We have emphasized that too much stress is most often a contributing factor to depression and anxiety. To combat this two-headed monster of depression and anxiety, we must learn how to minimize stress. And to do that we must be guided by the Bible as we view ourselves and as we live our lives in a world filled with many pressures. In that connection we have in these articles touched on proper sleep and eating habits, on the proper way to deal with adversity and crisis in our lives, on the need to avoid sinful behavior which always brings with it trouble and sorrow, and finally on proper self-esteem.
Now we turn our attention to seeking God’s approval on our lives rather than live for the approval of others.
Most depressed people are overly concerned with the approval and acceptance of others. One of their biggest fears is to do something that will bring the disapproval of their peers. Often the driving principle that determines what they do or don’t do is to be accepted, approved and even praised by others. The drive to be accepted by their peers will even lead teens to join in activities that they know are wrong and that have the potential to get them into trouble with their parents and even the law. This is peer pressure at its worst.
This often arises out of low self-esteem. Those who see themselves as inferior and having little worth crave acceptance and the approval of others. They seek the approval of others that they may approve of and accept themselves.
But what stress this causes!
First of all, it is impossible to please everyone. There are always those that expect things of you that you cannot attain. Parents may have expectations of you that are unrealistic. Friends and family may expect you to fill a role for them that is impossible. An employer may simply be trying to use you for his own gain. It is very stressful to try to live up to everyone else’s expectations for you.
And as we have just noted, to please others often complicates your life with sinful behavior. There are always those who do not accept you unless you run with them in their sins. And that soon brings trouble and sorrow. Sin always complicates life with horrible stress.
Finally, there is the fact that the drive to please others will leave you wondering whether you made a good impression. You will find yourself rehearsing in your own mind how others reacted to you. Were they pleased? Did you fail in their eyes? This is stressful! And the stress of these things is almost always an essential ingredient of depression.
To avoid this, we must seek God’s approval, rather than men’s approval.
This is what we are told to do in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.”
The meaning of this passage is very clear. God has given us work to do. As we have seen in the previous article, each of us in Christ has an important place of work in God’s kingdom for which he has uniquely fitted us. That work will change during the various phases of life. As teenagers, your work is to prepare yourselves for future work in God’s kingdom by receiving and embracing the training you receive in your home, church and Christian school. For most of you, your work will soon include that of a husband or wife and then a parent. The future work for you young men will be to enter the workplace to earn a living for your family. The future work for you young women who become mothers will be primarily to be keepers at home (Titus 2:5). For some there will be the work of serving in the offices of the church; for others the work of teaching in the Christian schools. God has called each one of us to be a “workman” in his kingdom and fitted us for that work. We have God’s approval when we in Jesus Christ take up this work to the best of our abilities. And when we fall short due to our sinful nature, as we do every day, we are approved of God when we seek forgiveness in the blood of Jesus Christ. Those who study, i.e., exert themselves, to be approved of God as workmen in his kingdom need not be ashamed. Though everyone else would disapprove and shame us, we need not be ashamed when we have God’s approval.
And how wise it is to seek God’s approval. Who is it that cares for our needs, controls the events in our lives, and determines where we spend eternity? It is not the parent who is always critical and can never be pleased. It is not the friend that expects us to fill a need that we cannot fill. It is not the group that will accept us only if we join them in sinful activities. It is God, who has saved us and given us the privilege of being “workmen” in his kingdom!
And do not overlook the fact that it is much easier to find God’s approval than others around us. What others require to give their approval is often difficult to impossible. What God requires for us as his “workmen” is attainable in Jesus Christ. Not only does God fit us wonderfully for the work he has for us, but he also gives us the grace to do it. In keeping with this Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you…for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29,30).
What a weight is lifted from the Christian’s shoulders when he lives for God’s approval as God’s workman that needs not be ashamed, rather than for the approval of mere men.
One more thing we need to reflect on and that is the tendency of being a perfectionist. Most depressed people are perfectionists. That will be another article.
In our previous article, we talked about stress. Although one’s genetic makeup may make one vulnerable to depression and anxiety, mental and emotional stress are almost always contributing factors. Stress will sooner or later bring on either depression and/or anxiety. And stress is often self-induced. It is true that situations arise in our lives in which we become very stressed. But the stress is not so much generated by the situations that arise as it is by the way we view ourselves and handle these situations. An important key to avoiding depression then is to learn how to keep stress in our lives to a minimum with biblical thinking and behavior.
We need to address three unbiblical viewpoints that most depressed people have; that make life very stressful, and that contribute significantly to their depression.
The first of these is low self-esteem.
Low self-esteem is an extremely low opinion of one’s self. It is a feeling of inferiority and worthlessness. One who has low self-esteem sees many good qualities in others but can find very little that is worthwhile in himself. He concentrates on all the inadequacies and failures of his own life (real or imagined) and convinces himself that he is a failure. He compares himself to others whom he esteems highly and imagines that he must be like them to have worth and value. But he is not like them, and so he is unhappy with himself and perhaps even hates who he is.
This is very stressful and puts one on the pathway to depression and anxiety.
To avoid this we must see ourselves biblically. The Bible teaches that the born-again Christian, who is living his faith in Jesus Christ, is not worthless. Nor is he inferior to others. Rather he is very important and valuable to God and to his kingdom. This is not the case of the unbeliever. Even the most gifted and successful unbeliever does not please God and contributes nothing to the kingdom. He has every reason to feel inferior, to esteem himself as nothing and hate himself. This is true even of those whom the world praises for their great achievements. But with the believing child of God it is different. He is eternally loved of God. He has been chosen to eternal life with God. He has been redeemed in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ he is a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). He is the workmanship of God (re)created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that he should walk in them (Eph. 2:10). God has a good work for each of his redeemed people to do. This is an important work in God’s kingdom that no one else can do. And to accomplish that work God has wonderfully gifted each one of his people. Each one is the marvelous workmanship of God, wonderfully crafted for good work in God’s kingdom.
These spiritual realities must guide us as we seek to come to a proper estimation of ourselves.
For the Christian to have feelings of inferiority and worthlessness overlooks and even denies the work of Christ in his life and the wonderful place that God has for him in his kingdom. Quite often a person comes to this improper and low estimation of himself because others have a low opinion of him. This can be a parent that is overly critical. It can be a teacher that constantly puts down his students. It can be a bully at school or a group of students that sinfully excludes someone and are even verbally abusive.
As we stated earlier when a person has low self-esteem, he tends to compare himself unfavorably to others. He sees qualities that others have and that makes them acceptable and even bring them praise. Some of these qualities have very little if any value for the work God has for us in the kingdom, such as athletic skills and physical beauty. Other of these qualities may be very valuable and necessary to do the important work of the kingdom of God. The work that God has for some in the kingdom requires academic abilities, an outgoing personality, or great mechanical skills. But this is not true for all. Many good gifts of God that equip us to do the important work of the kingdom are unnoticed and unrecognized by others. But one that is plagued with low self-esteem concludes he has no gifts at all because he is not gifted by God in things that bring recognition and praise to others. He fails to see that he also has an important place in the kingdom of God for which he is wonderfully gifted.
With a proper view of one’s worth the Christian can accept himself, even with his weaknesses. This is true because God accepts him. According to Romans 14:17–18, “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” And “he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God.” To be acceptable to God is to be well pleasing to him. And God is well pleased with those who use their gifts to serve Jesus Christ in righteousness, peace, and joy of the Holy Spirit. We are acceptable to God even though we do not have the gifts that are recognized by others. We are acceptable to God even though the work we do in the service of Jesus Christ goes unnoticed and unappreciated by others. And when we sinfully fail to serve God, as we do every day, we are still acceptable to him when we confess our sins to him and seek forgiveness in the cross of Jesus Christ. If God accepts us, then we can accept ourselves.
For this we must strive! Our calling is to live lives that are pleasing to God. We must seek to be acceptable to him. And we must be content with the good work that God has given to us and for which he has equipped us. We must be content even when our God-given work and gifts are not recognized by others as important.
This is extremely important to avoid the scourge of depression and anxiety. How stressful and troubling to see yourself as having little worth and value. That is a sure recipe for depression. How liberating to see that you have tremendous worth in the kingdom of God and that you are acceptable to God as you serve Christ in your God-given place. This brings joy and peace. It also enables us to ourselves love ourselves, as required by the second great commandment of the law (Matt. 22:37–40).
It is in this light that we must also see and treat others in the church. Just as we are to see ourselves in Jesus Christ as having great value and worth, so also must we see our fellow Christians. We are to do all in our power to build each other up and to edify one another (Rom. 14:19). This begins by seeing the true worth and value of each other in Jesus Christ.
There are two more matters that deserve our attention. We must seek God’s approval in life rather than man’s approval. And we must avoid the trap of perfectionism. These we will treat in a future article.
In the previous article on this subject we noted that twenty percent of teens (1 out of 5) will struggle with severe depression or anxiety before they are adults. This is not only debilitating but can be terrifying.
What can be done to avoid this kind of thing happening? The things we need to know and do to avoid depression or anxiety are the same things we need to escape them when they attack. But it’s much better to avoid them then having to escape them once they strike.
The key thing is to minimize unnecessary stress in your life. Depression and anxiety are most often triggered by too much stress. It is true that some people are more predisposed to depression than others because of their genetic makeup. But everyone will fall victim to major depression or anxiety given enough stress
And what’s interesting is that most stress is self-induced. We talk about stressful situations. And it is true that situations arise in our lives in which we become very stressed. But the stress is generated not so much by the situations that arise as it is by way we view ourselves and handle these situations. The key to avoiding depression then is to learn how to keep stress in our lives to a minimum with biblical thinking and behavior.
One very important thing to focus on is our sleeping and eating habits as well as our physical activity. How much sleep are you getting? Are you eating properly? Do you get any physical exercise? Many teens don’t do well in these areas. Too little sleep. Too much junk food. Too little exercise. This stresses the body and mind and is a major contributor to teen depression and anxiety. And so get your sleep, eat three proper meals a day, and get some exercise. Did you know that the average teen needs 8–10 hours of sleep a night? Remember, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Take good care of it.
Something that must be looked at are disastrous or potential disastrous events that God sends into your lives. There are times when teens have to deal with the death or potentially fatal illness of a loved one. Or they find themselves in a broken home as their parents either separate or divorce. Sometimes teens also must deal with a potentially debilitating medical condition of their own.
These become very stressful times for teens. And often they become times of depression and anxiety.
How can we handle this?
God’s word show, us how to handle these situations so that we can find true courage, comfort, and peace. And what God’s word emphasizes is that the evils of life do not happen by chance but come only the hand of our heavenly Father. He not only upholds us in the hard times of life but even turns them to our advantage. Both young and old must lay hold of this most fundamental truth by faith when dealing with adversity. Only then can we handle the hard things in life without floundering.
And we all need the help of others to remind us of these truths and build us up in them. But all too often the children and young people in the family are overlooked by the church when calamity strikes, so that their need for pastoral care goes unmet. Perhaps this is the case because teens are reluctant to voice their fears and sorrows. And so when facing difficulty, make sure you turn to the word of God in prayer. Seek the help and comfort of scripture from your pastor, the elders, family members, and friends. And never worry alone! If you worry alone you tend to lose perspective. Take your worries to the fellow saints whom you have come to trust. And together take them to the Lord.
Next we need to talk about sinful behavior that will bring a person down into depression.
We have the example of David in Psalms 32 & 51. These psalms were written in connection with David’s terrible sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. These two psalms give clear evidence of great depression.
“When I kept silence, my bones waxed [grew] old through my roaring [groaning]) all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture [vitalit]) is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.” (Psalm 32:3–4)
“Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:8, 11)
David was a man after God’s own heart. Yet he fell into great sin and remained impenitent for several months. During that time the Lord troubled his conscience so that he became desperately depressed.
The can happen to Christian teens as well.
The Bible speaks of being overtaken with a fault. (Gal. 6:1) Sin has a way of creeping up on us and overtaking us before we fully realize what’s happening. That’s the character of sin. It will keep at a place you shouldn’t be longer than you wanted to stay. It will take you farther than you wanted to go. It will cost you more than you intended to pay. How many Christian teens haven’t been overtaken with underage drinking, drunkenness, street drugs, premarital sex, lying, and stealing? We could add to this list.
Life becomes very complicated and stressful for those who fall into sin and continue in sin without repentance. First, there is the troubled conscience. Remember Lot? He vexed (tormented) his righteous soul in Sodom, as he continued to live where he didn’t belong. (2 Peter 2:7–8) Besides, sin brings into life complications that threaten disaster. All this generates tremendous stress and is a recipe for depression and anxiety.
And so it is important to live a godly, sanctified life in Jesus Christ.
The scriptures emphasize the blessedness or happiness of those that do. Find a concordance and see how often the Bible speaks of blessedness in connection with godly living according to God’s law. Those who live godly avoid much of the depression and anxiety that falls upon a sinful, impenitent lifestyle.
Such a godly life requires being in the house of God regularly on the Lord’s Day for worship, regular Bible study and prayer during the week. It also requires godly friends who will encourage you to godliness. And it may require the help of your parents, pastor or friends to escape a sinful lifestyle that has you in its grips.
But there is more to discuss. We need to deal with 3 unbiblical viewpoints that most depressed people have that make lives very stressful and contribute significantly to their depression.
*Rev. Slopsema is minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches
The statistics on teenage depression are rather startling. About 20 percent of teens (that’s 1 out of 5) will experience depression before they reach adulthood. Between 10 to 15 percent of teens have some symptoms of depression at any one time. About 5 percent of teens are suffering from major depression at any one time. Episodes of teen depression generally last about 8 months. About 8 percent of those experiencing depression will suffer with it at least a year. Most teens with depression will suffer from more than one episode. Of those suffering depression, 20 to 40 percent will have more than one episode within two years, and 70 percent will have more than one episode before adulthood.
Another startling fact is that most people don’t know what is happening to them when depression hits. They are mystified by what is happening. The result is that they usually don’t get help until they are severely depressed.
So let’s examine the symptoms of depression.
Depression comes in degrees. Various circumstances in life can bring on short term depression. One can easily become depressed when he doesn’t make the varsity team, when she didn’t get the grades she worked so hard to get or because of a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend. These can be depressing, but in a couple of weeks one is back on top again. This isn’t the depression we’re dealing with here. We’re dealing with a deeper depression that last for weeks and months and is debilitating to one degree or another.
There are a number of classic symptom to such depression.
- Physical exhaustion. Depression leaves one physically exhausted.
- Change in sleep patterns. One who is depressed either cannot sleep well or he sleeps too much. Interestingly one can be physically exhausted and yet can’t sleep well. This is true when a person can’t stop fretting over mounting problems that depression brings.
- Change in eating habits. The depressed person often has no appetite and begins to lose weight. In some cases one handles the terrible stress of depression by overeating.
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things. This makes it makes it difficult to perform one’s normal tasks.
- Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
- Loss of interest in normal activities. The joy of life is gone for those with severe depression.
- The depressed person can be very irritable towards those around him, finding every day annoyances to be almost intolerable.
- Feeling of worthlessness and self-loathing. This is true especially when depression makes it impossible to carry out every day responsibilities.
- Loss of assurance of salvation. The severely depressed person sees himself as such a failure that he questions God’s ability to love him.
- A feeling of hopelessness. This is perhaps the worst part of deep depression. There appears to be no way out.
- Thoughts of death or dying as a way to escape.
The deeper one’s depression is, the more of these symptoms a person will experience and the more intense they will be.
Anxiety often accompanies depression. They are brother and sister to each other. Usually one will be more prominent than another. but they almost always team up together.
Anxiety is a sense of dread that seizes hold of one so that there is inner uneasiness. The Bible describes this as the soul that is cast down and disquieted (Psalm 42:5,11). This is accompanied by consuming worry over things that ordinarily would not bother a person and fear over the future, often with nothing specific in mind. This can be accompanied by physical reactions such as muscle tightness, sweating, rapid heartbeat, inability to relax and even hyper-ventilation.
This anxiety can attack at any time and last for a few to several hours. Sometimes it can last for days with little relief.
These anxiety attacks obviously are debilitating to one degree or another.
Depression and anxiety often lead to other disturbing and dangerous behavior. These include anorexia or bulimia, cutting, drinking and sexual sins. These are all sinful ways to mask and deal with the pain of depression and anxiety.
What should you do if you find yourself floundering under one or both of these scourges?
You need to get help as soon as possible.
A common mistake is to wait too long to get help. There are two things that contribute to this. First, the person that falls into depression or anxiety is ashamed and doesn’t want anyone to know. This is especially true when he isn’t able to keep up with his daily responsibilities. He sees himself as failure and is ashamed. Second, depression and anxiety clouds a person’s judgment. As one sinks deeper and deeper into the pit of depression or anxiety one tends to grasp for straws in an attempt to find a way out of this horrible dilemma. When he finally turns to others for help his depression or anxiety has become almost completely debilitating.
Should you experience depression or anxiety that affects your ability to function for over a few weeks you need to get help!
Where can you turn for help?
First, be assured that there is help. Perhaps the most terrible feature of severe depression is the loss of all hope for recovery! But with God nothing is impossible (Luke 18:27). He is near to all them that call upon him in truth (Psalm 145:18). Although the day of miracles is past, the God who did the miraculous in Bible times has the power to heal the broken soul that is devastated with depression and anxiety. He who sent his own Son to the cross to secure the salvation of his people will certainly hear them when they call to him from the depths of depression. In severe depression one’s faith is also “depressed” so that he can hardly believe this to be true. In fact, he often can hardly pray. But God’s promises are true. He will hear those that cry to him in need.
How and where will that help be found?
God provides a number of different sources to deliver his people from the ravages of depression and anxiety.
This may surprise you, but teenagers struggling with depression issues can find a great deal of help from their parents. It is true that the teenage years are often filled with conflict with parents. However, in a covenant home the teen that turns to his parents for help will most often find a listening ear, a compassionate heart, and a readiness to do whatever is necessary to help.
With the help and input of parents, the depressed teens need to connect with those who understand depression and anxiety. To many these things are a mystery and they find it difficult to help apart from offering encouragement. But there are those that do understand depression and can provide invaluable help. This can be a pastor, an elder, a fellow member of the church and/or a Christian counselor. With the help of those that truly understand depression and also with the support of those that do not, the depressed teenager will be led out of his depression and anxiety by a compassionate and understanding God.
In the next article we will discuss certain things that the depressed and anxious person must learn to do differently. This may include abandoning a sinful lifestyle. It usually involves correcting one’s view of self and the expectation set for self to match what the Bible teaches. Medication may also be an important part of recovery. And the recovery will be a process. But by God’s grace the depressed teen can be delivered from despair to joy and in the process become a much more productive and happy Christian.
- Rev Slopsema is minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches
Have you ever read a book twice? Maybe three times? I remember in school rereading certain textbooks because I couldn’t grasp everything they had to offer with only one reading. I’ve also found books that I read years earlier and reread them just for the enjoyment. But no matter how profound or enjoyable a book is, there comes a time when you have received all the knowledge and enjoyment that book has to offer.
With the Bible it is different. You can read and reread the Bible repeatedly and every time come away with something new and profound that you didn’t see before. In fact, the more you read and study the Bible, the more you enjoy it and the more profound truths you discover in it. This is because the Bible is not a human but a divine book. Although the Bible was written by various men over many centuries, its author is God. The holy writers of the Bible were inspired by God to write his word. Because of its divine origin the Bible is a great deep that no one can plumb it. Rev. Herman Hoeksema, one of the founding ministers of the Protestant Reformed Churches and a great theologian, said at the end of his life that he had only scratched the surface of all that was contained in Scripture.
Because the Bible is God’s word, it is able to make us wise unto salvation. This is what Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14–15: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
What great wisdom is contained in Scripture! In the Bible God reveals the great realities of life. He reveals who he is and what his character is, as well as his will for our lives. And then there is our sin and hopelessly lost condition. But there is more. He also reveals the salvation that he provides in Jesus Christ, and how we can attain that salvation by faith. All that we need to know for our salvation is revealed in Scripture. Is there anything more important than this?
