Passing on Our Faith to Our Children

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Passing on Our Faith to Our Children

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Passing on our faith to our children may seem daunting, yet each parent can be effective in ways no one else can. Each child has a special bond with his or her parents that was designed by God. Because of this special relationship, parents have a greater opportunity to teach and profoundly influence their children than anyone else. In recognition of this unique situation, God commissions parents with the task of training their children spiritually. Every parent has the responsibility to teach his or her children about God—to regularly provide them biblical truth and not just take them to church services each week where someone else can teach them. Consider what the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: ". . . I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also" (2 Timothy 1:5, emphasis added throughout). Timothy's grandmother had this faith and was able to pass it on to her daughter, who then passed it on to Timothy. In this example, the faith of God was passed down through three generations. All Christian parents undoubtedly have a desire to see their children live by the truths of the Bible, the very Word of God. Yet parents can sometimes worry that they might be pressuring their children into conformity, and may therefore shy away from necessary spiritual interactions. Others may be too preachy or appear overly spiritual. Both approaches can hinder a young person's response to God. Some may hope that just an association with others of like mind will result in a kind of "spiritual osmosis" for their children—that the truth will sink in automatically. Some parents may feel they do not have the creativity or experience necessary to conduct interesting family Bible studies. They may feel inadequate or ineffective in the task of guiding and leading their children. Indeed, we may feel that the religious instruction of our children should be left to "experts" like pastors, or perhaps those especially gifted in working with children and young adults. While humility is an admirable trait and others may be able to help our children learn about God, the fact remains that God has given us as parents the primary responsibility for passing on His truth and way of life to our children. So how can we best accomplish this? This series of two articles will provide the biblical background as well as useful guidelines to help parents instill biblical knowledge, values and behavior in their children. The urgency of this responsibility Clearly our society is deteriorating morally. Many sociologists call this the "post-Christian" era because traditional Judeo-Christian values have been rejected by our culture. George Barna, who founded the Barna Research Group and does regular surveys regarding religious matters and issues in the United States, conducted two nationwide polls in 2002. They showed that fewer than one out of three professing "born-again" Christians believes there is such a thing as absolute truth. The surveys also found that few Americans turn to their faith as the primary guide for their moral and ethical decisions. Truth today is considered relative. The vast majority doubts absolute moral truth. Yet the Bible says God does not change (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8) and that pure religion is to keep ourselves "unstained from the world" (James 1:27, Revised Standard Version). If we are to remain unstained, there must be a standard to delineate between right and wrong. Unlike in the past, American youth today do not have moral principles reinforced on a day-to-day basis in society. On the contrary, they are regularly undermined. Key scriptures in the New Testament show that events looming on the horizon will make this situation worse, not better. As Matthew 24:24 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, 9-11 tell us, false religion will be on the increase (to understand more about this, please request our free booklet Are We Living in the Time of the End?). Clearly a time of great testing is coming in the future. Our children will need to be able to discern what is happening to our world so they can be prepared to face its dangers. It is crucial that we help them. God wants our children to learn The apostle Paul told Timothy: "From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures" (2 Timothy 3:15). How had he known? His mother had instructed him in the Scriptures starting in his childhood. Now he himself was receptive to that teaching. This is a responsibility of our children as well. Parents have to do the teaching, guiding and setting the example. But children have to be receptive. That's their part. They should be taught to not resist learning and understanding. Proverbs 1:8 encourages them, "My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother." Young people have a responsibility and a duty too. They need to open their eyes and ears and in a willing attitude learn the truth as their parents instruct them. A note of caution: When children are resistant, parents need a great deal of wisdom and patience in dealing with them. Every family's situation is a little different and you may need some help in patiently working with your children. Our booklets Marriage and Family: The Missing Dimension and Making Life Work are available free as helpful resource materials. In any case, your children need to be taught God's truth—by you. They will not absorb it by osmosis or by breathing the air in your home. They will not become convicted of God's truth by default. Throughout the Bible, we see that God's intent has always been that parents should provide the basic spiritual instruction. Ministers and youth teachers can help and assist, but the chief responsibility rests with parents. A right approach to instruction Parents are unique in that each has a bond with his or her child in a way that no one else does. When we speak from the heart in love about what is in our hearts from God's Spirit, it is more likely that we will reach them. Love is a very powerful motivator. When we take time to instruct our children, we are teaching them something about our family's priorities and the value we personally place on God's Word. If we make the effort to provide them with biblical instruction—however awkwardly we may appear in starting out—they will learn that this is important to us and should be to them as well. Notice God's instruction in Deuteronomy 6:5-7: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up." This instruction implies different kinds of teaching for different contexts. So parents do have a clear biblical responsibility to teach their children about God, His instructions for them, His plan for the human creation and how they can have a personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. Parents should realize that they have this responsibility. And it is clear from this scriptural passage that it can be achieved by using more than one method. The patriarch Abraham was praised by God for his dedication to teaching God's way of life to his family. In Genesis 18:19 God said of Abraham, "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment, that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him" (King James Version). We don't know all that Abraham said and did as he taught his family the way of God. The Bible doesn't give the details. As parents we're all to look at our scriptural responsibility and ask ourselves, "How am I going to apply this? What's going to work with our lifestyle and our schedule so that I'm fulfilling my biblical responsibility?" Looking to a brighter future In Isaiah 44:3, God shows us the kind of model He wants to see in families in describing the future time when His utopian Kingdom will be established over the earth: "For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring." That is God's clear desire. If we are following God and are surrendered to Jesus Christ, this is a promise to us and our children (compare Acts 2:39). So we start from this biblical premise to understand what God wants for us as parents and young people. A similar sentiment is found in Isaiah 59:21: "And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the LORD: my spirit which is upon you, and my words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your children, or out of the mouth of your children's children, says the LORD, from this time forth and for evermore" (Revised Standard Version). This passage reminds us again of the remarkable example found with Timothy's grandmother teaching her daughter, and her daughter, in turn, teaching Timothy. A sacred duty and responsibility Parents can play a powerful role in encouraging their children to choose God's way of life. It doesn't matter if they are not trained as teachers. Parents who walk with God have the Creator in their lives and know His way. Some parents may be more naturally gifted in teaching, but all parents share in this sacred duty and responsibility. We do affect the faith of our children, even if it's only by our example. As parents, let's all make sure that we apply Deuteronomy 6:5-7. If we do our part, we can help our children embrace the true Christian faith from God's Word. Like Lois and Eunice, we too can pass this faith to our children from generation to generation. Next time we'll look at some of the actual methods we can use to teach our children about God and His ways and several areas that form the foundation of parental instruction. GN