Romans 8:28

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, NRSV).

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy.

WE CANNOT UNDERTAKE ANALYSIS of a Scripture passage without saying something about exegesis.  This process amounts to careful historical, literary, and theological analysis of a text. Exegesis has been called by some as scholarly reading, which means reading in a way that determines the essence of the text through the most complete, systematic notation possible, examining the phenomena of the text and grappling with the reasons that speak for or against a specific understanding of it. Another appropriate description of exegesis is “close reading,” a term borrowed from literature. Close reading means the deliberate, word-by-word or phrase-by-phrase consideration of all parts of a text in order to understand it as a whole.

I find several biblical commentaries to be helpful in unpacking the exegetical meaning of Scripture. In particular, I speak highly of Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, edited by Tremper  Longman and David E. Garland,  and Zondervan Bible Commentary, edited by F.F. Bruce. I also frequently use The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV), and The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, translated by Alfred Marshall. I often refer to the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Daniel J. Treier and Walter Elwell. Reference texts like these can be quite useful when examining a passage of Scripture.

Exposition

Paul introduces yet another benefit of life in the Spirit. He writes, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, NRSV). Some of the ancient authorities read, God makes all things work together for good, or in all things God works for good. Matthew Henry writes, “That is good for the saints which does their souls good. Every providence tends to the spiritual good of those that love God” (1). Henry believes this passage means God uses all circumstances to aid in breaking us off from sin, bringing us nearer to Him, weaning us from the world. He adds, “When the saints act out of character, corrections will be employed to bring them back again” (2). Romans 8:28 brings comfort, direction, and hope to Christians every day. 

This verse contains a promise for believers. Paul is telling us that those of us who love God and are doing our best to obey his commands will come out on top even when bad or wicking things touch our lives. God will always use whatever happens to His chosen to ultimately bring about good. There is obviously nothing good about cancer, sex trafficking, addiction, or death. Such evils exist in the world, and will remain so until Jesus returns to conquer Satan and restore creation to its intended purpose. Romans 8:28 serves to remind us that although sin and Satan are powerful forces on earth , God is more powerful. He is able to redeem and restore any situation, and He will continue to do so until Christ returns in all His glory.

It is not likely Paul literally meant “all things.” This would be rather general, including any and all situations anywhere and everywhere on earth no matter who is involved or affected. He is instead referring specifically to those things that are generally considered adverse and are turned around and used for good; i.e., for accomplishing God’s will for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. This fits nicely with Romans 5:3-5: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” Indeed, no matter what we face God is there, working all things out in such a manner that it will ultimately bring about His will for us.

Certainly, we don’t like to fall victim to adverse circumstances. We want God to rescue us from bad situations. Why should a pastor and his family die in a head-on car crash with a drunk driver? Why did Nabeel Qureshi, after converting from Islam to Christianity and joining Ravi Zacharias in a global effort of evangelism and apologetics, die of stomach cancer? Why are churches wiped off the face of the earth by tornadoes? Perhaps the answer is hidden in a remark a Christian said to me nearly two years ago when I was still struggling in active addiction and facing some serious challenges. He said, “God wants you to know that everything you’ve gone through from the time of your birth to this moment right now was ordained by Him to help make you into the man He needs you to be in order to fulfill His purpose.” Whoa! That’s pretty heavy.

Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.” This is a companion verse to the promise in verse 28. God allows everything into our lives for one of two purposes—either to bring us into a relationship with Himself or, if we already know Him, to make us more like Jesus Christ.

Some biblical scholars consider Romans 8:28-29 the “the golden chain of salvation.” It is important to read Romans 8 to the end. Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” God did not spare His only Son; rather, He sent Christ to be a propitiation for our sins. Jesus paid the wages of sin and destroyed Satan’s authority over the believer. Paul said, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?” This verse can be interpreted as saying, Shall Christ who has died so that we might live thereafter condemn us? Or, by inference, does Jesus bring about calamity in our lives? Does He put a snare before us that prevents our circumstances from turning out for good in the end? No! Instead, Jesus is constantly interceding on our behalf before the Father (8:34).

