A few years ago the Josephson Institute of Ethics surveyed 25,000 High Schools students and found 98% of the teens said it was important to be a person of good character, 90% said that being a good person is more important than being rich, and 94% said that trust and honesty are essential in business. However, their behavior didn’t match.
The same research found that 62% of the same teens said they cheated on a test, 82% said they had lied to a parent about something significant, and 27% had stolen something from a store, all in the last 12 months.
The challenges associated with youthful indiscretion, however, are not new. 3,000 years ago the Psalmist both asked and answered this relevant question: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” (Ps 119:9)
The question assumes the possibility of a way that is impure and unclean. For young people there is a way of strong passions, youthful lusts and sexual temptation.
While some surveys show that sexual activity among teens has declined somewhat in the past decade, there is evidence to indicate that 42% of all High School students are sexually active. And 62% have lost their virginity by the time they graduate. Of course, among single college students, the numbers are much higher.
Youth is a time of impetuosity. Immature judgment. And rash overconfidence. Too often decisions are made without regard to either the immediate or long-term consequence.
Yet, the question suggests that the way of young people can be pure. Holy. Morally upright. You don’t have to follow the crowd. Indulge in fleshly lusts. Or become a slave to sinful desires. It is possible to “walk in the light.” “Draw near to God.” And live with a clean heart and a clear conscience.
The question implies the need to take heed. To pay careful attention. To watch what you are doing, where you are going, and who your friends are. That demands a willingness to guard your heart. To be self-controlled. And to exercise restraint.
How can a young person remain pure? The writer says it is through applying the wisdom of God’s Word.
The Word speaks to young people through its precepts. We are commanded to “flee fornication” (1 Cor 6:19). To “abstain from fleshly lusts that war against the soul” (1Pet. 2:11). And to avoid evil companions (1Cor. 15:33).
The Word offers examples of young people who have lived faithfully, courageously and virtuously. The Shepherd boy David who fearlessly fought Goliath. Joseph who resisted the sexual advances of an older woman who preyed upon his innocence. Daniel who refused to defile himself while living captive in a foreign land.
The Word appeals to youth from its motives. The book of Proverbs reminds young people that sexual immorality can affect you physically, ruin your reputation, hurt you mentally and emotionally, not to mention spiritually.
The Word issues warnings for the young to consider. The wise man said youth is a time for rejoicing and enjoying life. However, he says “But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment” (Eccl 11:9).
Some young people, with the instruction of godly parents and the support of their church family, survive the spiritual pitfalls through high school, only to fall away once they leave home to attend the state University. Atheistic professors, rampant immorality, and “higher education” apart from Biblical values prove too great a hurdle for some Christian young people to overcome.
The answer is to return to the Word. Seek its counsel. Imbibe its wisdom. Follow its teaching. And find fellowship with like-minded Believers.
Finally, our young people need spiritual role models. At home. In the church. And among their peers.
Solomon’s plea to the young is still relevant. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth…” (Eccl 12:1)
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman