceptions pass. This filter causes us to have expectations of what we are going to experience, thus distorting our perceptions of what really happens. This selective perception is much easier to see in those around us than in ourselves. Just think of someone you know who is clueless about some personality quirk that everyone else sees clearly. Problem is, nobody's willing to risk the heat by pointing it out.
It is difficult for us to see ourselves clearly partly because in many cases we either misunderstand what they are communicating or are either unable or unwilling to see ourselves as we really are.
In this study we identify four types of “filters”—expectations that can distort our perceptions: the fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of punishment and feelings of shame. Since the fall, mankind naturally experiences these feelings since we have failed God, shamed ourselves by sinning and have brought upon ourselves God’s just rejection and punishment. But once a person is born again, all the punishment they deserve has been poured out on Jesus Christ. His failure is replaced by the perfect righteousness of Christ. He's no longer rejected but is adopted into God’s family. He has no reason for shame because he's been made a new creation in Christ. When we, with the help of God’s Word and Spirit, begin to see ourselves clearly as He sees us we can begin to experience healing in our view of ourselves, our relationships with God and with others. This can be a slow process as these ways of thinking and viewing the world are deeply rooted. But if we can help people see themselves as God sees them—outside Christ as God’s glorious handiwork yet sinful; in Christ as righteous and beloved—while they are still young enough that they are forming their “filters” and before they have years of hurts to reinterpret, this process can be faster and more effective. Becoming convinced of our identity in Christ is a significant step towards spiritual liberty and maturity. It helps us put on the armor of God so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes, especially safeguarding us against his role as an accuser who uses our sins to make us doubt God’s love for us and the effectiveness of the sanctifying work of His Spirit in our lives. It also strengthens our love for and relationship with God. Whenever we are uncertain of what someone thinks about us or think that someone is angry with us, we tend to avoid her. But when someone cares about us, believes in us and encourages us we want to spend time around her. So it is with God. When we view Him as unconcerned about us or as angry with us, just waiting for us to mess up so he can punish us, we treat him like the pagans treat their “gods”: with respect, even fear, as we try to appease him with the things we think he wants—religious rituals and ceremonies, like going to church and trying to “be good.” We are like the Israelites that the Lord bemoaned when he said to them through the prophet Isaiah, “These people come near me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” (Is. 29: 13) Throughout scripture God calls us, not to external conformity to a bunch of rules, but to enter into a real relationship with him. Once we begin to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is His love for us we want to spend time with Him and be more like Him. People frequently criticize young people for not obeying all of the rules or for not giving a “good testimony.” In our teaching of them let us follow the strong exhortation of Jesus to the religious leaders of His day, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites? You clean the outside of the cup and dish but inside they are full of greed and selfindulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” (Mt. 23:25, 26) By helping the people God has put under our care “clean the inside of their cups,” by helping them clearly understand what it means to be
born again and what their identity is as sons and daughters adopted into God’s family, we help them deepen their heart relationship with God. And out of that intimate relationship will flow the desire and the power to live in a manner worthy of their identity. Knowing who they are will deeply affect how they live their lives. With an accurate perception of themselves grounded in how God sees them, they can walk again into the hall of mirrors that surrounds us in the world. We’ll try to both help them discern truth about themselves in the warped images they see there, and also reflect God’s truth to those around them.
Copyright 2001 by Tim and Annette Gulick. For further study we recommend the following books: The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God, by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge The Search for Significance, by Robert McGee Victory over the Darkness by Neil Anderson The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
During adolescence and teen years, youth experience growth, change, and confusion as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood....