One of the key pursuits of my life has been trying to understand why young people rebel and what needs to be done to solve the problem of rebellion. One of the most important things I’ve learned about how to turn a rebel around is this principle of replacement. Your teen can’t live in a vacuum any more than you can. You can’t just take away the bad things—bad friends, bad music, bad television or videos—from his life. You’ve got to replace them with something good.

There Is No Such Thing as Neutrality

There’s a song I like entitled “What Will You Do With Jesus?” It includes the phrase “neutral you cannot be.” That is a very true statement. But I would add to that and say, “neutral you dare not be.”

Going back to the passage in Matthew 12, we read that the demon who had gone out of the man said, “I will return into my house from whence I came out.” When he went back, he found it empty, swept and garnished. “Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”

You cannot just keep on not doing bad. The life of the man in this passage had wrong in it. But when the wrong went out, his life was empty, and he didn’t fill it with anything good. When the demon came back, the man’s life was still empty, and the demon was able to go back into the man. Neutral you cannot be. You will either be controlled by God’s Spirit or by the Devil’s spirit. (That’s not to say that everyone who isn’t living for God is literally demon-possessed, but it does mean that if we’re not allowing God to have control over our lives, Satan will take control in some way.) You cannot long remain with a heart that is empty of both good and evil.

I remember a young man who came into my office one Monday carrying a container of filthy music tapes. He had come to church the day before and had gotten right with God. When he came in carrying that box of tapes, he said, “I’ve got to get rid of these.” I said, “Praise God! But could I tell you something? If you don’t put some good music in its place, you’ll be right back into the garbage within a few days. Get some melodious, uplifting music and listen to it instead. You’ve got to have something right or else it will be too easy to go back to the wrong.”

Dad and Mom, do not expect your child to live in a vacuum. If your child has wrong friends, don’t just take the bad friends away. Make sure instead that your children have the right kind of friends. There is a hunger in the soul of man for a friend. Jonathan needed David, and David needed Jonathan. But you’ve got to make sure your children have the right friends instead of the wrong friends.

If you or your child has a problem with bad books or magazines, don’t just get rid of them. Replace them with something good. Build a library of good, wholesome reading material. This same principle is true with any bad habit you can name. If you quit something bad but don’t replace it with something good, it won’t be long before you’ll find yourself back into the bad. And the addiction the second time will probably be stronger than it was the first time.

Failure to understand this principle is one reason why so many Christian families have a hard time getting rid of bad television viewing. They make a commitment to change, but then they walk into the living room and stare at a blank screen. You can’t do that for very long. It will draw you back in. You’re either going to have to find some good videos you can watch, or, if you want to give up television and videos altogether, you’re going to have to find some other good activity to take its place.