The Hidden Will of God

The hidden will of God (His decretive will) includes all He has ordained through every event in history, including the thoughts and hidden intentions of every person. It is critical to realize that, although God works out everything according to the counsel of His sovereign will (see Eph. 1:11), not everything God ordains in His hidden will is pleasing to Him. God’s decretive will is defined as the sovereign, efficacious will by which He brings to pass whatever He pleases by His divine decree. God’s decretive will can have no other effect or consequence than what He commands. He did not request the light to shine in the universe. Neither did He coax, cajole, or woo it into existence. It was a matter of His absolute authority and power through decree. No creature, including man, enjoys this power of will.

As finite beings, we cannot know  or comprehend the hidden will of God. We can only look back in history and know only part of what God’s hidden will was for any particular situation. God’s decretive will always come to pass. Whatever happens has been ordained by God to bring about His sovereign will. As Christians, we are not permitted to know (nor should we seek to know) the hidden will of God. Instead, we must live by what has been revealed in Scripture, trusting that regardless of the circumstances God will bring about good. Rather than causing anxiety about what will happen, we need to take comfort in Paul’s words. Because Christ intercedes on our behalf in every instance, we can enjoy true shalom. God protects us from annihilation no matter what happens in our daily lives (Phil. 4:6-8).

Believers can also rest in the knowledge that God is and will always be as He has revealed Himself in His Word. He is unchanging (Heb. 13:5-6). Christ alone is sufficient for meeting our every need (Phil. 4:13). He is our Rock of Refuge (Psa. 18:2); our very present helper in time of need (Psa. 46:1). God’s hidden will is never meant to be punitive; rather, it testifies to His infinite goodness, mercy, and grace. We can rest in the knowledge that God’s communicable attributes—wisdom, goodness, love, mercy, holiness, righteousness, and justice—are at the root of His will for us and his love for all mankind. God always exercises His power according to His wisdom and knowledge. He sees all time at the same time, allowing Him to know what happened, what is happening now, and what will happen in the future all at once! His wisdom and knowledge are inseparable from His goodness, love, and mercy. He is good toward all He has made. His attributes are identical with His essence.

Martin Luther expounded upon Romans 8:28 in his Commentary on Romans. He wrote, “We must not be surprised that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, since He works together with God’s saints in all they do… He works together with us all things” (3). Luther remarked that God makes all things work for good even though they are evil (in themselves, e.g., sickness, persecution, etc.). There is an underlying suggestion in this Scripture passage that such predestination for good does not apply to those who walk in the wisdom of the flesh and are not called according to the purpose of God. Luther notes that Paul’s use of purpose in Romans 8 means God’s predestination, or His free election, to use whatever happens to further His will.

Regarding Predestination in Romans 8:29

It is critical that we understand the scope of predestination as it is used in this passage. There is much debate between the early Reformers as to whether God chooses to save “only a certain person or persons,” thereby condemning all others to damnation. I believe God preordained the redemptive plan, not who will live and who will die. In any event, “predestination” in Romans 8:29 has a broader scope than identifying those who will receive salvation. The backdrop is “adoption.” It refers to our sharing in the suffering of Christ, and our ongoing sanctification. As we shared in His suffering and death, so also shall we share in His resurrection and new life. As children of the Father, and brothers and sisters of the Son, we enjoy the benefit of God’s will working through whatever circumstance we might face.

Accordingly, Paul assures us that we are more than conquerors through Christ who strengthens us. Therefore, neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (8:38-39). God works everything God for good for those who love him, and who are called according to his purpose. Praise God!

(1) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nahsville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1080.

(2) Henry, 1080.

(3) Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, J. Theodore Mueller, editor (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954).

 

Why Can’t I Follow My Heart?

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45, RSV).

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

LATELY, I HAVE BEEN obsessed with whether I have a heart for God. It is a critical question for all of us. Unbelievably, there are many Christians in the church today who don’t question their heart. An assumption is made: “I go to church. I believe in God. I trust in Jesus Christ. I’m saved so I’m good.” There is a huge danger to having this illogical thought. Whenever we assume anything when it comes to our salvation or our theology, we risk loosing our way. It’s as if we’ve decided to “think” of ourselves as “Christian,” and then walked out the door to go about our lives.

