As you grow in faith, every young person develops ideas and expectations about God that are more cultural than biblical. A crucial part of your twenties is discovering your misshapen views about God and replacing them with truth. The following five changes are ones that most young people struggle with, and making each switch is key to developing a healthy relationship with God that’ll last the rest of your life.
1. from getting saved to getting God
Most Christians first encounter with Christianity is through the lens of needing to get saved. You know the lines: You messed up, so God is angry with you. Trust in Jesus and you’ll avoid Hell and God’s punishment. From this message, many young people put their trust in Jesus, but only out of an understanding of their brokenness and fear of God’s judgment. Then, once they’re saved and the threat of judgment goes away, they often ignore God, doing the bare minimum in order to feel good towards Him.
This is how I spent my life through my early twenties: since I was saved, I was free to get on with the rest of the things I wanted to accomplish in life. So I did the minimum to ensure I felt like a “good Christian” (church every week, tried to follow God’s rules, friends with other Christians, occasional Bible reading, prayer when things went crazy), but never prioritized a meaningful personal relationship with God. After all, who would want to spend much time with an angry, punishment obsessed God who says you can’t do anything fun
The ultimate goal of the gospel, though, is not to get saved, but rather to get God. Being saved from judgment is a great benefit of salvation, but the reason Jesus died for you was to restore your relationship with God. If you just use God for salvation and avoid true friendship with Him, you’re missing the true prize of the gospel. God saved you because He wants to spend time with you and see you delight in Him. So as you grow in your faith, understand that salvation isn’t just a “get out of hell free” card, but rather an invitation to enjoy an intimate relationship with your God.
2. from trying to please God to trusting God
Once we’ve believed the gospel, many of us learn that Christian growth is a matter of obeying God’s rules and avoiding sin. So we set out trying to please God through our obedience and self-discipline, hoping that if we are good enough God will be pleased with us. But eventually we all sin, and so we hide our sin from God and others, hoping to avoid the shame of being a “bad” Christian.
It’s easy to go through your twenties putting on the “everything’s great” face, while struggling beneath the surface, feeling like God’s disappointed and unhappy with you every time you sin. This causes you to isolate from God and resolve to work harder until you can be good enough to make God happy. But willpower just suppresses sin, and eventually it will come back, causing your relationship with God to ride the roller coaster of moral performance, leading you to isolate again out of shame and guilt.
But the gospel is never about pleasing God, but rather always first trusting Him with who He says you are. You are righteous in His sight, which allows you to take off your “good” person mask and trust that God accepts you through Christ and not your own moral performance. This means that when you do sin, you can bring your sin to Him without shame or judgment. Trusting God is about working on your sin together, as He work in your new heart to supernaturally change you. God is most pleased when you trust Him to change you, rather than trying to perform for Him through your own willpower.
3. from living your story to living God’s story.
As you enter your twenties, you have big dreams for where you want your life to go. Due to American individualism, we all learn at an early age to view the world from the lens of self, which causes us to think we are the most important person in any situation. The universe revolves around us, and so we learn to spend our time, energy, and resources pursuing our own version of a happy ending. God then becomes a supporting character in your story, providing the power to make your dreams happen.
In this perspective, your life is successful when your story goes according to plan, and a failure when it goes off-script. And when your life starts to veer off your pre-approved script, you grow discouraged with yourself and start blaming your supporting cast, especially God. If you approach your life this way, then every setback, failure, and disappointment will potentially crush you.
But life in God’s universe is the exact opposite; Jesus is the hero, not you. He’s the one who came to earth and defeated death. Because of this, God calls you to give up your illusion of being the lead, instead assigning you a supporting role. When you are willing to do this, you now are a part of God’s story, His renewal of all things for His glory. Now the brokenness and setbacks in your life aren’t signs that the stories wrong, but rather that Jesus is being glorified in your life. When you understand that the universe revolves around God, and not yourself, you will have long-term peace about your life, even when your own personal events don’t go as you’d like.
4. from telling God what to do to listening to Him
If your life is about getting your ideal story, then you will spend your time with God telling Hims what you’d like Him to do for you. Many Christians in their twenties treat God like Santa Claus, hoping that if they let Him know what they want and are good enough, they will get their list. And so you go to God with our plan for your life and a bargaining attitude: “God, I’ve done what you told me to do, so now it’s your turn to do what I’m telling you to do.” Prayer isn’t about fostering your friendship with God, but rather telling God what He needs to do in order for you to be happy with Him.
But the posture of a mature Christian isn’t telling God what He needs to do for you, but rather listening to what He wants to do with you. The Bible makes it clear over and over again: you don’t know what’s best for you, and if you got what you wanted, your life would be a disaster. Your pride causes you to think you know what’s best, but God will chip away at your self-reliance until you start listening to His will for your life. Prayer then becomes a time where you quiet your heart and listen to God’s direction, rather than pushing your agenda onto Him.
5. from blaming God to fearing God
Many young people, thinking life is about their story, love God when life’s great but begin to blame Him if they hit some bumps. After all, He’s not giving you what you “deserve.” God’s actively against you, you assume, since you’ve done everything He’s asked and He’s still not making your life perfect.
And so you go through your twenties blaming God when your dream life doesn’t quickly come into focus. “If He’s really all-powerful why doesn’t He just do something to fix this,” you might think. At this point many young people walk away from their faith, since they assume that a God that doesn’t meet their expectations must not care about them. This is the problem with the Santa Claus view of God: when He stops giving you the good life you won’t have much use for Him.
When you face difficulties, though, the Bible tells you not to blame God but to fear Him. No, not to be afraid of Him, but to stand before Him in awe and reverence, understanding that you’re just a little speck in His universe. If God is truly God, His ways will be far above your finite and limited thinking. Blaming God suggests that you are more wise and powerful than Him, while fearing God recognizes that you are created by and reliant on Him. Fearing God won’t make life easy, but it will let you trust that He is working for your good in ways you’ll never comprehend.
These five shifts in thinking won’t happen all at once, but be on the lookout for how God uses everyday events to grow you and your relationship with Him. Now that you are aware of a few common misconceptions of God, you can catch yourself whenever you enter into those false narratives, and re-orient yourself through biblical truth.
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