May 10, 1992
MORE THAN A MOTHER
“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5).
Almost all of us owe a great deal to our mothers. Your mother may not have been perfect, but you can be grateful if she at least hung in there with you and didn’t follow Mark Twain’s advice. I’m told that Twain offered the following guidelines for parents of teenagers: When your child turns thirteen, put him in a barrel, nail down the lid, and feed him through the knothole. When he turns sixteen, plug the knothole!
It’s not always easy to be a mom. Have you heard that insanity is hereditary? Parents get it from their kids. So whether you’re a kid or someone who was once a kid, you’d better appreciate your mom. Any woman who could love you when you were a rambunctious two-year-old, and when you were a rebellious teenager, and all those other times when you almost drove her crazy, is someone you should treasure. If your mom stuck with you while you were growing up, if she kept on caring about you no matter what, and if she still cares about you today, then you owe her a lot.
On top of all that, some of us have an even more important reason to be grateful for our mothers. Maybe you’ve been blessed with a mom who’s been more than a mother; she’s been a Christian mother. Besides feeding you and hugging you and helping you with your homework, she also showed you the truth and love of God. She introduced you to Jesus and fed your mind with the teachings of the Bible. Your mom has a living faith in Jesus, and she’s done everything she can to encourage that same faith in you. It’s a great privilege to have a mother like that.
And that’s what Timothy had. Timothy was a young pastor in the first century of the Christian church, and there are two letters in the Bible that bear his name, 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. The apostle Paul wrote these letters to Timothy under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and near the beginning of the second letter, he says to Timothy: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5).
Timothy began to learn about God from his mother and grandmother while he was still just a baby (2 Timothy 3:15). He first encountered the truth of the Bible right in his own home. There are many people who, like Timothy, first came to know Jesus through their parents. It’s a great privilege to have parents who know God and who do everything they can to help you know the Lord as well. If your mom and dad have loved you and prayed for you and taught you about Jesus and showed you by their example what it means to follow Christ, you’ve really been blessed.
However, although Christian parents and grandparents are a tremendous blessing, we need to keep this blessing in perspective. Ultimately, you need more than a mother; you need Jesus. Your relationship to God isn’t just a matter between you and your parents. It’s first of all between you and God.
When the apostle Paul wrote to his dear friend Timothy, he thought of the faith which had first lived in Timothy’s mother and in his grandmother. But the really important thing was that this faith was vibrantly alive in Timothy himself. Paul says, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Paul isn’t just congratulating Timothy on having such a fine mom and grandma. Paul rejoices that Timothy has sincere faith in his own heart.
Like Timothy, we need more than a mother who has faith. We need a faith that lives in our own hearts. Unfortunately, there are many people who are blessed with a godly mother and father, but who don’t have a faith of their own and who don’t have a personal relationship with God. It is by no means automatic that you will inherit the faith of your parents. Sadly, enough, there are a number of different ways that you can miss out on it.
The most obvious way is to reject your parents and everything they represent. You reject them; you reject their faith; you reject their way of life; and you’re proud of yourself for doing so. They had no right to make you live by their rules or to push you to follow their God. As the Bible says in Proverbs 30:
There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers; those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth; those whose eyes are ever so haughty, whose glances are so disdainful … (v.11-13).
When you look at your parents with disdain, it’s quite natural to look at their God with disdain. You want nothing to do with your mom and dad, and you want nothing to do with their religion. That’s the most blatant way for someone with Christian parents to turn away from the faith.
It’s not the only way, however. Another is what I label the “thanks, but no thanks” approach. You may not be rebelling against your parents at all. Perhaps you appreciate your mom and dad very much; you’re grateful for all that they mean to you. But you don’t share their faith. When Mother’s Day rolls around, you embrace your mom and give her a big kiss and maybe even some flowers, you enjoy sitting down with her to Sunday dinner, but you’re not very eager to go to church with her. You still remember much of what your parents taught you about God. You just don’t believe it. You think that their religion is old-fashioned and even a little bit quaint. It’s fine if it works for them, but you’ve chosen a very different life for yourself. You love your mom and dad, but you have no desire to be like them. You don’t hate them or anything like that. It’s just that you don’t share their convictions.
Meanwhile, you’ve perhaps settled into an unspoken agreement with them. You don’t mock their faith, and they in turn try not to nag you about your unbelief. When you and your parent are together, it works best to avoid talking about religion altogether.
