The Holy Spirit and Our Children
Posted in In line with Scripture
But I tell you the truth, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. — John 14.7
Gordon Fee, a well respected Pentecostal New Testament commentator and scholar, writes in his conclusion to a major work on the Holy Spirit in the letters of Paul (God’s Empowering Presence, p. 900):
At the same time, the dynamic and experienced nature of life in the Spirit was generally lost. At least part of the reason for this was a matter the NT never addresses: how do children of believers become believers themselves? At some point in time, the majority of Christians became so as a result of being born into Christian homes rather than through adult conversion. … … All the Pauline epistles, it must be emphasised, were written to first generation believers, all of whom – at least those addressed in Paul’s letters – were adult converts, whose conversion had included an experienced coming of the Holy Spirit into their lives. … … But what happens to this experienced conversion, attended by the Spirit, for children born and raised in the homes of such converts? As much as anything, this probably accounts for the subsequent loss of the experienced nature of life in the Spirit and for the general marginalising of the Spirit in the later church. Again, this is not intended to be a judgmental picture, nor do I suggest that it is true at all times and in all places.
There is here a slight pessimism about the experience of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who have grown up in Christian homes. It is almost as if he could be thinking in the back of his mind, “These second generation Christians are all soft. Give me a raw heathen, snatched from the very flames of hell itself, and I’ll show you a really evangelical believer!” Is he not hinting that Christians reared in Christian homes are in some way responsible for the marginalisation of the Holy Spirit in church history?
Well, we know what he means. We all know Christians who were marvellously converted from the depths of depravity and whose testimony is so fascinating to listen to. And they often seem to be the best evangelisers, too, somehow better able to identify with the unbelievers around them. I know unbelievers who have expressed the same sentiments: that artists, playwrights and other creative people who have suffered greatly are better able to really put feeling into their creative works. And so a Christian who has really experienced the depths of a sinful life prior to his or her conversion is so much more on fire for the Lord for he KNOWS exactly what he has been saved FROM and is therefore the more urgent and sincere in proclaiming the saving message of the Gospel.
Now we Christian parents, especially those of us who were NOT brought up in Christian homes, do sometimes wonder and worry about how keen for the Lord our children are going to be. This is one of the reasons why we home educate, so that the world will not unduly tempt them away from the faith.
And we are conscious of the “Preacher’s kid” or “Missionary’s kid” syndrome, where the parents were so busy ministering to the needs of others, they neglected their own children to the point where the children go off the rails and deny the faith.
In addition we have all seen how the stifling effects of a dead formalism or traditionalism can creep into a church. Where you used to see people hungry for the faithful preaching of the Word, for personal application and spiritual growth, and for evangelising the lost, you now see people more concerned about someone else taking their parking place or sitting in their pew-position or the little ones making noise during the service. And so we form home-churches or radically rev up the existing church’s services.
That our children would not have such vivid conversion experiences as some (but by no means all) of us have had is to be expected. They have grown up hearing from infancy the Blessed Name of Christ our Saviour spoken in tones of awe and reverence rather than as one of a selection of swear words. They are used to prayer and Bible reading and the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Yes, they still need to be born again, yet it would be rare parents who would send their child out into the world to be tempted by and even experience so much of what those same parents know to be sinful so that the child could have the benefit of a really dramatic turnaround in his life. No, we would rather see our children’s conversion be more of a growing personalised eagerness, an acceleration into the Christian life; not changing direction, but continuing on the course along which we parents have been steering them from birth.
Many parents will testify of themselves and of their children that a conversion experience has indeed taken place, but they cannot pin-point the event in time. For some it was more of a process, for others a dawning realisation, for others a reality they never in their lives seriously doubted. Now as a person who has experienced a clear, dramatic, one-moment-in-time conversion, I struggle to understand these other salvation testimonies, for they are outside of my personal experience.
But it is not a conversion experience that makes a Christian.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit IN our children’s lives, a consistent change over time, little by little, in this area then in that area, but always toward a closer resemblance to the image of Christ a la II Corinthians 3:18 that reveals a true Christian. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit Himself in our children’s lives that will clearly demonstrate whether they are branches as described in John 15:5, vitally abiding in the vine. For they will produce, slowly perhaps but inevitably, the blessed fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Sure, it would have been great for those Apostles and early disciples to have had the continuing experience of Christ Himself among them. Wouldn’t we all love such an experience ourselves? But as He said, He needed to depart for our good, that He might then send the Holy Spirit Who would dwell not just with us but IN us, causing us to grow and mature. The promise, “I will send Him to you” is for all Christians. Those born into Christian homes, and raised in Christian families CAN have as vital, fresh and powerful a work of the Holy Spirit in their lives as those converted from out of the world.
Reading through the book of Judges is most instructive, for here is a repeating cycle of a first generation whose hearts are turned to God, a second generation who seem to have lost the vision, and a third generation who have gone over to pagan practises so abominable the Lord has to punish the people and raise up a judge to bring them back and start with a new generation.
We trust that we are keen first-generation Christians, and in our home education we do not want to see our children turning out as second-generation Christians who are losing the vision. If anything we want to see them even more consistently Biblical than we are. We want our children to be themselves first-generation Christians. And so it should be, for God adopts us as His children. We are born again into His family as children, not as grandchildren.
Unlike the people in Judges, we present-day first-generation home schooling parents have the Holy Spirit in our hearts and the completed Scriptures in our hands and all the benefits the 20th century Church has to offer…and without hindrance we are free to constantly and consistently utilise these in the upbringing of our children!
So let’s go for it! Let us appreciate afresh the privilege that is ours through the Holy Spirit’s coming: being true branches vitally abiding in Jesus Christ, the vine, and producing the fruit of the Spirit for all, especially our children, to see. They will then have the pattern, the living role-model, and will see the vital Christian lives of their parents — struggling yet persistent, burdened yet rejoicing, tested yet overall victorious — in action. For in the Lord our labour is not in vain.
From Keystone Magazine
September 1999 , Vol. V No. V
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