This thought started pestering me in 2009 when my sponsor in a 12-step program told me, “You need to get God out of your head and into your heart.” I was puzzled. It made absolutely no sense. But I’m “saved,” I thought. How can God not be in my heart? When I became a young Christian at thirteen, I was told that Jesus had “come into my heart.” So if He did this, then He must still be there, right? I was later told by my then-current pastor in 2011, “I don’t think you have a heart for God.” Whoa, what? Rather than see a pattern, I became defensive. I was so mortified that I cannot remember the rest of the conversation. It’s as if I decided on the spot that my pastor was wrong. He wasn’t!

What it Means

What does it mean to have God in our hearts? It is important that we know and understand this if we hope to grow in Christ. First, to grow in Him involves allowing Him in us; but this means to allow Him to become greater while we become less. Yeah, I know; that sounds ridiculous, right? Why would we think less of ourselves? It is a matter of humility. Something I have never come to naturally. I am one of those who, for whatever the reason, has to build myself up. Make myself worth something. In doing so, I have led a life of duplicity. Lacking the power to overcome, and the “armor” with which to protect myself, I chose to lie about my feelings of inadequacy. I hid my failures. I permitted life-limiting habits to rule over me. The moment I did that, I chose to live the life of a hypocrite. 

If we’re going to live according to a Christian worldview, we must decide to surrender all of our heart and let God have access to every room in our “house.” This should be an exciting proposition because something greater is coming. It presents us with the opportunity to “clean” our house. Jesus warns us, however, that if we clean house (ask Jesus to come into our heart), but let the rooms remain empty, we are putting ourselves at great risk. Matthew wrote in his Gospel that Jesus said, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house” (Matt. 12:28-29). Jesus then adds, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and brings with him seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. So shall it be also with this evil generation” (Matt. 12:43-45).

Can you imagine someone choosing a life of failure on purpose? Does that make any sense at all? What could possibly be at the root of deciding, time after time, to fail? To make choices that risk your life, your health, or your career? That destroys marriages and breaks the hearts of everyone in your family? That costs you countless tens-of-thousands of dollars in lost income and other financial losses? That shuts you off from the very God you claim to love and worship? Why would a “Christian” who is born-again and has invited God into his heart willfully disobey the God he loves? Why choose to be cut off from the Sunlight of the Spirit, going it alone? Why would a theist, especially a Bible-believing Christian, risk (or maybe unconsciously choose) to spend eternity in Hell? The answer to these questions is both complex and simple. Complex because we make it so; simple because the Word of God is clear about why. These were difficult questions to ask myself, but I could no longer put off asking them.

Where Your Treasure Is

I am sure most Christians have heard Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” One reason I rejected the comments of my sponsor and my pastor is because I did not think about this verse for one second. I responded intellectually and pridefully, taking “offense” rather than advice. A huge part of my reaction had to do with a complete lack of humility. I was clueless how prideful I was being. Humility, after all, does not mean thinking less of ourselves; it means thinking of ourselves less often. Throw in a pinch of IQ and an ounce of denial, stir in two-parts manipulation and one-part of shifting blame, and you’ve got a recipe for the most sour peach pie you’ve ever tasted. Metaphor aside, it’s a plan for ultimate failure and self-destruction. My self-destruction came in the form of addiction.

One of my most favorite biblical study tools is Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Regarding the section of Matthew 6:19-24, He says, “Worldy-mindedness is a common and fatal symptom of hypocrisy, for by no sin can Satan have a surer and faster hold of the soul, under the cloak of a profession of religion.” [1] If we confess Christ with our mouths, yet take no action to assure we are walking as He has called us to walk, we become the very hypocrites He warned about. Our soul chooses what it will look upon as the “best thing,” and then go after that thing with our whole heart! This “object” of our heart will most likely have intense pleasure, and, perhaps, offer us some reward we find most appealing above all else. It becomes the very thing we’re living for. Perhaps more accurately, it is something we’ve become dependent upon to live. This is what Christ refers to as a “master.” Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). Trust me, when it comes to serving a master that delivers great fleshly rewards, we will not even realize we are enslaved!

