(4)“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (5) You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (6) And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. (7) You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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.”
I found this blog post the other day after Todd Friel mentioned it on the Wretched Radio broadcast I was listening to. As I read it, I thought that he made some spot on points, and I cannot tell you how seriously I wish we as evangelicals would take a hard look at what is said in this post and repent and turn back to preaching the Word and explicitly preaching the gospel well. This is the quote I pulled out from the blog post when I linked to it to share with my Facebook friends this week: “I love the church, and I want to see American evangelicalism return to the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins; not just as something on our ‘what we believe’ page on our website, but as the core of what we preach from our pulpits to our children, our youth, and our adults.” I encourage you to read and prayerfully consider what is said in that blog post, and as I said earlier this week when I shared it on Facebook, I find all the points spot on, but I especially highlight #9, #7, #3, and #2, and his final warning is stern and necessary, in my opinion.
I think one reason I find this blog post so important is that I grew up in the evangelical subculture atmosphere he describes here. There, but for the grace of God, go I. And I mean that emphatically, I’m not just spouting a cliché. It is only by God’s grace that I am not one of those statistics who leave the church. I look back over my testimony, and I see that it is only by God’s grace that the faith become my faith rather than just something that was taught to me that I never caught. And friends, that’s the bottom line isn’t it? If these kids are walking away from the faith, oughtn’t our true concern be that they never had the faith to begin with? And that is tragic and cause for concern. I have been doing a lot of reading and thinking along these lines, and I believe one thing we in the evangelical churches in which I have been steeped have not done a good job with is being explicit with the gospel. (I recommend The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler, and I’m currently reading Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by J.D. Greear.) We assume it, but we do not adequately spell out the cost and necessity of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. We spout out our shorthand jargon about ‘asking Jesus into your heart’ and about how life with Jesus is just better, but we don’t explain this well at all, and we do NOT do a good enough job of truly teaching what repentance is, how wretchedly sinful each and every one of is and how desperately we need to repent. I know because as I listened to Todd Friel one afternoon on the Wretched program as he talked to a professing Christian college student and asked him to explain why he should become a Christian, this poor kid gave a very confused answer about asking Jesus into your heart and how life is better with Jesus. And I sat in my kitchen floor and wept, because I realized that had someone asked me that question at that age, I would have been just as confused about how to share the gospel with someone. I believed in Jesus, I loved Him, I believe He had truly saved me, but it wasn’t until I was in my late 30’s or early 40’s that I began to understand that the way I’d been taught to share my faith wasn’t right, it wasn’t clear enough. What people need isn’t to ‘ask Jesus into their heart’ without an adequate foundation of repentance laid or to have a better life. They need to recognize that there is a Creator, He is God, we have sinned and broken His law and are under His wrath and are desperately separated from Him because of that sin, we are sinners, but while we were yet sinners He sent His Son, Jesus, to take the wrath that we deserve, He took our sin and suffered the penalty we deserve when He died on the cross and He rose again. The debt is paid, and what we must do is recognize we are sinners, and that God commands that we repent of our sin and submit to and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. And He is gracious and merciful so that those who repent and believe are granted the right to become the children of God, our sins are forgiven on the basis of what Jesus has done on our behalf. THAT is the gospel. Anything less, and we are not lifting Jesus high enough or telling people what they desperately need to hear.
But back to the blog post I mentioned at the top. As I said, I agree with all the points he makes in that article, and I think it is a vitally needed warning in the evangelical church today. Critically needed. But, there is something crucial that is missing from those points, I think. As important as the local church is in discipling and shaping people, and it is, don’t mishear me! Also critically important is the home. What was modeled for kids in their home? That isn’t discussed in the blog post, but I believe it has much bearing on how the faith is passed on to the next generation and is also a critically needed factor. We can’t just drop our kids off at the church and assume our duty for spiritual training is done. The church can, should, and must come alongside parents and provide discipleship and solid teaching, but parents must be diligent to teach the faith to their children and model it and teach it as we walk along the way day in and day out. If we parents are satisfied with the shallow teaching hinted at in that blog post and in these types of churches, are we really growing and learning what we need to be able to adequately train our children? I'm not saying that every kid that walks away didn't have parents who modeled it in the home. We are saved by God's grace. But it is an important factor to look at. This is a deeper issue than we at first see in the post.