But even when they say nothing to you about Jesus, you know how they feel. You can see the longing and the heartache in their eyes. They see you living without the Lord, and they fear that you’ll die without him. Of course, you’re sorry that they feel so bad, and you’d like them to be happy, but you’re not about to pretend to believe in Jesus and live like a Christian just to please your parents. You can’t pretend to be what you’re not. You’re thankful to your parents, and you’re glad they want the best for you, but when it comes to the religious part of your upbringing, you say “thanks, but no thanks.”
There are also other, more subtle ways to miss out on the faith that lives in your parents. One is what we’ll call “cold storage religion.” In cold storage religion, you don’t necessarily hate your parents, and for the most part, you even agree with what they’ve taught you about religion. You have many of the same beliefs they have, but for one reason or another, those beliefs are just lying around in cold storage and have no impact on you.
In “cold storage religion,” you believe that God exists; you just don’t worship him. You agree that Jesus died and rose from the dead; it’s just that you don’t follow him. You don’t necessarily disagree with the Bible’s teachings, but for all practical purposes, you ignore them. You may agree that marriage is the right context for sex, but you have a live-in lover anyway. You won’t deny that all good things come from God; but you spend your money the way you want, and you give nothing to the work of the Lord.
In other words, you’ve still got some religious beliefs, but you’ve tucked them away in the compartments of your brain like corpses in a mortuary. The beliefs are there, all right, but they’re cold and lifeless. The Bible says in the book of James, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Another label for “cold storage religion is “dead orthodoxy.”
True faith isn’t dead. It’s warm and alive and active. That’s because true faith embraces the living Lord Jesus Christ. True faith lives in you when the Spirit of Jesus lives in you. And when the Spirit of Jesus lives in you, he does a lot more than deposit some cold, dead beliefs into an icy compartment of your brain. Of course, he helps you to have true beliefs, but he also moves your beliefs those eighteen long inches from your head to your heart. He gives you a living faith that transforms your life.
That’s the kind of living faith that Timothy had. Paul didn’t tell Timothy, “I am reminded of the faith which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and which you have now put into cold storage.” He said, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”
Notice how Paul describes Timothy’s faith. He says that this faith lives in Timothy, and he call it a “sincere faith.” The word “sincere” is a translation of the Greek work anhypocritos, and you don’t need to be a Greek scholar to know what anhypocritos means. It’s just what it sounds like: “non-hypocritical.”
Timothy’s faith was sincere and non-hypocritical, and this was very important since hypocrisy can be a special danger for those of us who grow up in religious homes. “Cold storage religion” is one kind of hypocrisy, and another brand of hypocrisy which has many similarities is what I call “apron string religion.”
What do I mean by “apron string religion?” It’s where you assume that you belong to God simply because your mother does. She’s going to heaven, and if you hold on to her apron strings, maybe you’ll get there too. You assume that your soul is fine as long as you give yourself the same denominational label and observe some of the same rituals as your parents, but you don’t have your parents’ personal faith or love for God.
You still want a church wedding; when you have children, you want them baptized; if there’s a funeral for a family member, you’ll want a priest or pastor to conduct it. You think of yourself as a part of the denomination you grew up in. You say that you’re Anglican, or Presbyterian, or Catholic, or United, or Orthodox, or Baptist, or Pentecostal, or whatever, but if I asked you why, your only answer might be, “Because that’s what my family is.” If I asked what you believe, you might not even know. You might say, “I guess I believe what my church believes.” “And what does your church believe?” “I’m not really sure. I guess it believes whatever the Bible says.” But if I asked you what the Bible says, you wouldn’t know because you seldom read it. You have no burning desire in your heart to know God. You associate yourself with a certain church background without having any idea why, without any clear convictions about what you believe, and without a personal faith in God and determination to follow Jesus.
That’s apron string religion: thinking you have God’s approval simply because of your family ties. The Bible tells us about some people who considered themselves children of God just because they were descendants of Abraham (cf. Matthew 3:9). But God’s Word declares that “those who believe are children of Abraham…. So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:7,9). It’s not enough to have a godly person for an ancestor, even if it’s Abraham himself. If you want to be where Abraham is, you need the faith that Abraham had. You can’t get to heaven simply by riding on Abraham’s coattails or hanging on to Sarah’s apron strings. Of course, it’s a wonderful privilege to have believing parents and a long tradition of godly ancestors, but you’re wasting the privilege if you don’t personally put your faith in Christ.
Timothy didn’t fall into that trap. He had sincere faith in his own heart, a non-hypocritical faith, a personal and genuine faith. Timothy had a godly mother and grandmother, but he didn’t plan to get to heaven by hanging on to their apron strings. The faith that lived in grandma Lois and mother Eunice was also very much alive in Timothy himself. Timothy had more than a mother or grandmother. He had Jesus.
