It Doesn’t Matter If It’s Sin

“He touched the butt.”

That is one of my favorite quotes from, not just Finding Nemo, but maybe any animated film ever. And the fact that that is the case demonstrates very clearly that God has hardwired me for a life of youth ministry.

If you’re familiar with the film, you’ll recall that Nemo had been warned by his father all growing up never to drift out into open water and especially to never go near or touch a boat. Boats have humans, and humans are bad news for little clownfish. Well, one day after an argument with his dad, Nemo decides to (not accidentally drift but intentionally) swim out into open water toward a large boat floating on the surface.

When Nemo locks eyes with his father and defiantly slaps the side of the boat, one of his friends, mispronouncing the word, whispers in awe: “He touched the butt.”

It’s delightful.

You know, in youth ministry, we tend to have this hyper focus on exhorting students not to sin. We teach students not to lie to their parents. We take steps to discourage gossip in small groups. We start accountability groups for students dealing with online addictions. And none of these things are bad! Sin is so big a deal that Jesus had to die to rescue us from it, so it makes complete sense that we would steer our students away from sin!

But what if we’re unintentionally causing students to miss the point when we’re hyper focused on whether or not they’ve “touched the butt”?

See each and every one of us have wounds and brokenness that lead us toward patterns of speech, thought, and behavior that maybe aren’t obviously sinful, but are definitively unhealthy. They’re these little oddities and quirks within us that aren’t as tangible as “stealing” but absolutely hold us back from becoming people who are free in Christ.

I’m talking about trust issues.

I’m talking about deep-seated insecurity.

I’m talking about control issues.

Are these things sinful? I mean…probably. But are they unhealthy? 100%. And Jesus has come to free us from bondage to wounds like these so we can be, not just morally virtuous people, but emotionally healthy people.

That’s the power of the gospel. That’s the difference between behavior modification and transformation.

And if we remain hyper focused only on how the gospel addresses the obvious behavioral sin struggles common to the average teenager, we will unintentionally raise yet another generation of Christians who, rather than being made new and transformed in Christ, are just their same old selves plagued by their gaping wounds and strongholds but trying harder to be good, moral people for Jesus.

I don’t want that, and I don’t think you do either.

I guess what I’m saying is: It doesn’t really matter if it’s sin or not. If it’s unhealthy or in contrast to the gospel, Jesus has come to free us from it.

Your 7th grade girl’s trust issues are founded in a lie she believes, and the gospel declares her safe and secure in the arms of the Father. So whether her trust issues are sinful or not, we ought to prioritize helping her see through the lens of the gospel rather than the lens of mistrust.

Your 9th grade boy’s insecurity is founded in a lie he believes, and the gospel declares him worthy and valuable. So whether his insecurity is sinful or not, we ought to prioritize helping him see through the lens of the gospel rather than the lens of insecurity.

Your 11th grader’s control issues are founded in a lie they believe, and the gospel declares them surrendered. So whether their control issues are sinful or not, we ought to prioritize helping them see through the lens of the gospel rather than the lens of control.

Sin matters. It matters so much that Jesus died for it. But in the context of the gospel, we have been declared dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Whether or not we’ve technically “touched the butt” isn’t the point. The point is to become more like Jesus: healthy, whole, gospel-oriented, and then, yes, moral.

Let’s stop preaching a half gospel of morality to our students. There is so much more available to them and to us.

Mike Haynes is a full-time youth pastor and the creator of G Shades Youth Ministry Curriculum. Feel free to reach out to Mike anytime over email at
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