Matthew 6:20-21 discusses the “treasures in heaven,” indicating they are forever exempt from decay and theft. Luke tells us, “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing” (Luke 12:23). This is what Matthew is discussing in chapter six. Whatever is of good and eternal significance comes out of what we do here on earth. Doing righteous deeds, suffering for Christ’s sake (which includes denying ourselves and taking up the cross), dealing truthfully and faithfully with one another, forgiving one another, being kind, willing to share—all of these things have the promise of reward. These become the treasures stored in heaven. Conversely, consistent unrighteous, disobedient behavior stores up much judgment and wrath. For the unbeliever, it ultimately leads to damnation. For the believer, Paul says, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor. 6:9-10).

When we fail to see the basic biblical truth of Matthew 6:22-23, as I did for decades, we see life with “bad eyes,” walking in darkness. These verses tell us such darkness is all the more disastrous and defeating because we fail to recognize it for what it is. This has metaphorical implications; the “eye” can be considered equal to the “heart.” Psalm 119:10-11 says, “With my whole heart I seek thee; let me not wander from thy commandments! I have laid up thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Here we see the tremendous benefits of Scripture. Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. When we hide Him in our heart, we hide that which He embodies, including the commandments of God the Father. Doing this allows us to watch our feet; the path we’re on. Christ becomes the Light by which we walk.

The psalmist says in Psalm 119:9-16 that we are to pray and meditate on God’s Word. When we do this, we are able to participate in the judgment and discernment of God. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Matthew 6:24 is saying the results of our choices are being stored in Heaven for the day we stand before Christ. We have to ask ourselves if we are storing up treasures in Heaven. That depends on our actions, which are directly influenced by where we decide to set our eyes. How we see the world, ourselves and others, and what we choose to do. It’s really that simple.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). When church leaders challenged Jesus, asking “Are we also blind?” He said, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (9:41). In other words, knowing the truth, they chose to ignore it and decide for themselves what was true. This is what Jesus referred to when He said we cannot serve God and mammon (John 6:24). This is a rather strange phrase. In the Greek, mamona, which is a literal translation of the same word in Aramaic, can refer to virtually anything of value: “wealth,” “property.” The root in both Aramaic and Hebrew (mn) means that in which one has placed their confidence or reliance. Both of these are compared—God and “other than God”—not as employers but slave owners. In other words, either God is served or “other than God” is served.

A Hard Lesson to Learn

We now see clearly the vital importance of Matthew 12:22-30. When we’re under Satan’s power and led captive by sin, we are blind to the things of God. Divided loyalty does not merely lead to a partial commitment to discipleship; it is an indication of deeply-rooted commitment to idolatry. Admittedly, this has been a very hard lesson for me. It made no sense during my active addiction that I was actually choosing to serve “other than God.” In this instance, my “god” or “idol” was alcohol, oxycodone, cannabis, cocaine, benzodiazepines. Because we “see” out of the abundance of the heart, my life of active addiction amounted to a continual walk in darkness, even while attending church, reading Scripture, teaching Bible study at two county prisons, sharing at 12-step meetings—sadly, even during much of the early years of this blog. Pride and fear has kept me from admitting this those of you who follow my blog, or anyone else. Walking in darkness also caused me to mistake the path I was on. This is precisely why my sponsor and my former pastor were absolutely correct. I did not have God in my heart. More tragically, my siblings were correct when they said I was being a hypocrite. I could be nothing less at that time, for I was putting on the appearance of being a Christian while walking in denial and disobedience.

What I was failing to see is that when we meet Christ, at a time predestined by God Himself, we will be held accountable to Him (from the day of our salvation) for every word and deed. Take a second and read that last sentence again. Yeah, I know! So let’s get this straight. Becoming “born-again” is not a get-out-of-judgment-free card. I have grown in Christ considerably over the past five or six months. Still, it was not until God put this lesson on my heart this morning that I was able to get to this moment, right now, when I saw a glimpse of what it’s going to feel like staring at His scars, remembering what the last twelve hours of His life were like, having to give an answer for every sad, dirty, low-down, manipulative, deceitful act I’ve done from the moment of my salvation, when I was given the power to dwell in the Holy Spirit and grow in the righteousness of Christ, until the day I draw my last breath. And there is nothing I can do to escape it.