Something I count as a grace in my life is that though I came of age surrounded by things that are on that list, one thing in my life that stands out and which I believe God used to spare me and shape me and mold me and steer me through was the fact that my parents deeply believed and trusted God’s Word and loved Jesus truly. What I mean is that I had an example in them that I think is probably the most important thing I saw growing up. Let me explain.
Christianity, faith, church were not something we did when we felt like it or just on Sunday. Talking about Jesus and what we were learning from His word were part of the warp and woof of my life growing up. It never would have even occurred to me to ask if we were going to church on a given Sunday. We went to church, that’s just what we did on Sunday, it wasn’t something we did when we felt like it and it wasn't trumped by other things when we didn’t. We didn’t join sporting events or other things that required us to consistently miss Sunday church. We didn’t choose to stay home for other things. We didn’t fritter away the morning on Sunday news programs. We knew, when Sunday morning dawned, if we were not sick, we got up and got ready for church. This wasn’t from a spirit of legalism, as I have heard people assume of people like us. No, we went because we didn’t want to be anywhere else. We wanted to be with God’s people on the Lord’s Day - even when there were times we were frustrated with our local church. It was what we did and who we were. I hear people talk about being dragged to church when they were kids. I never felt that way. I didn’t resent Sundays or Wednesdays or other times when we met together. I wanted to be there with my church family. And that is something I caught from home.
I don’t remember more than a handful of times of formal, sit-down family devotions growing up. But what I do remember, more than I can count, were conversations around the dinner table, answers to questions I posed, discussions in the car and in the house during the day or evening or just all the time that centered around what my parents were learning and thinking about the Bible. As they learned and grew, we kids benefitted because it mattered to them and they talked about it. A lot. We had theological discussions often. They talked about what they were caring about and thinking about. And it shaped my thinking as I grew up.
When I had questions, when I came home from school and didn’t know how to process things I’d heard, or when I was broken hearted or hurting, or when I was full of joy, in everything, my mom and dad talked with me and helped me to understand how to process things biblically. This was a way of life for us. We ordered our life around these things, not always formally, it just was who we were. Because it was what mattered to my parents, it was what they really believed and what shaped their lives, I learned to see the Bible as trustworthy and I learned to trust Jesus at a young age and grew in understanding, by His grace.
My parents aren’t perfect people. I am not putting them up on some pedestal here. What they are, though, is disciples of Jesus. What I saw growing up was that they loved Him and loved His word, and in the imperfections of daily life, I saw that shine through as a consistency. For that I am grateful. I am convinced that is a grace given to me by God, to have had the kind of training that stems from talking of these things as we walked along the way of daily life.
And that is something I hope to model and pass on to my children. My husband and I aren’t involved in our local church out of a spirit of legalism. We just see it as important and it is where we want to be. We don’t choose to do things that conflict with Sunday, because we WANT to be with God’s people on the Lord’s Day. I don’t read my Bible every day because I feel some legalistic burden to check off a duty. I read it because I want to grow close to God, and it is through His word that He speaks. I read it because I want to know it and apply it because I love Jesus, and the longer I walk with Him, the more I recognize how desperately I need Him and want to love Him more, and how grateful I am that He has kept me in the faith.
So, as important as the warnings in that blog post are, and I think they are very important, may I add the encouragement that parents who truly believe Jesus and have repented and are learning daily to understand and live in the light of the gospel will talk to their children as they walk along the way, and that is a vital investment to make in the lives of our children. It is so important for them to see that the faith is true and vital and life-changing, not just something we ‘do’ on Sunday when we feel like it, and not just legalistic boxes we check off before we get back to ‘real life’ and not something that we allow things of the world to choke out. When something is important to you, you will talk about it. I am not saying that when a child walks away it is the parents' fault. What I am saying is that it is important to live out what we believe and live it 'out loud' and be talking about these things as the warp and woof of life. Let your kids know it is true and it matters and it is relevant to all of life. When my kids have questions, I want to answer them faithfully. We talk about important things. What our children see as important to us, they will notice, and my fervent prayer is that by God’s grace they will grow to become faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Whatever else they may say about us, my true desire is that they will never doubt that I firmly believed that Jesus is Lord, and that my steps and words were ordered in such a way that they matched my confession, and that it shaped the life we lived here at home, not just on Sunday, but EVERY day.