If you’ve been blessed with Christian parents, I hope that you’re like Timothy and have a sincere faith that lives in your own heart. But perhaps you don’t. Maybe you recognize yourself among those who don’t have that sincere faith. If so, you’re squandering the privilege of a godly upbringing, and you’re not ready to face the God who created you. If Jesus returned right now, you would be separated from him (and also from your godly parents) by an eternal chasm that no one can ever cross–the chasm between heaven and hell.
But that moment hasn’t yet arrived. God in his grace continues to call you. You may have shut your ears to your parents; maybe you’ve even convinced them not to talk to you about these matters anymore. But that doesn’t stop God. Even as he scolds you for avoiding him, he still continues to call you. Listen to what God says, speaking as a loving parent, in the book of Jeremiah: “Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:20). If God has set his love on you, his heart yearns for you, he has compassion for you, and he will not give up. You may have left behind the faith of your parents, but it’s not so easy to leave God behind. In fact, he may be catching up to you right now as you’re listening to me.
Oh, I know as well as anyone that if you haven’t accepted Jesus in response to your own mother or father, it doesn’t seem likely that you’ll accept him just because some stranger on the radio urges you to do so. But I’m urging you anyway. And I’ve got help. I’ll bet that even though your parents couldn’t get through to you themselves, they have been praying for you, and the prayers of a godly mother and father are very powerful and effective. They keep asking the Lord to do what they couldn’t do, pleading that somehow God’s Holy Spirit will break through your defenses and give you the same faith and the same eternal life that belongs to them. And because salvation is always the work of God, he can use anything and anyone he pleases–even a stranger’s voice on the radio–to bring faith to those who wouldn’t listen to their own parents.
So I urge you to listen to what God is saying to you. Remember, you haven’t just been hurting your parents; you’ve been turning a cold shoulder to God himself. Admit to God that you have been avoiding him for too long. Believe that the death of Jesus is the one sacrifice that can pay for all your sins. Ask the living Jesus to fill your heart and transform your life and give you a living faith through his Holy Spirit. Do it now; do it today. Then praise the Lord and thank him that he kept pursuing you until he caught up with you. Once you have a living faith in Christ, you’ll begin to understand why the Lord has meant so much to your parents all these years.
Let me also say just a word to those of you who weren’t blessed with Christian parents. I’ve been talking mostly to people whose parents provided them with an example of faith, and if your parents weren’t like that, you may have the feeling that I’ve been ignoring you. If so, sorry about that. But if anything at all is clear in what I’ve been saying, it is this: eternal life comes not through faith in your parents but through faith in Christ. Godly parents are great, of course, but even if your parents aren’t Christians, that shouldn’t keep you from following Jesus. You don’t have to have Christian parents or grandparents to become a Christian yourself; the only thing you absolutely must have is a living, personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Even if your family doesn’t follow Jesus, you can still (as the Bible says) be “redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you by your forefathers.” All you need, says the Scripture, is “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18,19). Jesus died in order to make things right, so even if your parents were in the wrong, you don’t have to be. Your parents will have to answer to God for what kind of parents they have been, but you must also answer for how you have responded to Jesus personally, no matter how good or how bad your parents may have been.
Let’s take one last look at Timothy. We’ve seen that he had a godly mother and grandmother. But the Bible also seems to suggest in Acts 16:1 that Timothy’s father was not a Christian and did little or nothing to instruct Timothy in the Bible. And let’s face it: it’s pretty easy for a boy to imitate his father. Timothy may have been tempted to do what a lot of men still do, thinking that the gospel is for women and children and old folks, but not for real men. But Timothy followed a better path because God gave him a sincere and living faith. And the Lord can give that same faith to you.
So no matter what your parents are like, the gospel is the same: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. You need this Savior, and if your family doesn’t already know him, they need him too. In fact, God may use your salvation as the first step in saving other members of your family.
And if your mom and dad are already Christians, you need the living faith that they have. Just think how delighted they’ll be when they hear that you’ve put your faith in Jesus. That would be the best present you could ever give them. And if you think your parents will be happy, what about God? His love is much greater than the love of any mother, and so his delight will also be that much greater. There will be joy in heaven as the Lord and his angels celebrate your salvation.
Lord Jesus, give each one of us a living and sincere faith in you. Overwhelm our stubborn resistance by your Holy Spirit, and fill us with your life and your truth and your wisdom and your love. Jesus, let us come to know you as you really are, and let us live in you forever. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.