Bringing Up Children in the Lord (Part 6): Raising Children to Be Christians

Bringing Up Children in the Lord

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in truth” (3 John 4).

Though the passage above refers to Christians in general, the principle certainly applies to the relationship between parents and children. As parents strive to “bring [their children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), the ultimate goal is to lead them to the Lord. Naturally, parents will hope that their children enjoy good health and a degree of prosperity in this life. But in the end, what matters most is that their “soul prospers” as they walk “in the truth” (3 John 2, 4). So in this final lesson, we will focus on raising children to be Christians.

Faith That is Passed Down

The Lord expects parents who are faithful followers of Him to pass down their faith to their children. This is what happened with Timothy – the faith of his mother and grandmother were passed down to him. “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well” (2 Timothy 1:5). God has always expected teaching by the parents that would produce such faith. Notice the following passages from the Old Law:

Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons” (Deuteronomy 4:9).

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).

As parents strive to pass their faith down to their children, teaching should be done in two ways. First, parents must be diligent to initiate the teaching – “talk of them when you sit…walk…lie down and…rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Second, parents must answer questions from their children. Notice what the Lord said with regard to the stone memorial at the place where the Israelites crossed the Jordan river:

He said to the sons of Israel, ‘When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the Lord your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever” (Joshua 4:21-24).

Children are naturally curious; they ask questions. This provides parents with a golden opportunity to teach the foundations of faith, just as it would provide an opportunity for the Israelites to teach their children about the miracle of God that allowed them to cross into the promised land. Of course, to be able to take advantage of these opportunities, parents must know the truth for themselves. This will require diligent study of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:15). But we must remember that children will not automatically know the truth just because their parents do. Though Joshua’s generation was faithful to the Lord, the next generation “did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals” (Judges 2:10-11). Parents must diligently teach their children so that they can know the truth for themselves.

If parents are to pass down their faith, they must have the primary goal of leading their children to Christ. This is done by teaching them the Scriptures. Paul explained how Timothy’s mother and grandmother were able to pass their faith on to him:

And that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).

Education and learning life skills are important. But as parents teach their children these things, they need to remember what is most important – salvation. One does not need to know how to do algebra, iron clothes, or change the oil in a car to go to heaven. But one does need to know the word of God if they hope to be saved from their sins (Romans 1:16; James 1:21). Therefore, from childhood, parents must teach the word of God to their children.

Of course, even if parents work diligently to pass down their faith, there is no guarantee that the children will be faithful (cf. Ezekiel 18:9-10). Everyone has free will. Children, as they grow up, will choose for themselves whether they will follow the Lord or not. But the best way for children to be led to Christ is for their parents to pass down their faith to them.

How Parents Can Pass Down Their Faith

The most obvious way that parents can pass down their faith is to teach their children the truth, as we have already seen in various passages (Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:6-7; 2 Timothy 3:15). The word of God is truth (John 17:17; Psalm 119:160), and “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

How are parents to teach the truth so as to pass down their faith to their children? First, them must teach them the plan of salvation so that, when the children are old enough, they know what one must do to become a Christian. To obey the gospel and become a child of God, one must:

  • Believe that Jesus is the Christ – “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24; cf. Romans 5:1; Hebrews 11:6).
  • Repent of one’s sins – “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5; cf. Luke 24:47; Acts 17:30).
  • Confess one’s faith in Christ – “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:9-10; cf. Acts 8:37).
  • Be baptized into Christ – “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38; cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21).

In addition to teaching God’s plan of salvation, parents must also teach their children not only what we teach, believe, and practice in religion, but also the reasons why. It is important that parents teach their children the right reasons so as to lay a foundation that will lead to faithfulness when they are grown. If parents teach the wrong reasons (either explicitly or implicitly), it could be spiritually damaging in the end.

First, let us consider some wrong reasons for doing what we do in service to God:

  • It is a tradition – Often people will hold to religious practices and doctrines because they grew up with them. But we should not do anything simply because we have always done it that way. Some traditions – the ones given to us in the word of God (2 Thessalonians 2:15) – must be kept, not because of mere tradition, but because they are right. Some traditions are contrary to the word of God and must be rejected (Matthew 15:3-6). Other traditions are harmless – neither commanded nor condemned – but must never be bound upon others (Matthew 15:1-2). Our standard must be truth, not tradition.
  • It is our preference – Many people will simply follow their conscience, believing that there are many paths that lead to heaven. But the wise man warned: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Jesus is the only way to heaven (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). He promises to save those who “obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). Our prayer should be that God’s will be done (Matthew 6:10) rather than selfishly seeking our own desires. Our standard must be God’s preference, not our preference.
  • Others are doing it – One of the reasons why Israel rejected God and asked for a king was so that they could “be like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:20). This desire to be like the world has plagued God’s people throughout history. But we are to be different. Paul wrote, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Our standard must be the word, not the world.
  • Other churches of Christ are doing it – The church belongs to Christ (Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28; Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23-24). Paul called the local churches with which he associated, “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16). However, we should not think that just because a congregation wears the name “church of Christ” that they are sound and should be emulated. This is a denominational concept. Wearing a name alone does not save. The church in Sardis had “a name that [they were] alive, but [they were] dead” (Revelation 3:1). Many “churches of Christ” teach and practice things that are foreign to the New Testament. Our standard must be the head of the church, not fallible humans in the church.

