Generational Faith

Faith is a foundational part of the life of anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ; on that there is little disagreement. The differences among professing believers comes down to defining what faith is, who has it, and how it is obtained. On those issues, there is much disagreement; I would note, however, that the disagreements come not because of what the Scriptures say, but because of what men want to believe about it. The sad fact is, many men and religious organizations differ from even what the Scriptures clearly teach, and it is only because they seek to prop up a false concept, a false doctrine, or to retain the power and authority over others that they never should have had in the first place.

      But on the point of how faith is obtained, there is much disagreement — even amongst religions other than Christianity. One Jewish writer said this: “Our job is not to have faith. We have faith already, whether we want it or not. It comes in our blood from our ancestors, who gave their lives for it.” [Tzvi Freeman;] Another writer noted how Hindus in India seek to prohibit the practice of converting individuals to religions other than what they were raised [curiously, they seek to ban only conversions to religions other than Hinduism] because they see faith as something they inherit and should not be changed. One man, writing about his growth in understanding the Scriptures, said, “…just as assuredly as I inherited the color of my skin, my eye color and the rest of my physicals features, I inherited my faith.” [Dr. Gary Sorrells, “Inherited Faith, My Bible, My Future.”] He admits, though, that it is more correctly stated as something passed down to him from his ancestors by teaching and practice, rather than through DNA.

      Faith is something that can be passed down from one generation to the next, and that is not necessarily a bad thing; it is bad only if the faith passed down is faith in something other than the word of God. Passing down false doctrines and human traditions, as if they equate to or supersede the faith that is based on the knowledge of and conviction by the word of God, is not a good thing. If someone passes down the truth to the next generation, however, that is something that should be applauded and emulated!

      The apostle Paul was thankful, in fact, that Timothy had been on the receiving end of such a faith. He wrote to Timothy, revealing that he thanked God unceasingly for Timothy, and “I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine 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 Tim. 1:3-5). That is three generations of faith of which Paul writes, and it was the real thing!

      He would later admonish Timothy to “continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14, 15). What he had been taught by his mother and grandmother was the word of God — not creeds and human traditions; that is why Paul said his faith was genuine.

      This points to the importance of parents who are Christians teaching their children God’s word! Far too many Christians who are parents apparently think their children will “just know” the Bible and will without a doubt become Christians somehow, even though they have not taught them the very things necessary for conviction of the truth and belief in Jesus as the Christ. It was this same failure among the Israelites that made it possible to eventually be said, “another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel” (Jdgs. 2:10). Though God had clearly commanded the parents teach their children diligently about God and His work and ways (Deut. 4:9, 10; Deut. 6:6-9), they obviously had not done that, and generations afterward would suffer for their failure to teach their children about God and His ways. Let us not follow their same poor example. Parents, teach your children to know God and His ways! Fathers, in particular, have been given the solemn charge to “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4); let’s do that!

      Now, while it is extremely important that parents teach their children so the faith may be passed on to the next generation, let us not think we cannot do the same with those who are not our own children! The apostle Paul considered Timothy to be “a true son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2), and Titus was considered likewise (Titus 1:4). Many commentators say this affection for Timothy seems to indicate Paul was somehow involved in the conversion of Timothy, or at least seen as a ‘father figure’ in the faith, and the texts seem to bear this out. Though Paul was not married, and though he had no children of his own, that did not prevent or hinder him from contributing to work necessary to ensure there is a “next generation” of believers, and it did not hinder him from building up the next generation of believers.

      His influence on another generation of believers is evident in the example of Timothy, for Paul obviously taught him much about the faith and other things he needed to know as a young evangelist. Regarding that instruction Paul had given Timothy, Paul then charged him, saying, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Did you catch that? Paul is exhorting Timothy to be the one who plants the seed for the “next generation” of believers, so they might then do the same for the next generation! I cannot ever reference this passage without noting there are four generations of believers in that one verse! Do you see how important it is to pass on the faith to the “next generation”? If we do not, there will not be a “next generation”!

      One does not have to be a parent with children of their own flesh and blood to be involved in passing down a generational faith; all you have to do is care enough for souls and for those new in the faith. Take the time to teach someone, encourage and edify someone, and lead them by word and deed down the path of faith that leads to eternal life and to eternity. Be a positive example, and be a positive teacher — one who will encourage and exhort others to do more and seek more that they might grow and grow strong in the Lord. As was the case with the apostle Paul, you will be thanking the Lord unceasingly for them when you see the results. As is often the case with our flesh-and-blood children, it may sometimes be challenging and difficult, but it is always worth it.

            I am sure we have all heard about “third-generation Christians” [ones who are the third generation of Christians within their physical family] and the dangers of becoming complacent. Let us also be diligent to teach every succeeding generation about God and His ways, and let us always be an example to them of what it means to serve the Lord faithfully. Let them see a genuine love for God and our fellow man in us; let them see a genuine faith, too. But, better yet, let them hear it from our mouths, too. Don’t let the faith end with you.      — Steven Harper