Teaching the Faith to Our Children
The following article first appeared in the Fall 2008 issue of SALT Magazine.
TEACHING THE FAITH TO OUR CHILDREN
By James McDermott
The most important thing we do as parents is teaching the faith to our children. Sometimes in the business of our lives we can lose sight of the forest for the trees. We are so busy making money, running errands, going to the store, paying the bills, going to the doctor, homeschooling, changing diapers, making meals, cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, maintaining the house, doing the laundry, and getting ready for holidays that we forget that all that we do has a higher purpose. Yes, it is necessary for our children that we do all these things, but it is far more necessary for our children that we teach them the faith. And it can easily be the case that the most important thing is neglected because of things that seem to us to be more urgent. The Bible says, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mat. 6:31-34) This is just as true for our children as it is for us, so we should make the things of God a higher priority for them than their education, their chores, their play, or anything else.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GOD'S WORD
As a boy I was never told to read my Bible every day. I was given a Bible - so my parents did provide me an opportunity to read God’s Word if I felt so inclined - and I was instructed well in the basics of the Christian faith, but I was never told how important it was to read the Scriptures every day.
Why is it so important for my children to read their Bibles every day? Because, as Paul says, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” God’s means of saving our children and everyone else, for that matter, is by bringing them to faith through His Word. Why do we act as though a little of God’s Word is all our children need? We tell them the Gospel, read them Bible story books, and attend church functions, but we act as though asking them to read a few chapters of their Bibles every day is burdensome and too much to ask. If God’s Word is the means by which my children will be saved, I don’t want my children to get a few drops on their tongues every few days. I want my children to bathe in God’s Word to give the Holy Spirit ample opportunity to work on my child’s heart.
And the Scriptures do more than just save us, they are indispensable to the life we are called to live after we come to faith. Paul writes, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:14-16) The Scriptures also say, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb. 4:12-3)
It is more important that our children read God’s Word than it is for them to brush their teeth, wash their bodies, or to comb their hair. Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mat. 4:4) Do our children read the entire Bible? If they live on “every word that comes from the mouth of God,” shouldn’t they?
Cindy and I have been parents for over 22 years and God has blessed us with 12 children. I know I have not been a perfect parent. But if there was one thing I think Cindy and I did right with our children it was making it a habit for them to read their Bibles every day so that they would read through their Bibles once every year. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit worked on the hearts of my children and made them better people than they should have been based on my flawed parenting. I am reminded of the verse in Isaiah who writes, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
If you want to teach your children the faith, make it your ambition to bathe your children daily in God’s Word. Telling them about spiritual things is good, but only telling them is inefficient and it’s not enough. They need one on one time with God at least as much as you do.
TEACH THEM DOCTRINE AND PRACTICE
There is a lot of false teaching out there and our children start out almost totally ignorant. We have much more knowledge and wisdom than our young children, so we need to help them understand the basic principles of the faith and how to apply those principles to everyday life. If our child’s knowledge and understanding are lacking, he is much more likely to be swayed by false teachers and false doctrine. The Ethiopian eunuch was reading God’s Word, but he didn’t understand it until Philip came alongside him and explained it to him. We need to come alongside our children and explain the Scriptures to them.
If a parent feels he is not up to the task, he probably needs to study more himself. We cannot pass on to our children what we don’t have to give. Every parent should be able to explain the doctrines and life principles found in the Bible to his children.
At our house, we use our nightly family devotion time as well as our normal conversations to talk about doctrine and the Christian life. If we parents are truly in the faith, the Faith, the Word, and how they apply to our lives should be things we regularly talk about. Jesus said, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks..” (Mat. 12:34b) If we parents rarely talk about the things of God with our children, what does that say about our hearts? If the things of God don’t interest us enough to talk about them, doesn’t that send a bad message to our children? Since God is our first love and appreciating Him and pleasing Him are the most important things in our lives, shouldn’t our children be able to pick up on this in our every day conversation? Indeed, God commands us to teach the Word of God to our children. He says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deut. 6:6-9)
If I were able to start over again, I would have taught more doctrine and taught it earlier so that our children were prepared ahead of time for what they encountered. Compared with most I think our children got fairly good teaching at home, but I don’t think it was as comprehensive - especially on the doctrine side - as it should have been. We were reactive - dealing with doctrinal issues as they came up - instead of proactive. We need to improve in this area ourselves. Eventually, our children will run into Christians with different beliefs about things, and, even worse, into members of cults that falsely represent themselves as Christians. They need to be taught in advance the teachings and Christian practices they might encounter.
Like homeschooling, there are an infinite number of ways to teach our children. You may prefer a formal curriculum produced by others or you may rather teach them yourselves without a formal curriculum. Everyone’s situation and abilities are different, so what may work for one may not work as well for another. But as parents, we must take responsibility for teaching our children the faith and making God’s Word the cornerstone of our children’s education.
TEACH THEM BY EXAMPLE
Finally, we must live the faith we profess, the doctrine we teach, and the sanctified life we espouse. If we set a good example for our children, a little good teaching will go a long way. If we set a poor example for our children, a lot of good teaching can be ruined. Paul writes, “You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’ ” (Rom. 2:23-24) And God’s name will be blasphemed among our children too if we teach our children the Gospel and then live a life that is contrary to it.
All of us can be better than what we are. All of us could appreciate more God’s love for us. We could all appreciate more what Christ did for us on the cross. We could all trust in God more fully and be more joyful at the very great promises we have for the future. We could all live a more holy and sanctified life. I understand that we are dragged down by our sinful natures until we receive glorified bodies and I understand that we can never be good enough to save ourselves or our children. But we must understand, as Paul did, that God can use us to bring salvation to others. Paul wrote, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” We may not be able to save our children, but we may, indeed, be a stumbling block if our lives are not consistent with our words.
One of the most sobering verses in the New Testament is a reminder that God will judge the quality of our work. And our work as parents will be for many the most eternally significant work they ever do. Paul writes, “Each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man build on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Cor. 3:10-15)
We parents do not want to escape with our own souls and lose all our children because we built with wood, straw, and hay. I know I have been a bit complacent and have renewed my commitment to preach, teach, and live the Gospel for the sake of our children. I hope and pray that all Christian parents can renew our commitments and build our spiritual house with gold, silver, and costly stones.
And for those who are already reaping the consequences of poor parenting, you must not be discouraged or lose heart. As long as there is life in your children and Christ has not returned there is hope. God does take people who have sinned greatly and make their lives incredibly productive. Just look at the lives of Paul, Mary Magdalene, Zacchaeus, and so many others throughout history. Don’t worry about how much time has been wasted or how little time you may think you have left. Don’t allow Satan to deceive you into thinking it is too late for you. Remember Paul’s words, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14)
©2008 SALT Magazine, 2131 W. Republic Rd. #177, Springfield, MO 65807, www. saltmagazine.com