So Now What?

First, anyone in this position must realize that when we finally decide to stop, drop, and roll, putting out the fire that is consuming us, we need to repent and turn over to Christ everything we’ve done. But that’s not the end of it. I have come to see the importance of “letting it go” (allowing the past be the past) and forgiving myself as I have been forgiven. If we fail to do this critical step, we will never be able to consistently see ourselves as a new creation. We will not be capable of seeing ourselves as God the Father sees us: clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Of course, the true “180” must come first or any degree to which we “shine” in Jesus will be dulled by sin and guilt. It is impossible to change if we live in shame. We’ll talk to ourselves with condemnation, forgetting there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1).

After settling the matter in our hearts that we are regenerated in Christ, we must then pray and meditate on God’s Word, learning everything we can about who we’ve become. It is crucial to remember a fairly universal warning: Satan will not let go willingly. The finest example we have regarding resisting temptation is presented to us in Matthew 4:1-11. Satan appeared to Christ in the dessert and essentially attacked His “Sonship.” This is quite accurate to what Satan tries to throw in our faces, but he is far more subtle and crafty with us. He challenged Jesus by saying, If you truly are the Son of God then change stone to bread; throw yourself down from the top of the temple and let the angels save you; renounce God and the universe is yours. Does this not sound a lot like what happens in our lives once we accept Christ and confess we are the sons and daughters of God?

There is only one way to defeat these challenges, which is exactly what Christ did. He knew the Scriptures because He had them hidden in His heart. Yes, He was part man and part God, likely giving Him a greater moral infrastructure than we have; however, He defeated temptation by saying what the Scriptures say. Then, standing firmly on the Word of God, He told Satan who He truly was and shouted, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written, serve the Lord your God, and serve Him only” (Matthew 4:10). Decide for yourself who you believe you are, seek proof in the Scriptures, turn from your old path, and walk toward the Light of the World. The only way to change our sinful behavior is to see the path we’re on with open eyes and decide to go in an entirely new direction.

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 I want to start encouraging more feedback so we can open a dialog. Presently, in order to leave a comment you need to scroll back to the header and click on LEAVE A COMMENT, but I’m in the process of figuring out how to move the COMMENT bar to the end of each post. Thanks for reading. God bless.

Footnotes

[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997), 868.

 

Equipping the Next Generation

The Holy Bible

We are in danger of not passing on biblical principles. What might this mean for the future of the Christian church? Current research indicates we are realistically in danger of not passing the Christian doctrine to the next generation. Both an overexposure to worldly philosophy and an over-dependence on church programs has caused us to fail in our task to hand off a vibrant, kingdom-focused faith.

What Do We Want From and For Our Children?

First, we need a clear definition of what we’re looking for in our children. Do we want nice kids who don’t get in trouble, or passionate followers of Christ? Second, we must adopt a multi-generational perspective, providing opportunities for those older and more mature in the faith to impart a spiritual legacy to the next generation—essentially to be mentors. Third, following the example in Deuteronomy 6, parents must fully grasp and live their faith in order to possess and pass it on to their children. This includes making the most of teachable moments in everyday life. Fourth, fathers must take the lead, recognizing that they are the spiritual thermostat of the home—the head of the household, even as Christ is the head of the church—and are obligated to raise their children in the training and instruction of the Lord.

It’s All in How We Raise Them

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (NIV). Both the home and the church must educate in sound doctrine, equip in apologetics, and explain moral principles. Raising confident teens with a desire to serve God does not happen by accident. Nor can our children learn it by osmosis! Instead, it requires parents to recognize teachable moments, and to use those moments to pass on their faith. This is truly a matter of apologetics.

Train Up a Child

As parents, we want our children to grow up in a world where belief in God is said to be reasonable and desirable. Unfortunately, there are many who shout loudly from the rooftops—especially militant atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris—who think belief in God is on the same level as belief in Santa Claus, fairies, leprechauns, and the like. Faith in God, however, is a reasonable faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (NKJV). We want our kids to see that Christianity is true to the way things are—that it corresponds to reality. We also want them to see Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, Who can satisfy all their needs in a way that nothing else can.

