Earlier this year I was driving my youngest son home from a school event. Not long into the trip he asked me, “Dad, how did you become a Christian?” Naturally that was a question that I was more than happy to answer, and we had a wonderful ride as I shared my story with him and as he probed me with further questions. It was a precious father-son moment.
However, I must confess that I was also a bit taken aback by the question. How is it that Caleb could get to the age of 12 without me sharing my testimony with him? Sure, I’d spoken to him about Jesus countless times. We had read the Bible together and prayed together since he was an infant. I am often answering his questions (he does tend to ask a lot of them!). And yet somehow it had taken 12 years for me to actually share with him how I came to commit my life to Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour. Even as I enjoyed the conversation I felt an inner shame that hundreds of other people over the years had heard my testimony but my son hadn’t.
There is no shortage of places we can go to in the Bible that remind us of the importance of passing on the faith to the next generation. God is concerned not only for our faith but also for the faith of our children. And surely that should be our concern too. If our children’s salvation is not our highest priority for them then we either don’t truly believe the gospel or we don’t truly love our children. Any earthly concerns we might have for them must pale into insignificance next to whether our children honour Christ as Lord, and any hopes for their future must focus first and foremost on where they will spend eternity! So naturally we care deeply about passing on the gospel and seeing our children respond to it. That is at the heart of my prayers for my children—as I trust it is also for many readers of this article.
The question that many of us wrestle with, then, is how we can pass on the gospel as effectively as we can. This is where my car journey with Caleb got me pondering. In my instruction of my children in the faith, had I fallen into a pattern of talking about the things of God too impersonally? Was I merely explaining how things work, telling them what the Bible says, showing what a passage means, giving them “the answer” and so on? I say merely because my faith in Christ is far more than an understanding I have or a spiritual position I hold—like one might hold a position on political matters or the environment or on who is the better football player, Messi or Ronaldo (it is Messi, by the way). My faith is far more personal, far more relational, and far more at the heart of who I really am. And this is what faith in Christ needs to be for my children as well. The conversation reminded me that in my instruction of my children I need to make sure, even as I convey knowledge, that this deep and intensely personal aspect of the faith is communicated too.
Interestingly enough, we see this modelled for us in one of the more famous Scripture passages that deal with passing on the faith to the next generation:
When your son asks you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lordour God has commanded you?” then you shall say to your son, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lordbrought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lordshowed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the Lordcommanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lordour God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lordour God, as he has commanded us.” (Deut 6:20-25)
Did you notice the ‘testimonial’ nature of the father’s answer in this text? The kid is quizzing his dad about the Law, and the dad answers not in the third person but in the first. He includes himself in the story of salvation along with his nation and along with his son. As he answers his son he places himself in the same position, striving to live for the same God, obeying the same commands, trusting in the same promises with the hope of sharing in the same blessing. He also speaks of that salvation with conviction and passion, “with a mighty hand”, “before our eyes”, “great and grievous”. He was teaching his son about how and why they were to love and fear God, while showing that they were to do that together.
As we teach our children and answer their questions, it is important that we let them see that what we teach is what we ourselves believe and live by. When you next take the chance to talk to your children about the things of God, ask yourself, “Is there a way I can answer this question or address this topic in a testimonial way?” For example, when you are teaching them about repentance, can you share with them an example from your own life when you realized you needed to repent, and how you went about doing it? When you are teaching them that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, can you share a time when that realization hit home for you? Maybe you are answering a question or dealing with something that happened today at school; as you teach them is there also an opportunity to share your experience of God’s faithfulness, patience, grace, wisdom, providence or forgiveness?
Our children want to know us, and as Christians the heart of who we are is our faith in Christ. I can’t help thinking that if our own faith stories play an important role in our teaching, then not only will we model more effectively the Christian life, but we will grow closer to our children as we follow Christ together.