Love is a popular topic in today's culture, especially around Valentine's Day. But since many teens hear a distorted view, "Authentic Love," a new True Love Waits Bible study, aims to ground students' concept of love in their identity in Christ.
Authentic Love, divided into studies for guys and girls, places a "strong emphasis on developing a lifestyle of personal holiness and helps students understand sex and purity in light of the Gospel," said Karen Daniel, team leader in student ministry publishing at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Each eight-session study begins with a recorded video message from the author that leads students to discuss the topic for that session, such as redemption, love, identity or humility. Next, students consider what culture has to say about the issue, compare that message with the truth found in Scripture, then consider how to practically apply what they learn to their own pursuit of personal holiness.
The gender-specific studies "make it easy for student pastors and leaders to establish a safe environment where both guys and girls could speak openly and honestly," Daniel said.
LifeWay enlisted D.A. Horton to write the study for guys and Amy-Jo Girardier for girls to articulate the message to students.
Due to his experience as a church planter in Los Angeles and his involvement in the Urban Youth Workers Institute, Horton has "a unique voice and background that resonates with guys from both the city as well as the suburbs," Daniel said.
Girardier believes it is vital for churches and parents to help students understand a biblical perspective on sex because others are "very willing to invite our children to talk about sex."
Horton agrees. He said Authentic Love is needed now because "culture is vocal about impurity. Companies are spending millions to barrage our youth with their misguided views of identity, love and sexuality that are in direct conflict with Scripture. Our goal is to refute the culture by boldly communicating God's Word regarding His command for holy living."
Authentic Love attempts to do this by helping students find their identity in Christ.
"Identity drives action," Horton said. "If someone knows they are in Christ, and they understand His commands for holy living, they'll draw on the ministry of the Holy Spirit to give them the strength to put to death the desires of their flesh."
Girardier said many girls are finding their identity with a boyfriend or social media approval. "The truth is, our identity is not even determined by us," she said. "Our identity is determined by the one who made us. And when we know Him, we begin to know some key things about our identity. We are loved. We are valued. We are made for relationship. And we are made to worship Him."
For Horton and Girardier, the important issue is pointing students to Christ. "If youth can meet Jesus," Horton said, "and pursue Him with all they have, purity -- even if they've already fallen into sexual sin -- can be a reality before and during marriage."
Girardier said too often churches unknowingly disconnect purity from a loving God and connect it instead to a moral checklist of do's and don'ts. Instead, churches need to tell teenagers "about the loving God who created sex and why there are boundaries to this great gift."
Both authors said their prayer is that students come to understand purity as a lifelong journey, not a momentary choice.
"I pray that girls come to know their identity, significance and purpose in Christ," Girardier said, "and in doing so, His lordship impacts their purity -- not for a moment but for a lifetime as they pursue Him daily to become more like Him."
Horton said he hopes the study helps parents and student ministers work together to push past the awkwardness to have honest conversations with their teenagers.
"I pray parents, teens and youth workers will engage the topic through the lens of a biblical worldview and that God would capture every heart and direct them toward holistic purity," he said. "We want students to remain pure not just before marriage but during marriage as well."
For information on Authentic Love, visit TrueLoveWaits.com.
Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay Corporate Communications.