The Task of Every Second-Generation Christian

The unfortunate reality of second generation Christians is that often they are far less zealous, knowledgeable, and committed to God than their parents. The Israelites of Judges illustrate this grave principle: “The people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the LORD which He had done for Israel” (Judges 2:7). But after Joshua died “there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals” (Judges 2:10-11).

I am blessed to have been born to parents who love the Lord dearly and patiently taught me to love Him too. I remind myself that not everyone enjoys the benefits of having such a good foundation early in life. Yet, even for someone whose parents taught them well, it seems to me there are two extremes which a second generation Christian must take special caution to avoid.

First, there is the temptation to throw out what appears to him as “too traditional” simply because that’s what his parents (or grandparents) did or believed. It seems to me this is happening frequently in my generation. Of course, everything we are handed from previous generations is subject to the scrutiny of the Bible and if found lacking should be discarded. But often this is not the motivating factor; instead, it’s a discontent with the old and desire to replace it with something exciting or trendy. Someone following this course should remember what Paul told Timothy: “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them” (1 Tim. 3:14). Timothy hadn’t been taught man’s traditions but the truths found in “the sacred writings,” which is why Paul then writes, “All Scripture is inspired by God…” For a second generation (or any) Christian to be firmly grounded he must cling for dear life to the divine authority of God’s word (2 Peter 3:1-2; Jude 17).

The opposite extreme is to accept blindly whatever our parents have taught us without examining the Scriptures for ourselves. Our parents may have led us to do or believe the right things, but if our own faith cannot stand on its own it is just as empty and vulnerable to being tossed about by false doctrine as if we had been taught nothing (Eph. 4:14). It’s not enough to believe the truth—we must know why we believe it is the truth. Otherwise, how can we give an answer (“reasonable defense” based on the Scriptures) for the hope in us (1 Pet. 3:15)? And, what’s to keep us from going astray from what’s right when our parents die and can no longer tell us what to believe and why? King Joash served God while his guardian and mentor Jehoiada lived, but after Jehoiada’s death he abandoned God and served idols because had no real grounding in the truth to begin with; his faith rested on a man, not God Himself (2 Chron. 24:2, 15-19).

Thankfully, things do not have to be this way. Let us take comfort from and be exhorted by this fact: Timothy was a third generation Christian, having learned the gospel from his mother and grandmother, yet Paul commended him for his “sincere faith” (2 Tim. 1:5). If someone loves the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength regardless of how many generations his family has served (or not served) God, may his faith also be commended as genuine! I have heard and often thought that second generation Christians are less evangelistic than those who were converted directly out of the world. Let us remember, however, that every Christian came out of the depths of sin and condemnation just as much as anyone else regardless of his or her background. May we all, therefore, fervently love those still lost in such a state.

How can parents remedy, or at least prevent, this problem? We must first teach our children to reverence God and the authority of His word. Our own love for God must be evident in that we speak often to them about God (Deut. 6:4-9). And above all, let us model and teach the principle of the Bereans, who examined the Scriptures daily lest their faith rest on the one who taught rather than on Jesus and His power (Acts 17:11; 1 Cor. 2:1-5).