Tough But Important Questions

As our children grow older, the dialog about God becomes more complex. Suddenly, they’re coming home from science class asking how Darwinian survival of the fittest fits into the story of creation. Their teacher told them nature, not God, painted the stripes on a zebra. We ask them to consider that although evolution might account for the zebra’s stripes (and the variety of stripes among zebras), it can’t account for the evolution of one species into another, or the origin and existence of zebras, or other living organisms. In other words, where did life come from? Darwin did not postulate a theory as to the origin of life or the universe. Of course, the title of his seminal work is about the origin of species, not life. Are we being hoodwinked into believing Darwin meant to explain how the whole of existence came into being?

Origin of Species Books

When Darwinism is paired with materialism, as it often is, a more complicated picture emerges concerning the intelligibility of what J.P. Moreland calls “the Grand Story” of materialistic evolution. This issue was astutely explained by C.S. Lewis in Miracles. Lewis wrote, “Thus, a strict materialism refutes itself for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: ‘If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motion of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true… and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.'” Lewis notes a deep conflict between the Grand Story of materialism and the reliability of our cognitive faculties.

The Point

We must begin where our children are and nudge them toward a deeper understanding as they learn about God, themselves, and the world in which they live. It is important to poke and prod our kids to see the world in its proper light: Everything is sacred. It’s all from God, for God. A great tactic for engaging children on questions about God is to point out the transcendence of things like the scent of vanilla reminding us of home, or tasting boardwalk fries at the county fair and being transported to the beach. Remarkably, such ruminations can lead to contemplating the first cause of the universe (the cosmological argument). Further to this, we can open a discussion with our children about how the beneficial order in the world points to a Designer (the teleological argument). And how does the reality of moral obligations and values point to a moral Lawgiver (the moral argument).

Answering Their Questions

When my son Christopher was in 4th grade, he lost one of his classmates to a tragic and freakish accident. Several of them were playing flashlight tag in the dark. Christopher’s friend was running away, looking for a place to hide, when he crashed through a huge piece of plate glass. Sadly, the friend bled out as a result of his injuries and did not survive. As parents, my wife and I were faced with explaining why bad things happen, especially to children. Why would God kill a young boy? As my son grappled with the evil that befell that young lad, I was struck by the realization that my response to his struggle would lay the foundation for how he would process the concept of suffering.

suffering2

Peter Kreeft argues in his book Making Sense of Suffering, God’s answer to the problem of evil is Christ on the cross. When our kids experience times of pain and suffering, we want to recognize these moments as opportunities. They allow us to explore God’s loving care and help us to learn to trust his goodness. We first need to listen to our children’s pain and allow them to express any feelings of disappointment before we try to correct their ideas about God. After our kids feel heard and their emotions and doubts validated, we can remind them—and ourselves—that God alone offers hope.

As Frederick Buechner explains, “It is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name.” Perseverance is a little easier when we’re reminded of the ending. That’s the promise of the cross—one day all tears will be wiped away by our Savior. The experience of angst is a classroom to teach kids how to turn to Christ and point others to Him as the only hope in the face of evil.

Cultivate the Imagination of Our Children

We must encourage our children to love stories. This can be accomplished by reading to them from an early age. Tim Keller, in his book King’s Cross, quotes theologian Robert W. Jensen, who argued that our culture is in crisis because the modern world has lost its story. How often do you hear about families camping together, sharing stories around the fire, or recounting family history? How many children do you know that choose to read instead of play endless hours of video games or watch TV shows and movies? Of course, the Gospel is the ultimate story that shows victory coming out of defeat, strength coming out of weakness, life coming out of death, rescue from abandonment. And because it’s a true story—take that Sam Harris—it gives us hope. When our children fall in love with story, their hearts are prepared to recognize the best and truest story of all, which is the Gospel.

