I’m drawn to a passage in Romans where Paul condemns the idea that Jews were holier than Gentiles:
“What then, are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.” Romans 3:9-10
Comparing generations might be different than comparing people groups, but I think the principle is the same. Every human being born into this world after the fall was born a sinner. Whether you were born in the 1950s or the 1990s, you are just as much in need of God’s grace as anyone else.
So, if millennials and gen Z are not innately worse than their predecessors, what is the big difference between us? The dividing factor, I believe, is this: we grew up in different cultures—cultures that have a hard time understanding each other.
When struggling teens and millennials hear older Christians reminiscing about “the good old days” where everybody went to church and “Christian” was a positive label, they think, “Well, it must have been nice for you to have had it that easy.” It makes them feel defensive, because they can’t recall days like those. In fact, they’re very skeptical that those days ever really existed, because they know their elders are just as sinful as they are.
Millennials encounter a fast and furious influx of information, temptation, and worldly agendas that previous generations dealt with at a slower pace. Because private lives are now public through social media and YouTube, younger generations want to “know who they are” so they can portray themselves in a specific and unique way to the vast, watching world. This desire has birthed a strong pop-cultural standard of being “true to yourself” and honest with the world about who you are.
Because of this cultural shift, millennials tend to air their sinful behavior more publicly. Homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, drugs, and other topics that make older generations cringe are no longer “incorrect” in our culture, so younger generations embrace these sins as their “lifestyles.” They consider themselves honest, open, and less judgmental than older people.
Why? Because older generations tended to sin more secretively. Sin is sin, whether it is behind closed doors or flaunted in the streets. Millennials simply tend to be honest, even blunt about their sin. I’m not saying it’s good to flaunt sin. But I do ask you, is it good to hide sin?
The simple fact is, nothing about sin is good, except that it points us to our need for a holy Savior. Flaunting it might seem despicable to a senior citizen, but stashing it under the bed when company comes over is equally as despicable to a millennial.
But what about Christian millennials? Do they flaunt their sin in concordance with pop-culture’s need to be truthful about who they are? Nope. They’re stuck. They have the desire to be honest and open about their struggles, but in many of their churches and homes this is not comfortable.
Millennial Christians feel schizophrenic. We’re more at home in the pop-cultural philosophy that hiding our sins is deceptive, but since (unlike mainstream culture) we identify our sins as sins, we’re ashamed of them. We don’t want to air them in front of older Christians who will be shocked and say “Back in my day, young people would never...” you fill in the blank.
I long to communicate this struggle in the hearts of twenty-thirty something Christians, because it is a cultural struggle not necessarily a spiritual one. Why? Because whether we're living in 2020 or we're all transported back to 1940, people are still people in need of forgiveness.
This is the spiritual reality. Cultural views of sin may change because the culture is made up of sinful people who don’t like to recognize sin, but sin itself is just as evil no matter the decade.
Jeremiah warned us long before “the good old days” existed that:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9-17
No matter what their age, Christians should not be shocked by sin.
They should not be shocked by sin in the unsaved world.
They should not be shocked by sin inside their churches and homes.
In our culture, children are bombarded with sin, and they shouldn’t be left alone to process it by themselves or with their peers because older Christians are more comfortable ignoring tricky issues or acting like Pharisees.
The younger generations want to have real conversations. They want to address hard issues like sexual temptation, doubts about their salvation, and their fears of being known as a Christian in a society that flaunts sin. But they’re afraid to do this, for several reasons.
Reason #1: Their honest feelings might be too shocking.
Let’s be honest here. No one wants to end up tacked on to a prayer list inside the church bulletin for all the church ladies to gossip about under the guise of sharing prayer requests. We know how it works. So, we keep our mouths shut and envy the unsaved millennials their freedom of expression.
None of us like to be judged when we are trying to be honest.
None of us like to be condemned when we are trying to get help.
The last thing I want to do is to place people into arbitrary categories based on their age. This is just my best attempt to answer the questions older generations have asked me.
What I do want to do is encourage Christians, young, old, and middle-aged, to look at each other and see, not millennials and seniors, but sinners created in the image of God and in need of grace, forgiveness, and encouragement.
Not everyone needs to be sharing every sin with every church member. So, what do we need?
We need to be a person who other people trust to show Christ’s love.
Whether you’re over the hill, getting close to its peak, or just starting the hike, realize that people aren’t so very different. We all have corrupted hearts that need continual cleansing and grace.
We Christians know this. We just need to act like we know it a little more. Remember Paul’s challenge to the Ephesians:
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:31-32
Every true Christian has been forgiven, undeservedly, from sin. God asks us to extend that same forgiveness to others.
Tell your children that you struggle with sin like everyone else. Demonstrate through your actions that you hate sin but love sinners like Christ does. Then, they’ll know you love them too, even though they’re little sinners themselves.
According to R.C. Sproul:
“We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.”
Knowing this, older Christians should expect sin in the lives of younger believers and prepare themselves to be an example of how to recognize, repent of, and turn from it.
The younger generations want to have real conversations and address hard issues without feeling that their honesty is too shocking. They want to know they can trust older, mature Christians not to reject them, yet they are not even sure they will be understood. Whether you're on the younger, gen Z side of this equation or the older, more mature Christian side, how have you made these conversations happen?
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