The Wrong Jesuses Your Teen Believes In (Maybe You Too?)

Jesus is your best friend

Growing up a teen is hard. You need friends. Better than that you need a friend who is closer than a brother. That is Jesus! (An overused misinterpreted version of Proverbs 18:24). He is always there for you.

But Jesus is also holy which means he hates sin. Even the sin of his best friend, you. The holy cannot be tainted by sin. Which means that Jesus does judge. So he judges you, his best friend. That is exactly why Jesus does judge you! Love compels him to. He can’t just love you and watch you make decisions that destroy your life and other lives.  Because he loves, he judges. He judges you.

Hebrews 12:7-9 are some tough verses to apply to your life. At the same time they declare a deep love for you. As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?

Our dads are not our best friends. Neither is Jesus.

Jesus is always with you to help you.

Because Jesus wants me to be happy and feel good about myself.

Duh. He is with you. There are so many Bible promises about that—that are true. But this small view of Jesus reduces Jesus from the central character of the story of our salvation to the silent partner who simply helps us to live right. In a sports metaphor: Jesus gets the assist, but I get the goal. Jesus is small and this is me-centered on what I can do to be enough—which includes inviting Jesus in to help me.

The gospel is not that Jesus helps us get it right, The gospel is that Jesus got it right in our place. Big difference. Jesus is big enough to find us when we are lost (we have to admit to that) and big enough to forgive us of how we’ve screwed up our lives with our own ways of powering through.

Jesus is the jilted boyfriend/girlfriend.

Jesus gave his all for you, so don’t hurt his feelings or let him down by your choices.

What a shame-inducing message, huh? With the goal of behavior modification, not obedience to a loving and grace-filled Jesus.

Our teens are constantly being behavior modified. Most often to protect themselves from themselves. (Why the laws of the land protect minors.)

Our teens struggle with enough shame in their lives. They get too early of a start of this Religion of Enoughness from social media on top of regular adolescence. (We struggled with this stuff too back in the day in our own comparison ways.) We don’t need to use this twist of Jesus to get behavior modification. We don’t need to make Jesus the shame giver. John 8:10-11 tells this true story with the best words ever, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” That is sanctifying and holy love that will change the direction of a life.

After drowning in shame or getting the revelation that they are being behavior modified—which empties all sanctifying power of the love of Jesus—your teen will move to another boyfriend/girlfriend whom they don’t want to disappoint even more than Jesus.  

Jesus is the great eraser.

You can make all of the choices you want and Jesus will always forgive you. Always welcome you home. Jesus loves you and wants the best for you so you can live your life anyway you want to. He’s going to love you anyway. 

Duh. This is true too. But this keeps Jesus small because the grace of God is the most powerful change force for humanity. Ask that woman (one day in heaven as I for sure will!) who Jesus let walk away from her caught sin (John 8:2-11 and referenced above).

Grace should lead to change. Change is hard. Change is vulnerable. It is easier to have Jesus as the great eraser so you can get a do-over and not have to change. Til the teen starts believing he/she has fallen too far and can’t come back to Jesus.

A big Jesus is long-suffering. Jesus lets change in you happen on your terms. 2 Peter 3:9 clearly tell us The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. Whew. This has worked for me. This will work for your teen. But not if they believe in this small Jesus.

A long-suffering Jesus is a Jesus who believes in me. A great eraser Jesus believes I am a screw up.

Jesus is all about love for everyone.

Sin does not matter because he is love.

Oh really. Because sin does matter quite a bit. He went through the crucifixion because of my sin—and your sin.

So we keep Jesus small and stop calling something sin. We call it a behavior pattern. A brokenness. Or we just change the culture to make a sin acceptable. Even bringing doctors into that change to give it authority.

But that sin still was placed on the cross.

Jesus loves so greatly that he did go through the crucifixion. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to give us a second chance to get things right. Jesus did it because he knew we never would. And that is why he loves us. It takes a big Jesus to love us.

Jesus hates sin because he loves us so much that he can’t stand to see us finding “life” where there is no life. Jesus is all about love for everyone because he also hates.

For that twist of a thought—and one I want our teens to try to wrap their growing minds around—I will quote Lisa Bevere:

How could our God who is love . . . hate?

As though in answer, a phrase from Proverbs came to mind: “There are six things that the Lord hates . . .” Well, there it was. The writer goes on to list pride, deceit, wicked schemes, sowing discord, and more (Proverbs 6:16–19).

The next morning before I sat down to type or even search the Scriptures, I prayed, “Heavenly Father, I need you to speak to me. My first reaction is that hate is irreconcilable with a God who is love, yet I see clearly from Proverbs that there are in fact things you hate. Teach me. In Jesus’s name, amen.”

No sooner had amen passed my lips than the Holy Spirit began to speak. I scribbled down what I heard as quickly as it came.

God hates all that unmakes love.

God hates what unmakes and breaks those he loves.

God hates what undermines his image and distorts our identity. 

Do you see it? I hope you can’t unsee it. A big Jesus loves and hates.

Jesus is popular .

And can help you become popular.

Was Jesus popular? Yes, he had crowds following him. But is that popularity or curious mayhem? The proof is in who took Jesus’ teachings to heart. I have to say then that the fruit of those teachings have grown this Church from the first century to today. Okay so Jesus has a lot of staying power.

John 7:3-7 tells us what the real reception was to Jesus. Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him.

Jesus replied, “Now is not the right time for me to go, but you can go anytime. The world can’t hate you, but it does hate me because I accuse it of doing evil.

There is judging Jesus again. Which did not make him popular back then even if his brothers wanted him to be a show pony in the larger regions of Judea.

There is a cost to following Jesus. This is repeated 3 times in the gospels:  Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23. This cost to following the big Jesus will probably cost you popularity because you are going to have to make some wise decisions that the crowd won’t have to make.

That is not going to make you popular. How about being okay with someone who is trustworthy and credible because you know about love and hate so you are not duplicitous? That does have some social value.

Jesus is my cheerleader.

He is cheering me on as I strive and strive and strive to achieve.

You need a cheerleader because you are so tired of this striving. As you also feel that if you are not good Jesus will be distant because he is disappointed in you. So you will continue to overachieve so Jesus will stay your cheerleader.

Jesus said “today you will be with me in paradise” while hanging on the cross (Luke 23:43). A big Jesus is in it with you promising you rescue when you can no longer do good on your own.

You need much more than someone to inspire you. You need a Savior to rescue you. Rescuers get dirty and get into the melee. Cheerleaders are on the sideline. A big Jesus is continually pursuing you with his message of rescue. If only we will stop trying to be good so we may hear it.

I’ve got Jesus in my pocket.

He is convenient for me to take out when I want and put away when I want.

Talk about a small Jesus. He’s pocket-sized. When Jesus really is bigger than we all really understand. Hence all of the confusion by the religious leaders back in Jesus’ day who tried to understand what he was talking about. I really believe they tried. They cared about the people—and their power some.

Jesus is complicated. Have you ever read Mark 11:12-14 and the cursing of the fig tree? Jesus is confusing. The people back then were continuing trying to figure Jesus out. (Perhaps that is why the crowds followed him?) John 7:25-27 tells us, Some of the people who lived in Jerusalem started to ask each other, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? But here he is, speaking in public, and they say nothing to him. Could our leaders possibly believe that he is the Messiah? But how could he be? For we know where this man comes from.

Sometimes I don’t understand the ways of Jesus.

For example, Jesus is love when your boyfriend has just physically abused you. But not only is Jesus love for the victim, Jesus is love for the abuser as well.

This is a big Jesus I don’t always understand. But I’m continually drawn to this bigness. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tries to explain it, Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

The ways of Jesus are wonderfully intriguing—and beautiful. I want to be a part of it. I want to be a part of something bigger.  

Truth is we make Jesus small, contort who Jesus is, to make sense of our own world when our own world doesn’t make sense. Imagine how desperate your teen is to make sense of his/her ever-changing world of adolescence!

May you live a big faith following a big Jesus. May your faith be a mixture of fear and faith. May you follow the Jesus whom I have come to know and love is the one who is not defined by a platitude. He (and she) is the one I bravely trust beyond my understanding.

May your teen be inspired and also seek this beauty and truth.

(Photo credit–where you can also buy this sweater: )


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