“The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” – Galatians 5:17
There is a great privilege in teaching youth and teenagers the Gospel. For if you want to see how the conflict between the flesh and the spirit plays out in the human being, look no further than a teenager. As adults, we are quite good at hiding the battle, so we appear more spiritual before others. But teenagers haven’t quite figured out the secret of hiding their inner conflicts. We adults have something wholesome to learn from our teens.
To see a teenager’s mind and spirit light up when he is told that God forgives him when he sins, and that Christ’s death on the cross means that no sin is counted against him is an amazing thing. It’s like seeing someone open a priceless treasure or, at Christmas, when a child opens his gift. The eyes light up, and it seems as if a great weight is lifted from the soul of every teen when the Gospel penetrates the heart.
But the youth must also be made aware of the fact that the rest of their lives will be one of struggle, a battle between the old nature of sin and death and the new nature of righteousness and eternal life. As adults, we must not hide this struggle from them as if the struggle goes away after high school. No, we must not encourage our youth or young adults to live in sin because sin leads only to death, and the example we set for them should be one where we strive for holiness and humbly repent when we do sin, so our teens learn how to live simul justus et peccator (same time saint and sinner). It’s always a sad state of affairs when parents live as if sin doesn’t matter, and their teens see such living and take it to heart. It creates generation after generation of people who live without God or His mercy and who see sinning as a perfectly fine way to live.
It is granted that we must not live like the monks in the monasteries who think that, because of their seclusion and rigorous works they are too distracted by vows of silence and poverty to sin. They think themselves too holy to be judged by God, but they will be judged more severely than everyone. But we must also flee from living as if sin is welcome in our lives and go about our days wantonly embracing our passions and desires and carrying out our sinful thoughts with evil words and lustful deeds.
Instead, we must struggle and strive so that we do not gratify our sinful desires. We do this through regular worship, hearing the Word of the Lord, and receiving His blessed sacrament. Acknowledging that we are sinners and fleeing to the place where Christ offers His help, this is how we resist, and how we teach our youth to resist. And as we strive, we are no longer under the law but living under grace.
Heavenly Father, help me with my struggle against sin and the flesh so that I may live by the Spirit of Christ Your Son who has set me free. In His name, amen.