There is no other book like it. This book alone is inspired of God. This book alone is the revelation of God to show us the way to salvation. Other books will show you how to succeed in the business or political world. There are books designed to improve your athletic skills. There are the self-help books that suggest ways to improve one’s marriage or deal with anger and handle stress. These kinds of books contain only earthly wisdom to help you succeed in earthly things. But the wisdom of the Bible is much higher. It guides you to eternal life and joy with God through Jesus Christ.
But to have this great wisdom you must be a student of the Bible. You must attend the worship of the church regularly on the Sabbath day to hear the wisdom of God preached. You must study the Bible and reflect on it daily. You must follow the instruction of the Bible as it directs you to come to the throne of God’s grace in prayer. When this is done with the desire of a true faith to enjoy the salvation of God, one becomes wise unto salvation under the great blessing of God.
How much time do you spend with the Bible?
I suggest that for one week you keep track of how much time you spend with the word of God. Count the time you spend in church hearing the preaching. Count the time you spend with your family reading and discussing the Bible. Count the time you spend in personal Bible study. And count the time you spend studying or discussing the Bible with your friends. Make sure you include the time spent in Young People’s Society.
You may be surprised how little time you actually spend with God’s word.
Now compare this to the time you spend in recreation – sports, hanging out, surfing the internet and whatever. That may make the time you spend with the Bible seem even less.
How should we evaluate this?
Those who do not take the time to study and reflect on the Bible (shall we say, neglect the Bible) rob themselves of the opportunity to become wise in the most important realities of life! What have you gained if you become wise in all sorts of earthly pursuits, but lack wisdom in the most important thing in life—your salvation?
This brings us to Young People’s Society, which begins another season soon.
We should not limit our Bible study to our own private devotions. It’s important that we study God’s word with each other in the fellowship of the saints. To become wise unto salvation we must study and discuss the Bible with fellow Christians. For our faith to grow we must share our insights into God’s word with others and also learn from their insights. We must also make ourselves accountable to each other and encourage each other from God’s word.
This is implied in such passages as 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another,” And Hebrews 10:24–25: “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
We will see the great need for this if we remember that the church is the body of Christ. In the human body each part is wonderfully gifted in its own unique way. But no body part can exist and live independently from the other body parts. The nose, eyes, ears, feet, and hands all need each other. That’s also the way it is in the body of Christ. Every member has wonderful gifts and with those gifts has valuable insight into God’s word. If we will all flourish together as the body of Christ, we must share with each other what we know from the Bible, learn from each other, and encourage one another.
With this in mind let’s commit ourselves to attend our Young People’s Societies regularly. We need not limit our study of God’s word together to Young People’s Society. But our societies are a very valuable way to discipline ourselves to study God’s word together.
And let’s not be content simply to attend the meetings. Let’s make the most of this valuable opportunity by preparing and coming ready to discuss God’s word together.
Let’s also in our discussion encourage one another in a godly life.
Then together we will grow in the greatest wisdom of all!
On December 31, 1947, Rev. James Slopsema was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His parents are George and Dorothy Slopsema.
Growing up in Grand Rapids, Rev. Slopsema attended Adams Street Christian School and Grand Rapids Christian High School. Covenant Christian High School did not exist yet. After high school, he attended Grand Valley State University for one year and then transferred to Calvin College.
As a teenager, Rev. Slopsema experienced peer pressure in a positive sense. He lived in a neighborhood of Christian families. The peer pressure at that time in his life was to godliness. This is the kind of peer pressure which should be promoted among young people today. Grand Rapids Christian High School was so big (550 students were in his class) that no one felt pressured to conform to anything. You could always find a group that had the same values as you did.
As he was growing up, Rev. Slopsema’s hobbies included basketball and softball. Now he enjoys walking, riding his bicycle and reading.
While Rev. Slopsema was in junior high, he had a close neighbor his age who talked about becoming a minister. This boy would even make “sermons” and preach them to his younger siblings. This made Rev. Slopsema think that a minister was the last thing he wanted to be. This attitude was reinforced in him by the fact that school was a struggle, but things changed in high school. He got good grades and became interested in going to college. His goal was to become a schoolteacher, but more and more his desire to become a minister came to the foreground. After his first year of college at Grand Valley State University, he became convinced of the call of the ministry and switched to Calvin College. His family and peers were very supportive when they knew of his desire to enter seminary.
Rev. Slopsema’s most memorable event during his years in seminary was the first time he preached in the churches. There were a number of vacancies in our churches when he entered the seminary. Consequently, he began preaching in our churches after only one practice preaching sermon in seminary. With one sermon each, he and Seminarian Ron Van Overloop and their wives traveled to South Holland, Illinois. The two seminarians each preached once in South Holland and Oak Lawn.
On June 24, 1969, Rev. Slopsema married Joan Jansen. The Lord has given them a happy marriage. They have also been blessed with 9 children and 9 grandchildren and are looking forward to more of these little blessings in the future.
After graduation from seminary, Rev. Slopsema was ordained in 1974. His first charge was in Edgerton, Minnesota. He labored in Edgerton until 1982, when the Lord called him to go to Randolph, Wisconsin. In 1986, the Lord sent him to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to begin his labors in Hope Church. He was pastor of Hope Church until 1995 when he was led by the Lord to his present charge in First Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Regarding his most memorable experiences with teaching young children catechism, Rev. Slopsema remembers a reaction of a student while he was teaching the beginner’s class. He was teaching them that God promised Abraham that his seed would number as many as the stars in the heavens and the sand by the seashore. He asked the students whether they could count the stars in the heavens and the sand by the seashore. No one could. Then one boy who came from a large family had a concerned look in his eyes and blurted out, “I hope we don’t get that many children. We already have ten children at our house and there’s no more room.”
One of the most rewarding things for Rev. Slopsema to witness in the life of the church during his ministry is seeing children and young people he has taught in catechism grow up in the Lord, confess their faith, marry in the Lord and bring up their children in the fear of the Lord.
Regarding the controversies that our churches have faced during Rev. Slopsema’s ministry, they have centered around baptism on the mission field, marriage and the display of a cross in the sanctuary. He was involved in all three. He is impressed with how our churches were able to handle these matters Biblically and for the most part in a brotherly way. This brought unity to the churches instead of splitting the churches apart.
Rev. Slopsema has this advice for men who are considering the ministry to be their calling: “First, don’t be afraid that you won’t be able to do the work. If the Lord calls you, He will certainly equip you. Secondly, the qualifications for the ministry are above all spiritual. Intellect isn’t everything. Finally, study the Bible and read theological works as much as you can. You will need this for the ministry.”
Concerning the changes he would like to see in the thinking, attitudes and behavior of the young people, Rev. Slopsema says he would like to see them be more willing and ready to speak about spiritual things, especially their faith, both to each other and to those outside the household of faith.
It is encouraging for Rev. Slopsema to see that our young people for the most part are concerned about what is right and seek to do it. They are also concerned for each other.
The text for our convention this year is Ephesians 5:8, “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of the light.” Here we are taught that naturally we are darkness. We are lost in the darkness of sin and death. We are under the dominion of the devil, totally depraved so that our lives are headed away from God. But in Jesus Christ we have become light. God has graciously brought us to the light of faith and salvation in Jesus Christ. We are no longer darkness but light.
This work of God’s grace to make us light creates an antithesis or contrast between us and the world. The world is darkness. We are light in the Lord.
But now we must live this antithesis. Since we are light in the Lord, we must “walk as children of the light.” As you know from experience this is not easily done. It is only with great difficulty that we walk as the children of the light. This is surely something we can not do in our own strength. Those who attempt to walk in the light in their own strength will fail miserably. Antithetical living requires nothing less than the strength of Jesus Christ.
How do we receive the strength of Jesus Christ to live antithetically every day as children of the light? We receive that strength by diligent and faithful use of what we have come to know as the means of grace. Let’s discuss these means.
Sabbath Day Observance
The first is the Sabbath day. God in the fourth commandment instructs us to set one day aside each week as a Sabbath day, i.e., as a day of rest. In the NT this has become the first day of the week. We are charged not to work on this day of rest. The purpose of putting aside our daily work is to devote the day to spiritual things. This Sabbath is a good gift of God to us. A wise use of it will refresh and empower us to walk as children of the light during the rest of the week. In this connection we can discuss a number of questions.
What should we be doing on the Sabbath that empowers us to live antithetically? (See the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 37)
- What part should physical rest (taking a nap) have in our Sabbath keeping?
- There are all kinds of questions about what we may or may not do on Sunday. What principle(s) should guide us in answering these questions?
- Can you suggest worthwhile activities for us as young people to make the most out of our Sundays?
- Do our Saturday evening activities have any impact on our ability to use the Lord’s Day profitably?
Bible Study And Prayer
Another means that Lord gives to strengthen us to live antithetically as children of the light are Bible study and prayer. Bible study and prayer go together. The Bible is the inspired Word of God to us. Prayer is our response to God’s word. A person who spends time with God’s word will be a person who prays. How important Bible study and prayer are to antithetical living! II Timothy 3:15-17 teaches us that the Bible, being God’s inspired word, is able to make us wise unto salvation. Through its instruction we become perfect (complete), thoroughly furnished (equipped) to every good work. Prayer is also important. We can live as children of the light only by the power of God’s grace and Holy Spirit. Q&A 116 of the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us that we can receive grace and the Spirit only through prayer.
How much time should we spend as young people with the Bible and in prayer?
- Is it important to have private devotions every day?
- Can you think of examples from the Bible of God’s people who received strength to live antithetically in a wicked world though prayer and meditation on God’s word?
- How important is it for us as young people to have an active part in family devotions?
Another means that God uses to strengthen us to live as children of the light is music. After calling the church of Colossae to live antithetically, Paul exhorts the church to let the word of Christ dwell in them richly. If we will live as children of the light, the word of Christ must dwell in us. One way this is done is with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. (Colossians 3:16)
What effect does the music of the world have on our spiritual life?
- What guidelines can we make for the kind of music we listen to and sing?
To live as children of the light is also important to have the right kind of friends. God uses the advice, encouragement and even rebukes of Christian friends to empower us to live as children of the light. This is part of the communion of saints as set forth in Q&A 55 of the Heidelberg Catechism. This principles is also taught us in Proverbs 13:20, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”
What are the kind of friends we should seek?
- What can we do to cultivate spiritual discussion with our friends?
- Think of examples from the Bible of saints who were helped to live antithetically by good friends.
- Think of examples from the Bible of those who were misguided by bad friends.
- Must we limit our friends to those who are Protestant Reformed? ❖
While in Seminary I made regular trips to my grandmother’s house to learn Dutch. Together we would sit on the sofa. I would read out loud from a Dutch Bible and translate. She would help me through the rough spots. This is a good way to learn a language. Too bad I didn’t go there more often.
During one of these visits my grandmother quoted from the Heidelberg Catechism. This prompted a few questions on my part. I discovered that as a teenager she was required to memorize the Heidelberg Catechism for one of her catechism classes. And now some 60 years later she still knew the Heidelberg Catechism word for word. To test her memory I found a copy of the Catechism and asked her to recite Q&A 55. She did. What about Q&A 26? She recited that too. Without any help or prompting. She didn’t even ask what the first word was.
But is it so amazing? My grandmother was not a woman of superior mental abilities. She was an aged saint with normal abilities of someone in their middle 70’s. The fact that she knew the Heidelberg Catechism so well after so many years was not a testimony to any superior abilities but to the fact that she had memorized it so thoroughly as a girl. What is thoroughly memorized as a young person is never forgotten, especially if it is used again and again in adulthood.
It was a good thing that my grandmother knew the Heidelberg Catechism so well in her old age. A few years after this my grandmother had a debilitating stroke. She lost the ability to read and communicate. She was confined to a nursing home, unable to attend church. By this time my family and I lived out west and were able to visit her only once a year. Although she couldn’t say our names or communicate, her face would light up in recognition when we came into the room. Obviously her memory had not been destroyed. What a source of comfort and encouragement the Heidelberg Catechism, which she had committed to memory, must have been to her during those final years. It’s a good thing to memorize sections of the Scriptures and the Catechism in our youth.
Now let’s test ourselves.
How many of us can still recite what we memorized last year in catechism? How many can recite what they memorized last week? How many of us can recite at the end of the class what we recited at the beginning of class? (I always wonder about this, when I see some nervously pouring over their catechism books just before class.) And how many of us fail miserably in our recitation for catechism because we simply haven’t taken the time to memorize the material?
From what I have seen over the years as a pastor I think very few catechism students today are as diligent as my grandmother and, I believe, many others in her day were in memorizing their catechism lessons.
Let’s not be content to do as little as possible for catechism! Let’s prepare for each catechism class by mastering the material we are supposed to learn.
This doesn’t require hours and hours of our time each week. It requires that we study our material a little every day, instead of waiting until the last day or minute. It has been proven scientifically that what is memorized in short periods over several days is memorized in less time and is retained longer than what is memorized in one sitting.
How important is all this?
First, youth is the time God has given us to memorize and learn. Learning and memorization become more difficult as we grow older. Those who squander this opportunity of youth never have another opportunity like it.
Second, what we learn from the Scriptures in our youth stays with us to guide us into God’s ways for the rest of our life. This is the thrust of Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The training a child receives guides him the rest of his life. So too does the catechism he learns.
Finally, some of us may reach a point in life when the only source of comfort and encouragement we have is what we have committed to memory in our youth. This can happen in time of persecution. It can also happen in old age.
