I want to discuss predestination and free will this morning.
There – that ought to wake some of us up!
All throughout St. Paul’s incredible opening to his second letter to Timothy he asserts, side by side, two fundamental truths of life in Christ. First, your salvation, your faith, and your good works are all by the grace of God that comes through Jesus Christ. Second, you are the one who is to actively keep this faith by prayer, teaching, and holiness. It is clear that all is a work of God, and yet for St. Paul this in no way diminishes the commandment to obey or the idea that there are good things we are required and able to do.
We see this dual focus in St. Timothy’s ordination. Though Timothy’s office of elder and bishop is a gift of God (verse 6) by the Holy Spirit, it came through the laying on of human hands. The Spirit did not move apart from the faithfulness of men. Remember how a few days ago we discussed the Sacramental Worldview (or Principle, as it sometimes called)? Here is another example. God gives His sovereign grace, but He gives it through the hands and instrumentality of man. This gift of God is something that Timothy is commanded by Paul to stir up. Now if Timothy were just a passive agent, how could he stir up his gift? After the initial gift of the Spirit, Timothy is actually enabled to participate with the grace of God.
Likewise, Timothy is to keep the “pattern of sound words” (by which Paul means the apostolic teaching as he did in 1 Timothy) which was committed to him, and yet he can only keep it by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us (verse 13-14).
But the point in Timothy’s life where the grace of God and the faithfulness of man meets that I most want to discuss involves Timothy and his family. The faithfulness that Paul commends in Timothy flows from God’s abundant grace. But the question is “How did the grace of God come to Timothy?”
The answer is “In the faithfulness of those who taught Timothy.”
We know that Timothy was taught the pure apostolic teaching by St. Paul: we are even privileged to have two of Paul’s letters to Timothy. Part of Timothy’s life of faith was supported by Paul’s nightly and daily prayers for him (verse 3), and I’m sure the prayers of the churches. And, of course, there is the grace God gave St. Timothy in his ordination. But Timothy’s training in the faith began long before St. Paul came into Timothy’s life. In fact, God’s means of preparing Timothy began, in one way, even before Timothy was born!
Timothy’s faith was strong because both his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice had the same genuine faith that Paul found in Timothy. Furthermore, Paul states that Timothy knew the Scripture from his childhood (2 Timothy 3:15). Even Paul, though he acted unfaithfully for years, served God with a pure conscience in large part because his forefathers did.
This is the secret to making disciples of Jesus Christ: keeping the faith ourselves and teaching our children to do the same. This is the covenantal principle that we find everywhere in the Old Testament – why shouldn’t it work in the New, only better? When God’s people are faithful and faithfully raise their children in the fear of the Lord, then the faith and those who live it are preserved.
Sadly, we live in a Church culture that is not retaining the faith because we are not passing down the Christian faith to our children. Something like half of those claiming faith in Christ will lose that faith when they go off to college, because their faith has not been adequately nourished and is not expected to be fed while they are away and at their most vulnerable to worldliness. Christian parents apparently don’t expect their children to be holy any longer, since the statistics show that the music, TV, movies, etc. that Christian children saturate their lives with is virtually identical to that of their non-Christian counterparts.
First, make sure you have a time of family worship every day. It can be simple and short, but it ought to be done. This requires giving up leisure time and perhaps even giving up some of the busy-ness of life. The soccer and basketball games are good, as are the piano and martial arts lessons. But if we believe it is good to train our children in such endeavors, do we believe it is actually less important that we take time every day in the home to train them in godliness and the Christian faith?
Second, make sure your children know the Scriptures from their childhood. Children soak up the Scripture in a way they will never be able to when they are older and their minds are less impressionable, flexible, but more fragmented, and more busy. As they get older, make sure age-appropriate instruction (i.e. it shouldn’t all be Bible on a kindergarten level) is taking place.
Third, encourage them to surround themselves with Christian friends and mentors. Children are constantly “scoping” their environment and assembling an identity on what they see and experience. What are our children’s lives being surrounded with? All of the factors that have been identified in some studies as important to instilling faith in children have to do with being integrated into a truly Christian community of church, family, mentors, and friends.
Fourth, your job as parents, grandparents, and church members is to make disciples of the children among you. We all talk about evangelizing and reaching the lost, and I hope we take the actual words of the Great Commission seriously. But the Great Commission doesn’t even mention evangelism. Our Commission is to make disciples, by having our children baptized and by teaching them to obey all that Jesus Christ has commanded us.
You will never have a better opportunity to make disciples for Jesus Christ than when you train your own children. You will never have several hours a day for 18 years to devote to training any one else in godliness and the faith, and you will never have the ability to influence any one else as much by your godly example. If you have done this primary job in your life faithfully, then your children will go on to disciple their own children. The fact is that about 12 times as many Christians are born into the faith each year as are converted from other faiths. This is the primary way the Kingdom of God grows. What are we doing about it?
How blessed it must be to be a Lois, who received the blessing of having her grandson turn out to be a St. Timothy!
Prayer: I thank you God for the gift of faith that comes through Your Holy Spirit, and I give thanks for all of my Christian forefathers who have gone before me and enabled my faith. Thank You for using us as the instrument of Your grace in the lives of those around us. Help me to be more faithful to this sacred duty to make disciples, especially among the children in my life. Amen.
Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve to reflect on life in my family. Is it lived in such a way that, integrated into the local church, it is making disciples of Jesus Christ? What things are being done to keep the faith? What things have been left undone? If there are no children in your household, how might you contribute to the nurturing of faith in these little ones?
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson