Over the last 25 years of teaching and training thousands of Christian teenagers across the nation, I’ve encountered countless young people who have struggled with sexual shame.
For some, it is guilt as a result of sexual sin they are struggling with now, but for many it is a sin they have given in to in the past. The question that these teenagers ask me over and over again in a thousand different ways is, “Can God ever really forgive me?”
Teenagers who struggle with this sexual shame often suffer from a kind of spiritual paralysis. This shame is like Satan’s spiritual stun gun that stops them in their tracks, keeps them from progressing in their faith and professing the good news of Jesus.
I’ve seen firsthand the devastating effects of sexual shame in my own mom. As a young woman, she was hard-partying and promiscuous. Because my birth was the result of one of her many short-term relationships, I never met my biological father. The result? My mom, like the woman at the well in John 4, was full of guilt and shame. Growing up, I heard my mom say ask and over again, “How could God ever really forgive me?”
After years of sharing the gospel with her, my mom finally said “yes” to Jesus. Her sins were forgiven. But even then, she struggled with shame. When she went to be with the Lord 12 years ago, of course I was sad, but I was also, in a weird way, glad. I knew that my mom would finally be rid of her shame the moment she stood in the presence of her Savior. Her salvation was fully realized the moment she went to be with the Lord.
So, when I see teenagers struggle with sexual shame because of the devastation I’ve seen firsthand, it breaks my heart. The last thing I want them to live is a life consumed by guilt and regret.
How do we help teenagers deal with this shame so they can live their faith in the freedom that is theirs in Christ? Isaiah 6:1-8 gives us some practical help:
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
This passage provides four actions to take for teenagers who are struggling with any sin, including sexual sin. We must help teens SEE, SAY, FEEL and HEAR.
Help them to SEE God as Holy.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3
What struck Isaiah most when he got a glimpse of Jesus on His throne was an overwhelming sense of His holiness! It’s interesting to me that the angelic beings who are constantly fluttering around Him are in constant shock and awe as to how holy He is.
Before you say, “Well, that was the Old Testament,” don’t forget how Jesus’ best friend responded to Him when he caught a glimpse of Christ in all of His glory. The apostle John described him in Revelation 1:14-17, “…his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”
The best friend of Jesus on earth passed out when he saw Him in all of His glory. We would do the same…so would our teenagers.
Although we can’t give our teenagers an actual vision of Jesus (only God can do that), we can, along with the Seraphs, remind our teenagers that He is holy, holy, holy!
If we’re standing in a dark room covered in dirt, it’s only when the lights are turned on fully that we see that we are unclean. In the same way, it’s only when the light of God’s holiness is fully illuminated to our teenagers, that they will fully see the filthiness of the sin in their lives.
IDEA: Consider doing a series on the Holiness of God. To get you started, read The Holiness of God by RC Sproul and base your teaching on that.
Help them to SAY their sexual sin.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah 6:5
When Isaiah encountered God in all of His holiness, he said his sin out loud. He admitted it to the Israelites that he struggled with sins related to his speech—whether it was lying, gossip, filthy language or something else.
There is something cathartic about helping our teenagers say their sin out loud. Of course this needs to be exercised with judgment: guys with guys and girls with girls, etc. When teenagers are able to admit their sins to trusted adults or a small group of close peers, their healing process begins.
James 5:16 puts it this way, “Therefore confess your sin to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
As RJ Koerper, my old youth ministry professor at Colorado Christian University, used to say, “We confess our sins to God to be forgiven. We confess them to each other to be healed.”
I have seen firsthand the power of confession in my own life and in the lives of countless teenagers. Part of the reason it is so powerful is that it robs Satan of his second favorite temptation…shame.
Satan loves to get teenagers to fall into sexual sin, and once they fall in the mud he loves to press their faces into the dirty shame of their sin. He wants them to think that they are the only ones who struggle with it.
But when a teenager recognizes that sin out loud and realizes that other teenagers struggle with sin too, it enables them to push up from the shame and get onto fully receiving God’s forgiveness.
IDEA: Use small group time as a time of personal confession for those who are comfortable sharing. Exercise wisdom in how this is done.
Help them to FEEL their ultimate forgiveness.
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’” Isaiah 6:6-7
That burning coal didn’t just represent the blood of countless lambs, bulls and goats that were sacrificed on the altar in the temple for the sins of the Israelites. It pointed forward to the death of Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
When Jesus screamed, “It is finished!” on the cross He was giving us and our teenagers a permanent reminder that our sins are forever forgiven. He makes this crystal clear in Colossians 2:13-15,
“He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code that was against us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Our sins have been forgiven. Satan has been disarmed of his shame stun gun. We triumph over Satan and shame by the cross!
And it’s not enough for our teens just to know they are forgiven. We must help them to feel God’s forgiveness. Just like that burning coal sizzled against Isaiah’s lips, we must help the cross of Christ burn hot in the hearts of our teenagers.
IDEA: Take communion together and explain the power of the elements and what they represent. Help them view the regular taking of communion as a symbolic way of internalizing that forgiveness.
Help them HEAR their divine commissioning.
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” Acts 1:8
It’s hard for teenagers to share a message that they have not fully accepted. But as teenagers become increasingly aware that they are truly and fully forgiven through Christ’s death on the cross, they can begin to “hear” that commissioning from God to go and share this good news with others!
Teenagers begin to accelerate in their spiritual growth as a result of sharing their faith. As Philemon 1:6 reminds us, “I pray you may be active in sharing your faith so that you may know every good thing you have in Christ Jesus.” Sharing the gospel with others reminds our teenagers how good the good news is.
IDEA: Have your teenagers download the free Dare 2 Share app, watch the short training videos on it and get equipped to share the gospel with others!
Can God ever forgive your teenagers for their sexual sins? For those who’ve put their faith in Jesus, He already has!
Helping your teenagers SEE their God as holy, SAY their sin out loud and FEEL their ultimate forgiveness will enable them to HEAR their divine commissioning to share with other strugglers the hope, forgiveness and restoration they can have in Jesus Christ!
And that, my friend, is GOOD NEWS!