Almost everyone today claims to be a Christian. Many, however, who take the name of Christian do not live as Christians with the result that they cheapen the name. Think, for example, of the professional athletes who claim to be Christian but regularly profane the Sabbath day with their ball playing. Think of the entertainers, who claim to sing God’s praises as Christians, but who do so with music that is God-dishonoring and that comes out of the drug culture. Think of the big-name televangelists (Jimmy Swaggert, Jim and Tammy Baker) who have not only lived in immorality but robbed the poor in the name of Jesus Christ. Think of countless others who call themselves Christian but who divorce and remarry, curse and swear, violate the Sabbath day, lie and steal contrary to the clear will of God. All this only serves to cheapen the name Christian.
We must not so cheapen the name Christian but honor it.
We do so when we live as a saint, a soldier and an athlete.
Today we call attention to the fact that a Christian is a saint.
WHAT IS A SAINT?
The word “saint” means one who is holy. A saint, therefore, is one who is holy in Jesus Christ.
In the Bible holiness has the basic idea of being separated, set apart from everything else.
Thus, for example, the O.T. temple was holy in that it was separate, distinct from all other buildings in Israel. It was holy in that it was the dwelling place of God, to be used in a special way in the service of God.
In like manner, a saint is one who is set apart. That which sets him apart from others is not the color of his skin or the amount of money he has. He is set apart from others spiritually.
The human race of which we are a part is corrupt and evil. Down through history mankind has trampled underfoot the good commandments of God. The history of mankind has been a sad story of murder, dishonesty, stealing, immorality, profanity and every sin imaginable. This also characterizes society today.
A saint is one who stands apart from all that. He is one who doesn’t live like the world lives. He has forsaken a life devoted to sin in order to live a life devoted to the service of the living God. He is one separated from sin, separated unto God.
That which separates the saint from sin to the living God is the saving work of Jesus Christ.
On account of his natural birth the saint is spiritually no different than anyone else. He is born corrupt, depraved, evil. His life is devoted to sin and evil.
What sets a saint apart spiritually from the rest of society is that he has been saved in Jesus Christ.
We must remember that salvation in Jesus Christ does not consist simply of the forgiveness of sins and rescue from the fires of hell. Salvation is that; but it is so much more. Salvation is also a radical change that Jesus Christ works in a person’s life spiritually. When Jesus saves a person, He delivers him from the power of sin. He changes the heart so that there is a turning away from sin and a turning to God in righteous living. The change that Jesus accomplishes in a person’s life is so radical that he becomes a new creature. It’s as though he was born again.
This work of salvation is called sanctification, i.e., a making holy.
Through this great work of salvation one becomes a saint, i.e., a holy one.
This work of salvation Jesus Christ works in all those whom God has ordained to eternal life.
Young people, you are saints!
Its rather interesting that in his epistles the apostle Paul frequently addressed the members of the churches as saints of God. When Paul did this, he was addressing not just the adults of the congregations but also the young people and children.
Young people and children of the church are saints of God because of God’s covenant.
Being raised in the Protestant Reformed Churches you know very well what the covenant is. Our churches emphasize the doctrine of the covenant. The covenant is God’s friendship with His elect people in Jesus Christ. And what does God do as the friend of His people? He saves them in Jesus Christ. That’s the greatest act of love God can possibly show to those who belong to His covenant.
Another wonderful reality of the covenant is that God establishes His covenant with families. God’s covenant of love and salvation is with parents and their children. There are exceptions to this, of course. Born into the covenant home of Isaac and Rebekah was not only Jacob, whom God loved, but also Esau, whom God hated. There have been many Esau’s or reprobates born into covenant families that never are brought by God to faith and salvation. Neither are they true members of God’s covenant. Yet God does place His elect children into the homes of believing parents. With these God establishes His covenant of grace and brings them to a great salvation in Jesus Christ.
Since these covenant families comprise the church, Paul addressed the members of the church, young and old, as saints of God.
For that reason I also address you today as saints.
You have been born of covenant, believing parents. That makes you children of the covenant.
Most of you have come already to a conscious faith and salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of you have already made confession of your faith in Jesus Christ. You are saints of God. And I am addressing you as such today.
Should there be any here who do not believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, I call you in Jesus’ name to turn to Him and believe, that you too may have the knowledge of blessings of salvation.
HOW WE ARE TO LIVE AS BECOMES SAINTS:
I want to call your attention at this point to a very important passage of Scripture: Eph. 5:3 & 4, “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not once be named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient, but rather giving of thanks.”
Notice, that the apostle Paul speaks here of what “becometh saints.”
The word “becometh” means “fit, appropriate.”
The perspective of Paul is that there is a behavior that is becoming or appropriate for saints and a behavior that is not appropriate for saints. It is Paul’s concern that we behave ourselves in a way that is appropriate for saints.
The apostle finds this kind of urging necessary because, even though we are saints, we often do things that are quite inappropriate for saints. As we have seen that as saints there is the work of grace in our hearts that has changed us and made us spiritually separate from the world. And when we live according to this work of grace in us, we do that which is becoming to saints. However, this work of salvation is not yet complete in us. It is only begun. We still have a sinful nature, full of evil. And when we act according to that sinful nature, as we often do, we behave in a way not appropriate for saints.
It is our solemn calling to live as becomes saints of God.
This means, according to Eph. 5:3 & 4 that certain things must be named among us and certain things must not.
Paul makes mention specifically of sexual sins. He speaks of fornication, which is a rather broad term and includes such things as premarital sex, extra-marital sex (adultery) and homosexuality. Paul also speaks of unclean sexual desires (“all uncleanness and covetousness”). He speaks finally of filthy talk that distorts sex and brings it down to the gutter (“neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting”)
Concerning these Paul admonishes, “Let it not once be named among you.”
We must understand that our behavior, whether positive or negative, will be the topic of discussion in the church. It will be talked about among yourselves, as young people. Your parents will talk about it with each other and with you. Your behavior will also be the topic of discussion by the minister in the catechism room and from the pulpit. It will be dealt with in family visitation. In short, it will be named among us.
The word of God indicates that our behavior must be such that these sexual sins never be named among us as problems.
For this is not becoming to the saints of God. How inappropriate that these kinds of sins be named among us, who, as saints, have been separated from the world of sin by the grace of God!
The apostle Paul deals only with sexual sins in his letter to the church of Ephesus. Other sins could well be added to this list. Closely associated with the sins of immorality, mentioned by the apostle, are the sin of drunkenness and wild partying. There are also the sins of profanity, gossip and backbiting, cheating, rebellion against the authority of parents and teachers. How easily these and other sins find their way in the lives of covenant young people!
Let not these things be once named among you.
For this is not appropriate for the saints of God.
According to Paul’s exhortation in Eph. 5:3 & 5 what must be named among us is giving of thanks.
By giving of thanks Paul means a life of thankful service to God for the blessing of salvation.
A young person, who lives such a life of gratitude to God, serves God with his all. He presses all his time, all his abilities, all his possessions, all his energy into the loving service of God.
Shall we be more specific?
Seeing that his father and mother have been set over him as the visible representatives of God, he honors and obeys them.
