I woke up this morning with a lot of different Scriptures flowing through my mind. It was on my heart to provide a little insight into why we do the work we do with Youth For Christ. I got out of bed, started making breakfast, sat down to eat with my wife, and then my wife shared a story she had read on Facebook. A family had recently lost their teenager due to a drug overdose who had wrestled with addiction for several years.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has a page on Opioids and Adolescents which states this: “And while the number of deaths from drug overdose remains quite low overall, the rate of overdose deaths among adolescents is increasing. In 2015, 4,235 youth ages 15-24 died from a drug-related overdose; over half of these were attributable to opioids.” That’s over 11 deaths every single day in our country in this age group. Thousands more are wrestling these addictions.
When our Juvenile Justice Ministry team of chaplains goes into our local juvenile detention facility, we meet young people who are wrestling with this and other things. The youth we work with in Kitsap and North Mason counties are between the ages of 11-19. I do this work, because I believe there is more going on than just the physical, mental, and emotional turmoil. I believe that the spiritual part of them is also affected. I’ve witnessed people set free from their addictions once the spiritual part has been healed. Once the spiritual part is healed, the physical, mental, and emotional parts start to heal as well.
What does the Bible tell me about how this all works? What is happening here? What can we learn from the Bible about how to approach people with compassion and help them?
I think that it is important to acknowledge that every human being has a shared enemy in Satan whether we believe in him or not. That way we won’t be trying to treat the symptoms while neglecting the root cause. As Christians, we believe that dark powers are constantly at work in people’s lives. Jesus explained it like this:
10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. - John 10:10 NLT
How does a 15 year old die from a drug overdose? They turn to drugs at an even younger age believing a lie that it will help them escape the pain in their lives. The lie often comes to them in the form of a temptation when they are all alone sitting in their hurt and pain. I’ve sat with many teenagers and heard this same story over and over again. These opioids are very addictive causing them to lose their ability to stop. They are not free.
34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. - John 8:34 NLT
What is God’s response to these drug-addicted young people? He doesn’t beat them down in their misery. He loves them and desires to save them from this and more. Drug addiction is just one way sin distorts and destroys people’s lives. Jesus wants to set them free.
47 I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. - John 12:47 NLT
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, 19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” 20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” - Luke 4:18-21 NLT
Religious people who do not understand these things will often criticize people who are hurting acting like it is their own fault that they are in this mess. They are afraid to be around them. Jesus wasn’t. That’s exactly who He came for; anyone who was a captive to sin, and that is all of us. Drug use that leads to addiction is only one of many types of sin that so easily entangles our lives.
17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” - Mark 2:17 NLT
When we believe in Him, He sets us free. We receive His Spirit, we are reborn, and we start to live new lives. It may take a little time, but it always works if the person truly has the Spirit living in them. Jesus frees us from spiritual death. He also frees people from many things that lead to death during our brief lives on earth.
2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. - Romans 8:2 NLT
After Jesus defeated sin and death on the cross, He was raised to new life and appeared to His disciples giving them instructions on where He was going and what they were supposed to do until He returned. This Great Commission was not just given to them but to all who would believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” - Matthew 28:18-20 NLT
He tells us that His Spirit will be in us and that we are to go and share the Good News with everyone. Where does YFC go? One of the places we go is to the detention where these young people are. We tend to go wherever young people are.
Paul explained why it is vital that Christians actually go and deliver this Good News to others. Since Jesus had ascended, people who had never met Him or heard of Him would need to know about Him through stories and testimonies. The Holy Spirit in Christians gives us the desire and power to do this work of telling others about Jesus.
14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” - Romans 10:14-15 NLT
How does telling people the Good News, the Gospel, lead to people becoming free from addiction? Doesn’t this seem too simple? Too good to be true? How can this possibly work? Well, this message about who Jesus is and what He has done for us is like a seed that gets planted in good soil. This seed grows, becomes a plant or tree, and it eventually produces fruit. This fruit has its own seeds which gives birth to more fruit. It takes time to grow, but it eventually multiplies. Counseling is helpful, but we all know stories of people who had to go to recovery multiple times. Counseling by itself is not enough.
6 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. - 1 Corinthians 3:6
23 The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” - Matthew 13:23 NLT
6 This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace. - Colossians 1:6 NLT
We don’t have to tell people to “try harder” to stop doing drugs. God does the work. Like a gardener, He begins pruning the dead things off of our lives to help us grow and mature. He gets rid of all the things that are bad for us, and this pruning redirects our life into things that are good for us. As we stay connected to Jesus, He bears more and more fruit in our lives.
1 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. - John 15:1-8 NLT
What is fruit? What is Jesus really saying here? We do not become “good people” by trying harder, following a 10-step plan, or goal setting. Those things can be helpful tools, but real growth comes from God. In the case of addiction, He will heal the young person’s spirit which will help them heal their heart, mind, and body. This healing results in self-control so that when the temptation comes in the future, they no longer have to say “yes” to it. It transforms them and gives them power over it that they didn’t have before.
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! - Galatians 5:22-23 NLT
How do you know when someone has truly been saved by Jesus? They’ll have fruit. Change produced by human effort only tends to result in either pride or insecurity. Change produced by the Spirit of God results in the fruit of the Spirit. In the same way you know an apple tree is an apple tree when you see apples hanging from it, you will know that a person truly has God living in them by their love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It shows up in their words and actions. They are new people!
16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 19 So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. 20 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. - Matthew 7:16-20
26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works. - James 2:26
When you spend time on your personal relationship with Jesus, this is the result. This is who you become. This is who God transforms you into by His Spirit. This is how sharing the Good News of Jesus with a young person (the seed) can result in seeing them set free from these addictions (the fruit of their salvation). This is why we go.
When we see in ourselves or others who claim to be Christians, the absence of these things will tell you one of two things. They are either not really Christians at all, or they are spiritually immature and need more time with Jesus to grow.
As Jesus was being led off to be crucified, people were shouting at Him, cursing Him, and throwing rocks at Him. Most people I know would freak out if a stranger threw a rock at them and hit them with it. They would often be just as mad if they threw it at their car. How would you feel if someone hit you with a rock with hate in their heart? Would you lovingly invite that person to learn about Jesus?
This is something we need to understand about ourselves if we ever hope to reach our neighbors. Will we act like Pharisees and avoid scummy people? Or will we understand what is really going on and lean into the brokenness with love, compassion, forgiveness, and Good News?
What was Jesus’s response as this was happening to Him?
34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” - Luke 23:34
A perfect answer from the only perfect One. We cannot freak out when a young person isn’t perfect in their behavior. We should not hide from them or keep them away from all the “holy people”. The heart of a true evangelist, a true believer, will meet everyone where they are with the same grace they themselves have received.
You can’t fix yourself.
You cannot follow the law perfectly.
Neither can they.
The only way we are able to be justified, sanctified, and glorified is by God’s Spirit doing the work inside of us. This is what keeps us from feeling prideful or insecure - like we have to earn something. It’s a gift. This free gift is what allows us to go out and truly fulfill the Great Commission.
When we see our moral excellence as something we’ve earned on our own, we will judge people and keep those dirty sinners away from us. When we see the changes in our life as a result of what God has done for us, we will want to share that with others.
This is how we at YFC witness young people set free by the Lord to live a beautiful life.
You can be a part of it. Contact us to learn more.