Today, many experts in the Church are weighing on the best way to transfer faith from generation to generation. Personally, I think much of the hand-wringing misses a central point: that every human being enters the world with a depraved heart set against God. Only a work of the Spirit can awaken what is dead and breathe new life. Even for kids who grow up in good Christian homes. But parents and church leaders can develop a healthy culture where faith can grow. We have to ask ourselves, what is the faith that is most contagious from generation to generation?
Second Timothy 1:5 is an instructive passage. This is likely the Apostle Paul’s last letter. He’s languishing in a Roman dungeon, awaiting his imminent execution. Life is pretty miserable and it seems he was arrested without much preparation—at the end of 2 Timothy Paul asks for basic necessities like his cloak. So he’s facing death in a dark, lonely, cold place. Not many of his earthly circumstances bring him joy.
Oh, but there is one thing in his life that brings him joy. And in 2 Timothy 1:5 we see it. It is the “unfeigned” faith (KJV rendering) of his son-in-the-Lord, Timothy. This word is an interesting modifier. In the Greek, it’s actually a double negative, something like “not insincere.” You might wonder why Paul would say about Timothy’s faith that it was “not insincere.” Why not simply say, “You have sincere faith.”? But there is more than meets the eye here.
The word, in the Greek, harkens back to the dramatic arts in that culture. Paul is essentially saying, of Timothy, that his faith was “not like those who stage act.” In other words, Timothy’s faith was not something he projected, something he merely preached. It was not an act on a stage. It was not a box he checked. It was not an affiliation. Paul, as a formerly committed Pharisee, had seen a lot of insincere, stage-acting faith in his time. But Timothy’s was real, genuine, and authentic. And that gave Paul great joy.
But it begs another question. How did this faith come to Timothy? Paul answers by harkening back to Timothy’s grandmother and mother. This “not-insincere, not stage-acting” faith was first seen in Lois, the grandmother, then was transmitted to Eunice, the mother, then transmitted to Timothy, the son.
This is generational faith. And it’s so rare to see real, vibrant, authentic faith passed from generation to generation, when you see it, as Paul did, it brings great joy. What kind of faith is the faith that endures from generation to generation? What kind of faith is contagious? It’s the “not stage-acting, not insincere” faith. Pure, undiluted orthodoxy. This is the faith we’re commanded to guard in Jude 2.
Sadly, this often not what children catch from their Christian parents and church leaders. This isn’t because those good people don’t have a sincere faith or don’t believe it, but because what we celebrate is what we worship. So in many homes, the predominant theme is good, but not great things we want to see in our kids. It maybe a career or a hobby or the art of homemaking. It maybe a particular worship style or a church model. It may be politics or community activism. These are all good things, but when they replace Jesus as our sole passion, our faith ceases to become contagious. Our kids need to see, more than anything else, that the faith we sign our names to, the faith we profess, is real. That it is lived out every day in the nitty gritty of life. That we are the same person on Tuesday as we are on Sunday.
The Bible gives us no guarantee that our children will remain in the faith. At some point they must wrestle with God on their own, form their own beliefs, and ultimately choose to follow Christ. But, parents and church leaders are responsible for the cultures we create. The Scriptures say that genuine faith grows best in a child in a culture of sincerity, purity, and where first things are first.
[Today’s post is written by Daniel Darling and from his new book, Real. Visit www.danieldarling.com]