Recognizing that youth is the time in life given him to prepare himself for his future work in God’s church and kingdom, he applies himself diligently to make the most of his training in the home, school and catechism room.
Closely related to this, he is very much concerned to find the work that God has for him in his adult life. His concern is not what will make him the most money or satisfy any selfish interests he may have. His one concern is to serve the Lord. With that in mind he prayerfully considers what is his life’s work in God’s kingdom. Is it to be a minister of the gospel or missionary? Is to be a Christian school teacher? Is it to be a businessman, a common laborer, a father, mother. . . ?
Closely related to this, he is concerned to find a proper marriage partner. His concern is to find a marriage partner that will assist him in serving the Lord in a covenant home. For that reason, he seeks for a mate that is spiritually minded. His quest for a godly mate also reflects itself in whom he dates and how he behaves himself in dating.
Such are the characteristics of a young person who lives a life of thankfulness to the Lord.
And how becoming it is to the young saints of the church, when these kinds of things are named among us.
For God has set them apart as His saints exactly to live this kind of life.
WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS LIFE?
How very important it is that young people of the church live as becomes saints!
It is important, first, because nothing less than the honor of Jesus Christ is at stake!
We have taken the name Christian. By this name, we claim to be followers of Christ. We are those who belong to Christ. However, if we live in a way that is unbecoming to the saints of God so that all sorts of evils are named among us and named among the world about us, we bring shame to the name of Christ. It is only when we live as becomes the saints of God, that Christ is honored by us.
In this connection, let’s not forget the great sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us. Lovingly and willingly He gave Himself over to the hellish agonies of the cross that we might be saved from the eternal wrath of hell! If we have so much as an ounce of thankfulness for this great gift of love, we will do everything in our power to avoid bringing shame to His name.
Live, therefore, as becomes the saints of God.
In the second place, is necessary to live as becomes saints for that is the only way to receive the inheritance of God.
Paul makes this plain in Eph. 5, the chapter that we have been alluding to. In verse 5 he writes, “For this know that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
God has a glorious inheritance. It consists of eternal life with Him in heavenly glory. This inheritance has been earned for the people of God by the death of Jesus Christ.
However, those who live in a way unbecoming to saints by giving themselves over to the sexual sins mentioned in verses 3-5 or any other sin, have no part in that inheritance.
For those who live in sin without repentance show that they are not true saints of God saved by grace.
In conclusion, let us say that it certainly is not easy to live as becomes the saint of God. There are many temptations that surround us every day. Sometimes they are overwhelming so that again and again we are drawn away into sins that are not appropriate for us as saints.
But don’t forget that to live a holy life that is becoming to a saint is possible. It is possible also for young people. Think of Joseph in Egypt. Think of Daniel and his three friends in Babylon. They were young men your age. How sorely they were tempted. Yet they lived holy lives as becomes the saints of God.
The power to live such a holy life is found in diligent prayer, in constant meditating on God’s Word and the fellowship of the saints.
Take time, therefore, to pray. Read your Bible. Pay attention to the preaching. And encourage one another in a holy life.
Do these things that you may live in holiness as becomes the saints of God.
For at stake is nothing less than the honor of Jesus Christ and a glorious inheritance
OUR NEED FOR COMFORT
Tonight we will speak about comfort. You may ask, “Why speak about comfort at a Young People’s Convention?’’ When we think of those who need to be comforted we usually think of old people who are feeble, sickly, suffering pain and perhaps facing death. We think of families who have lost a loved one in death. We think of the poor who are starving. These things, however, are quite far removed from most young people today. Why then speak about comfort at a Young People’s Convention?
Perhaps we ought to understand what is meant by comfort. To comfort means to give strength, courage and hope to someone who is experiencing problems in his life. It presupposes that things are not going well. Circumstances have arisen that are causing frustration, misery, fear, depression, perhaps even despair. In this situation someone is comforted when he is given courage to face the present and hope for the future so that he is able to find peace and contentment in the face of his problems.
If we understand comfort in that sense, it certainly can be said that young people need comfort. It’s not so easy today being a teenager. Young people face many problems in life which cause a great deal of anxiety, depression and even suicide. Suicide among teens in our country has risen to an alarming rate. All this tells us very clearly that especially young people need to be comforted.
Let’s talk about some of the difficulties young people in our Protestant Reformed Churches face today and for which they need to find comfort.
Young people often have difficulties with their parents. Young people frequently disagree with their parents on what they may do, where they may go, the responsibilities they must shoulder at home, who and when they may date, whether there will be a curfew and so on. With these and other matters it seems so often to young people that their parents are really out of touch with reality. Their parents just don’t understand how it is anymore. Besides that, young people often come to the conclusion that their parents are unreasonable, don’t trust them and really don’t even care for them. But the trouble is that the word of the parents is law. The 5th commandment even requires that children honor their parents. And so young people often feel trapped. They don’t know where to turn. Sometimes they even feel desperate. And it doesn’t help one bit when they are told that their parents are wiser and more experienced than they and that one day they too will see the wisdom of all that their parents say and require.
Dating and finding a marriage partner can also create great anxiety for young people. Almost every young person desires to date and eventually to marry. This however is often a very difficult and painful process. There are girls, for example, who want to date and find a marriage partner, but no one ever asks them. And there are boys who desire the same thing but don’t have the courage to ask a girl. For those who are dating there are also many problems. Dating can often be an up and down sort of thing. Young men and women soon find that there are a host of things that can threaten a relationship they have cultivated with someone of the opposite sex. And this causes a great deal of anxiety. And then there is the shattering experience of breaking up with someone whom you have dated for some time.
For many young people there is also the problem of finding work. Work is very difficult to find in small town America. To find work many young people have been required to leave their family and friends behind and move to a larger city where work is available. This isn’t very pleasant and often filled with anxious moments. In turn, many young people feel it necessary to continue their schooling past high school to find a job that will support them and their family in the future. As anyone who has attended college knows, there are many pressures for young people as they pursue this advanced training.
All young people find it very difficult to live a godly life in our society. A godly life requires a great deal of sacrifice. Every young person knows from bitter experience that if he will walk according to all the commandments of God, there are many who will mock him and avoid him. These may include those with whom he works. They may be his classmates at school. They may even be those who go to church with him. But the simple fact of the matter is that the young person who lives according to the will of God will find he has only a small circle of friends. The vast majority of his peers will reject him. And that’s often devastating, especially for young people.
All these and many other things bring a great deal of anxiety and distress to young people, also to covenant young people of the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1986, so that they need to be comforted.
THE REFORMED VIEW OF COMFORT
The theme of the convention indicates that when we need to be comforted we ought to turn to those things that our Reformed fathers turned in time of need to find their comfort. Our convention theme is “Being Reformed in 1986: Heritage and Calling”. The term “heritage” refers to something of value that is passed down from generation to generation. The very theme of this convention, therefore, requires that at this point we go back to the Reformed fathers to see what they had to say about comfort and how they found comfort in the time of need.
