This is a follow up to a previous post I wrote entitled, “We Are Failing Children.” This post tackles the subject of passing faith down to our children.
Being sincere is important to me. Sincerity is a character trait in which I want others to see in my life. I want others to see it in the way I interact with them, listen to them, how “present” I am with them and what they have observed in me as I interact with others. I would want this to be true of me regardless if I am with my children (who know me better than anyone else) or with a complete stranger.
Let me define sincerity.
Sincerity is defined as “the absence of pretense, deceit, or hypocrisy.” One example would be found in the life of Ben Franklin. He saw sincerity as one of 13 virtues in which to live by. He defined sincerity as, “Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.” Living a sincere life is seen as a virtue in most cultures and faith traditions over the centuries. Confucius stated, “To practice five things under all circumstances constitutes perfect virtue; these five are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness.“
Sincerity is an incredibly important part of our Christian faith as well…in fact I believe it is the lynchpin to faith transmission.
Sincerity…a lynchpin? YES.
Why is sincerity so important? I believe sincerity brings to life (demonstrates) on a daily basis, in our words and actions, the very things we have placed our hope in. I love what Dallas Willard writes about living the Christian life. In Renovations Of The Heart In Daily Practice he writes, “Our lives are a result of what we have become in the depths of our being-what we call our spirit, will, or heart. From there we see our world and interpret reality. From there we make choices, break forth into action, and try to change our world. That is why the greatest need of collective humanity is the renovation of the heart…The Revolution of Jesus is one of character, which proceeds by changing people from the inside through an ongoing personal relationship to God in Christ and to one another. It changes their ideas, beliefs, feelings, habits of choice, bodily tendencies, and social relations.” (p.15)
This change as Dallas suggest impacts every aspect of our lives. The sincerity of which we live this out internally and then in relationship with others becomes a critical part of how faith is transmitted.
If sincerity is a virtue and a pursuit we should all be after…what does this have to do with faith?
Having worked with many parents over the years, I often ask parents what their deepest longing is for their children (Both Christian and non-churched parents). Two answers would typically surface: for Christian parents it was for their children to know Jesus (eternal life) and to be happy or fulfilled in life (aspects of flourishing), and for non-churched parents it was for their children to be happy or fulfilled typically by what they could attain (career, money, etc.) In some ways, Christian or non-Christian parents alike always expressed the following sentiment, “I want my kids to be better off than me.”
If we long for our children or grandchildren to flourish in life, which by the way, requires the “right” character traits (sincerity as one) and behaviors that will last, there are certain things we cannot outsource or abdicate as I tackled in my last post. Are you going to trust just anyone with your deepest longings for your children? If a sincere faith or character isn’t near the top of the list, I would hope by the end of this post it would be.
Let me explain my thinking
Let me define sincerity from a Biblical perspective. A gospel-centered sincerity is an intentional, transparent, and honest pursuit of grace (undeserved favor that we cannot earn) and truth (consistent with the nature of God’s character and His design of all of creation) in all of life. The pursuit of grace probably needs to be unpacked more, but for the sake of this post, the sentiment I am after is found beautifully in the words of Dallas Willard, “Grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning.” This includes grace and truth about ourselves, grace and truth about others—but most importantly, the impact of grace and truth as we experience the work of Christ in our lives. Our attempts to achieve true sincerity are experienced and revealed as we unpack these three aspects – self, others, and God.
“For a growing Christian, desire will always outstrip performance or, at least, perceived performance. What is it then that will keep us going in the face of this tension between desire and performance? The answer is the gospel. It is the assurance in the gospel that we have indeed died to the guilt of sin and that there is no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus that will motivate us and keep us going even in the face of this tension…That is why I use the expression “gospel-driven sanctification” and that is why we need to “preach the gospel to ourselves every day.” (Jerry Bridges)
“Gospel-centered sincerity” is not achieved when we try to discover our real selves and throw it into the microwave of personal feelings, performance-driven results, and cultural opinions as we strive to “be real” although these responses at some level are a part of the process. This lifelong process of sincerity as a virtue is only achieved as it collides with the Gospel that hopefully we are preaching to ourselves daily.
Some Key Scriptures:
“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.” Joshua 24:14
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17
“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” 1 Peter 1:22
“For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 2:17
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
1 Timothy 1:5
We know our faith is truly sincere or authentic when people are drawn closer to the heart of God by witnessing the process of our pursuit of grace and truth.
The verses above demonstrate the nature in which we live out His work in our lives. This process should be transformative. This transformation is not just for a Facebook and Instagram world where everything looks great or I have all the answers.
This process is messy and broken. It is never sanitized. Faith is discovered and tested in those moments when I am prone to get angry, fearful, or selfish.
Hopefully those closest to me (my wife and children) can “give testimony” of my growth as they see the Gospel come to life as I sincerely allow His grace and truth to transform me.
What I have come to learn in my life is that this kind of sincere faith is deeply personal and drives my convictions and beliefs. I cannot outsource my faith to anything or anyone and this is also true for my children (Deuteronomy 6). I need them to see and experience His work in my life.
“If Christ’s people genuinely enter Christ’s way of the heart, they will find a sure path toward becoming the persons they were meant to be: thoroughly good and godly persons yet purged of arrogance, insensitivity and self-sufficiency.” (Dallas Willard)
How do I pass faith onto my children then?
I am no expert in this, other than I see the data and read His Word and I am pursuing it the best way I can for my own children and family. The programs we offer in church are not necessarily producing the outcomes in regards to faith transmission…and as I mentioned in a previous post it is because we have forsaken the impact that mom and dad have on their homes and the sincerity of which faith, love and hope are transmitted.
According to a study by Vern Bengston (Longitudinal Study of Generations), they found that faith is transmitted through the emotional warmth exchanged between parent and child. Learning the practices of faith such as prayer, attending church, and studying the Bible are critical. But what makes it “sticky” and brings those practices to life happens within a flourishing relationship between parent and child.
Here are a couple of the big takeaways from Vern’s book, “Families and Faith Findings…”
“Parental warmth is the key to successful [religious] transmission” (186)
“Families do matter in determining the . . . religious outcomes of young adults, and they matter a great deal” (195)
“Fervent faith cannot compensate for a distant dad” (196)
This past year I sat down with my family and I acknowledged that I was sorry for not being the dad they needed me to be. Anger. Moodiness. Tension. All of these things in my life were influencing the safety felt in my home. My children were quick to say, “Dad, you are not failing us,” but the reality is that I was being a poor example of Jesus in my home. I have to own that. Since that time, I have been working really hard to be a healthier person in my house and in my car.
I have been working really hard to be emotionally warm and present with my kids. I have been intentional in truly listening to them and loving them. I have also been sharing with them my devotions and having conversations and sharing thoughts about the work God is doing in my life. I want them to see it…I want them to know that the change they see in me isn’t my own work…but His. (“The Revolution of Jesus”)
I want them to see the sincerity of my faith shine through my imperfections as much as my perfections (what I get right). You see if they don’t see it…they will walk away from faith because they will see the hypocrisy in it. This is THE BATTLE for families and for the church. To see sincere and authentic acts of faith lived out in homes. Sincere and authentic faith is transmitted when my family can truly see me being my most sincere self in light of the redemptive work of the Gospel. If my kids can’t see that… then I have completely missed the point of not only my faith but what it means to be a parent.
As the world continues to fail my children, I will keep pointing them to the One who will never fail.
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