C S Lewis Pic

C.S. Lewis said this: “In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with myriad eyes, but it is still I who see.” Through stories, our kids expand their horizons, imagining what it’s like to walk on the moon, or visit a Mayan ruin, or climb Mt. Everest. The same is true about the many stories of faith and triumph, failure and regret, obedience and rebellion told in Scripture.

We are called upon to give personal testimony to the difference God has made in our lives. This includes telling our children. Typically, parents tend to keep their struggles a secret from their kids. Certainly, a great deal of what parents deal with on a daily basis is not necessarily suited for sharing with their kids. However, it is important that we look for teaching moments we can share with our children—situations where God brought us out of bondage and into freedom. We wrongly assume that if we simply instruct our children in Christian doctrine, shelter them from immoral behavior, and involve them in church and religious organizations then we’ve done all we can.

We must be consistent in our behavior, wise about reality, and genuinely personal about our faith. Today, most Christians rely on institutions and formal instruction to pass on the faith. It is painfully obvious that the influence of parents in teaching the faith is waning. Cultural forces—especially relativism and pluralism—are overwhelming the good intentions of mothers and fathers and challenging the efforts of our church leaders to build faith among believers. Sadly, we’re loosing ground. It is critical that we don’t panic or become disillusioned. Rather, we need to take a long-range view. We need to live our lives sharing God with our children and others.

Concluding Remarks

Taking an active role in sharing and passing on our faith is about a lot more than just “doing church” together as a family. While it is clearly important to do that—worship, pray, serve, learn, and fellowship together—what we do outside of formal worship services and Sunday school class time is where the real opportunities happen. I squandered the chance to lead by example. Embroiled in active addiction for nearly forty years, I pulled every scam, told every lie, forgot every birthday, missed important events, lost jobs, failed at budgeting, broke hearts, disappointed friends and family, and lived a truly hypocritical life. This is clearly not an appropriate legacy for a father to leave behind.

Passing on our faith to the next generation isn’t just about making sure our children can name all the books in the Bible. Instead, it involves living a life that exudes the love and character of Jesus in such a way that those watching will imitate us. Every Christian has a baton, a spiritual inheritance in Christ, which is worth passing on. Our baton is the sum of all the lessons, insights, wisdom, counsel, character, and spiritual anointing we have gained. Our baton is the spiritual legacy God wants us to impart to others. Indeed, to the next generation.

Our children are watching.

 

The Secret of Self-Control

Here was a man who had spent two hundred hours in trying to help an alcoholic get control of himself. Then the alcoholic decided to get on his knees, surrender to Christ, and let Christ control him. He got up from his knees a free man. He never touched alcohol again. He found self-control through Christ-control.

I tried the Christian life as self-control. Every day I would start out with the thought and purpose that I would keep myself from sin that day. And every night I came back a failure. For how could an uncontrolled will control an uncontrolled self? A diseased will could not heal a diseased soul.  Then Christ moved into the affections. I began to love Him. Then the lesser loves dropped away.

Professor Royce, in his philosophy of “Loyalty,” says, “There is only one way to be an ethical individual, and that is to choose your cause and then serve it.” This central loyalty to a cause puts other loyalties in their places as subordinate. Then life as a whole is coordinated, since the lesser loyalties are subordinated. To the Christian the “cause” is Christ and His Kingdom. We seek these first, and then all other things, including self-control, are added.

But not automatically. We have to cooperate. We have to throw our wills on the side of being disciplined. There are many who throw their wills on the other side – indiscipline, sometimes called freedom. A junior-high-school girl had on her belt this declaration of wants: “We want more holidays, less homework, more TV, and later hours for bedtime.” Her crowd wanted to be free to do as they liked, not to be free to do as they ought. The result is inward and outward chaos. People who try to be free through indiscipline are “free in the sense that a ship is free when it has lost both compass and rudder. “The undisciplined  person may sit at a piano,” says Trueblood, “but he is not free to strike the notes he would like to strike. He is not free because he has not paid the necessary price for that particular freedom.” Freedom is the byproduct  of a disciplined person. Then you are not merely “free from;” you are “free to.”

Heavenly father, help me to be the kind of person who is “free to” – free to do the very highest I am capable of doing.Amen.

– E. Stanley Jones