We will find what the Reformed fathers had to say about comfort in the Heidelberg Catechism. Certainly, the Heidelberg Catechism is part of our heritage. It was written during the Reformation to teach the Reformed faith to those who lived in Germany. With the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt, the Catechism has become a creed of the Reformed tradition.
The theme of the Heidelberg Catechism is the Christian’s comfort. This is evident from the first Lord’s Day of the Catechism which asks, “What is thy only comfort in life and death?’’ The Catechism develops the whole of the truth of God’s Word from the viewpoint of the comfort it provides the Christian. And it’s rather striking that the original purpose of the Catechism was to instruct the youth in the Reformed faith and provided them with comfort. If, therefore, we will find what our Reformed fathers said about comfort and what they instructed the young people of their own day about comfort, we must turn to the Heidelberg Catechism.
The Catechism teaches that the Christian’s comfort is that we are not our own but belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
The knowledge that we belong to Jesus Christ is of great comfort for especially three reasons.
First, if we know that we belong to Jesus, then we also know that one day Jesus will bring us to eternal life in heaven. The Bible speaks a great deal of the life eternal that is coming for the Christian. We are told, for example, that in this future life there will be no suffering and no tears. None of the sufferings and disappointments of our present life will be found in this future life. What a tremendous source of comfort that is! For this means that the sufferings of this present life will not last forever. There is an end to our sufferings. And if we compare the few years of our life on earth with the endless ages of eternity, then the time of our suffering is only a very small part of our total existence. We will suffer for only a short time, and then we will be delivered eternally to a new life.
But, secondly, the Heidelberg Catechism points out from Scripture that this future life that Jesus will provide is so wonderful that the sufferings of this present life are not worthy to be compared to it (Romans 8:18). This future life will be a life of blissful fellowship with the living God such as eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive. When we who belong to Jesus open our eyes in heaven we will proclaim that the sufferings of this present time were certainly worth all the sufferings necessary to attain heaven’s glory.
Finally, the Catechism points out from the Scriptures that Christ makes all the sufferings of this present life to work for this future glory. It’s not true that Christ somehow brings us to heaven in spite of the difficulties with which we struggle here on earth. It’s not true, for example, that somehow Christ brings us to heaven’s glory in spite of the friction young people have with parents, in spite of the anxiety of dating, in spite of the reproach suffered for Christ’s sake. No! Christ brings, us to glory not in spite of all these, but exactly through them. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God . . . .” (Romans 8:28) The viewpoint of the Bible and the Catechism is that our earthly life is merely a preparation for future glory. In this life we are being prepared by Christ for our future life in heaven. And Christ even uses the sufferings of this present life to prepare us for this heavenly life. What a comfort that is when we face problems in life!
This is the heritage we have received from our Reformed fathers as they searched the Scriptures to find comfort in the time of need.
OUR CALLING TO SEEK THIS COMFORT
It is the calling of God’s people, also as young people, to find their comfort in the fact that they belong to Jesus.
This will become clear if we consider the alternative. In finding comfort there are basically only two alternatives. The first alternative is the viewpoint of the Heidelberg Catechism, which is to take a heavenly minded approach. We find our comfort in the fact that a better life awaits us in heaven and that all things, even the sufferings of this life, work together to bring us to that future glory. The other alternative is to take an earthly minded approach. Then we are comforted by the fact that in spite of our present problems we still can or soon will enjoy the things of this present life.
Let’s consider for a few minutes this earthly minded approach to finding comfort.
Those taking the earthly minded approach find comfort, for example, in the fact that in spite of the things they suffered, there are still many things in life that they can really enjoy. Yes, it’s true that things are bad at home. And, yes, I’ve lost my girlfriend. And school isn’t going so well. But it’s not all bad. There are many things that I still have and can enjoy. I have a good job. And I have a new car and lots of friends. I guess life isn’t so bad. Let’s look on the bright side of things. That will help me get through the problems I face.
Those taking the earthly minded approach also find comfort in the fact that life is bound to get better. Yes, things aren’t going well at home with my parents: but in a couple of years I’ll
be able to move out and be on my own. Then I’ll be able to do what I want. And, yes, I lost my girlfriend; but she isn’t the only fish in the pond. I’ll find someone else. If I just keep these things in mind, it sure helps to get through the day. Things are definitely going to get better.
Closely connected to this is to find one’s comfort by escaping the problems of life. Almost everything a person enjoys can be used as an escape from the problems of life. Rather than face up to their problems many simply run from their problems by turning to the things they enjoy in life. As long as they are enjoying their pastimes they can enter a world where they are free from problems. When faced with problems they are comforted by the fact that they have this escape and soon will be able to leave their problems behind for a few hours. People use sports for this purpose. They also use music, often ungodly music which arouses evil thoughts and passions. They use partying and dancing. And perhaps the most devastating of all escapes are alcohol and drugs.
There is something drastically wrong with this approach to things.
Certainly, we don’t need to point out the wrong of finding one’s comfort in the pleasures of sin — in drugs and alcohol, in ungodly music and wild parties. These things are clearly forbidden by God. We may not engage in these sorts of things; nor may we find our comfort in the prospect of enjoying them.
But apart from the matter of enjoying the pleasures of sin, there is the problem of earthly mindedness in the approach we have just described. We must understand that even though the things of this earth are not sinful as such, it certainly is sinful to set our heart on them, to make earthly things the all important things in life. We are told in Colossians 3:1&2, “If ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not or things on the earth”. This Word of God and others like it are simply ignored by the person who finds his comfort in the fact that in spite of the problems of life he still can or soon will enjoy the things of this present life. The person who takes this approach has sinfully made the things of this earth all important. The things of this earth are even more important to him than the things above in heaven.
In harmony with the requirement of Scripture that heavenly and spiritual things must be first in our lives, we must find our comfort in the fact that we belong to Jesus Who makes all the problems in life work for our spiritual welfare and eternal glory in heaven. If this is our approach then when there is friction at home with our parents, our comfort will be that our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, Who is all-wise, has given us our parents and is even using what appears to us to be utter folly on their part to prepare us for a life of service in this life and eternal glory in heaven. And when we face disappointments in dating and courtship our comfort will be that Jesus, our faithful Savior, has determined whether we will marry or remain single. But in either instance He will give us a life of joy in the service of His name. And if it is the Lord’s will that we marry, He will give us the right mate in His own time so that all things work together for our eternal good. And when we lose friends because of a godly walk, our comfort will be that Jesus, our faithful Savior, has promised to reward us a hundredfold for all that we have sacrificed to serve Him.
This is being Reformed in 1986!
In seeking comfort as young people, this is the heritage our Reformed fathers have given to us.
It is our calling before God to take hold of this heritage so that we find our comfort in the fact that we belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
Doing this we will find peace and joy throughout our entire life here below. And we will be well pleasing to our Father in heaven Who has saved us through Jesus, His Son.
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