In contrast, let us now notice the right reasons for doing what we do:

  • It is commanded – Jesus possesses “all authority” (Matthew 28:18). Therefore, we must “observe all that [He] commanded” (Matthew 28:20). This does not just include the words He spoke while on earth that are recorded in the first four books of the New Testament. It includes all that is commanded to us in the New Testament. Paul said, “The things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Corinthians 14:37; cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:2; 2 Peter 3:2).
  • It is authorized – Paul said, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). To do something “in the name of the Lord” is to do it by His authority. It is not enough for us to do whatever we choose and then claim that it is for the Lord. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23). It is not enough to simply believe in Jesus and be religious. We must respect Him enough to do what He has authorized us to do.
  • It is expedient – When we think about expedients, we must understand that something must first be authorized before it can be claimed to be expedient. Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient” (1 Corinthians 10:23, KJV). Once we understand what has been commanded of us and what is authorized, we can then look to determine the most helpful/profitable way of doing what is commanded and authorized. We should not allow tradition to hinder us from engaging in better ways of doing things. On the other hand, we must be careful that those “better” ways that we call “expedients” do not go beyond what has been authorized in God’s word.

All of the points above can be summarized in this statement: We must follow the word of God in all things.To the law and to the testimony!” (Isaiah 8:20). The Scriptures are our standard and we must diligently follow what they teach. Children must be taught the importance of following this perfect standard.

In order to pass down their faith, parents must also display a genuine faith. Paul noted the “sincere faith” of Timothy that was first in his grandmother and mother (2 Timothy 1:5). Parents cannot act as hypocrites and expect their children to follow the truth. Eventually, children will see through the act. Hypocrisy often discourages others – even children – from being faithful to the Lord (cf. Matthew 23:13; Galatians 2:11-13). Parents will be judged for this (Matthew 18:6). If parents want to pass down their faith, they must have a genuine faith, not a hypocritical faith.

It is also important that children see in the lives of their parents that being a Christian is a life of joy and liberty. One of the characteristics of the kingdom of God is joy (Romans 14:17). Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Paul said, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17). The thought of liberty is certainly appealing. However, this liberty does not mean we are free to do as we please and pursue things like recreation and entertainment in the name of religion. We must still “do all in the name of the Lord” (Colossians 3:17). But we are free from sin (Romans 6:18) and from any obligation to follow the commandments of men (Colossians 2:20-23). This should cause us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4), even in bad circumstances. Paul said, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Despite his difficult circumstances, Paul was able to look past his present situation to his hope in heaven. Parents must do the same if they are to pass down their faith to their children. The way of truth will not seem appealing if it appears to be miserable.

The Age of Accountability

When we think about parents passing down their faith to their children, it is important to also consider the “age of accountability.” This term is not used in Scripture, but the concept is. Since children are not born in sin (Ezekiel 18:20) and we obey the gospel to be saved from our own sins (Acts 22:16), then there comes a time when children will reach an “age of accountability” – the age in which they have sinned against God and are, therefore, in need of salvation. The age in which one is ready to obey the gospel will be different for each individual. So let us consider a couple of factors that will help us determine when a child reaches the “age of accountability.”

First, they must know the truth for themselves. When Philip preached to the Ethiopian eunuch, the eunuch asked him, “What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:35-36). Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may” (Acts 8:37). Obviously this man was not a child. But this clearly shows that belief is a prerequisite to baptism. One must have the mental capability to believe and confess before he can be accountable, since these are both conditions of salvation (Romans 10:9-10). When children begin their lives, they are unable to “refuse evil and choose good” (Isaiah 7:16). They must know the difference between right and wrong for themselves.

Second, they must be able to appreciate the nature of the commitment. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). When one obeys the gospel, he is making a serious commitment to the Lord. Children must be mature enough to appreciate that commitment. It is not about just being baptized, being able to take the Lord’s Supper, or anything like that; it is about becoming a disciple. Jesus told His apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). They must understand for themselves what it means to be a disciple.

Conclusion

Each of the preceding lessons in this series points to the raising of children to be Christians as the goal. Children are a gift from God; therefore, parents must value them and strive to raise them according to God’s standard. Parents must, as much as lies within them, form homes after God’s pattern because this is the ideal place for children to be raised. Parents are to be good role models for their children so they can teach them by their godly example. Parents must also instruct and discipline their children so they can learn the truth and learn that there are consequences for doing what is wrong. Since we live in a wicked world, parents need to strive to guard their children from evil influences. All of this is to lead to one goal – their children becoming children of God.

Parenting is not an easy task. It requires work and sacrifice. But understanding the value of their children, parents must willingly do what is necessary to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).


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Comments

  1. Great post with helpful advice. It reminds me of a quote from a new book I’m reading which says, “Instructing your children in the Lord means spending time with them so they can see how you live out the gospel.” This is from a great new book by Dr. Tony Evans called “Raising Kingdom Kids.” He also says, “It’s far easier to SHAPE A CHILD than to REPAIR AN ADULT. Raising kids who recognize and retain their identity as children of the King launches healthy adults who have the capacity to stand strong in their faith.” There are free downloadable samples on his website. I think you might enjoy it. I highly recommend it!