May 11th, 2003

MOTHER’S FAITH AND YOURS

“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).

Most of owe a lot to our mothers. Your mother may not be perfect, but you can be grateful if she stuck with you and kept loving you. It can be hard to be a mom. Maybe you’ve heard that insanity is hereditary–parents get it from their kids! 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 a 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 has shown you the truth and love of God. She has introduced you to Jesus. She has read you the great stories of the Bible and has taught you God’s commands. Your mom has a living faith in Jesus, and she’s done everything she can to encourage that same faith in you. She’s answered your questions, helped you learn to pray, and done also sorts of things to help you know God. It’s a great privilege to have a mother like that.

That’s what Timothy had. Timothy was a young pastor in the early years of the Christian church, and two letters in the Bible bear his name, 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. The apostle Paul wrote these letters to Timothy under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Near the beginning of the second letter, Paul 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 when he was just a baby (2 Timothy 3:15). Paul writes to Timothy, “From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Timothy first encountered the truth of the Bible right in his own home. Many people first came to know Jesus through parents and grandparents who made a daily practice of reading the Bible as a family, memorized parts of Scripture, and discussing how to put it into practice. It’s a great privilege to know the Scriptures from the time you were a baby, 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, prayed for you, taught you about Jesus, showed you by their example how to follow Christ, and taught you the Bible as a daily part of your family life, you’ve really been blessed. Thank God for your parents and grandparents, and make a special point of thanking your parents and grandparents for leading you to God.

For all of you who are Christian mothers and grandmothers, isn’t it encouraging to hear what the Bible says about Mother Lois and Grandma Eunice? You may sometimes wonder whether you have much impact on your children or grandchildren, but the Bible makes it clear that you can have a huge impact. Timothy was a key figure in the early decades of the Christian church; Timothy was the one chosen to carry on the mission of the mighty apostle Paul. And who first led Timothy to God, taught him the Bible, and launched him in a life of spreading the gospel? His mother and grandmother did! That’s a huge encouragement for godly mothers and grandmothers to keep praying, teaching, and setting an example for their children and grandchildren.

It’s a great gift for Christian parents and grandparents to have an opportunity to lead little ones to Christ, and it’s a great blessing to grow up in such a home. But with privilege comes responsibility. If you’ve been blessed with a Christ-centered, Bible-based upbringing, keep in mind that you need more than a Christian mother or father; you need Christ yourself. 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 faith of his own.

Missing Out

Like Timothy, we need more than a mother who has faith. We need a faith that lives in our own hearts. Unfortunately, there are 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. Faith often begins in the home, but you don’t automatically inherit the faith of your parents. There are various ways to miss out.

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. As you see it, they had no right to make you live by their rules or to push you to follow their God. You don’t like your parents’ faith in the Lord, you don’t like your parents, and you feel superior to them. 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 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. But it’s not the only way.

Thanks But No Thanks

Another way to turn away from your parents’ faith in Jesus is what I call the “thanks, but no thanks” approach. 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 may appreciate some of the values they taught you, but you think that their religion is old-fashioned. It’s fine if it works for them, but you’ve chosen a 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 faith commitment.

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.

But even if 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. You’re sorry they feel that way, 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 for many things, 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.”

Cold Storage

There are also other, more subtle ways to miss out on the faith that lives in your parents. There’s “cold storage religion.” In cold storage religion, you don’t throw away your parents’ faith, and you don’t do anything with it either. You keep it frozen. With cold storage religion, you don’t necessarily hate your parents. 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  just lie around frozen 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; you just don’t live for him. You assume the Bible is a great book; but you don’t read the Bible or follow its guidance. You may agree that marriage is the right context for sex, but you have a live-in lover anyway. You don’t deny that all good things come from God; but you spend your money the way you want, and you give nothing to help others or to support the mission of the Lord. Your beliefs don’t affect your behavior.

You’ve still got some correct beliefs, but you’ve tucked them away in the compartments of your brain like dead bodies in the freezer compartments of a mortuary. The beliefs are there, 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). Cold storage religion—belief without behavior—is dead.

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 living faith that changes 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.” Paul said in the Bible, “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” translates 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. This is very important. 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.”

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 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 church, but if I asked you 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 of some people who considered themselves children of God just because they were descendants of the great believer Abraham. But Jesus told them, “You belong to your father, the devil” (John 8:44). Being a true child of Abraham depends not on bloodlines but on faith. 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). Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were heroes of faith, but it’s not enough to have even such great friends of God as your ancestors. You can’t get to heaven simply by riding on Abraham’s coattails or hanging on to Sarah’s apron strings. 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 the trap of apron-strong religion. He had sincere faith in his own heart, a non-hypocritical faith, a personal and genuine faith. Timothy had a godly mother and grandmother who did a lot to help him know God, but Timothy 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.

Pursued By God

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 wasting 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 and grandparents) by an eternal canyon that no one can ever cross–the canyon 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. You may have ignored the faith of your grandparents. You may even have told them not to talk to you about Jesus any more. But that doesn’t stop God. He rebukes you for avoiding him, and he still continues to call you. Listen to what God says in the Bible, speaking as loving parent: “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.

If you haven’t accepted Jesus in response to your own mother or father, it may not 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. Perhaps your parents couldn’t get through to you themselves, but they have been praying for you and asking God to save 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. They keep pleading that somehow God’s Holy Spirit will break through your walls 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 may also be hurting any children and grandchildren you might have if you don’t pass along to them the biblical faith that your parents and grandparents passed along to you. God cares about you and about your family, and he calls you to receive his love.

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.

Faithless Parents

Let me also say 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, but what if your parents have been faithless or hypocritical? Well, what I’ve been saying all along is that eternal life comes not through faith in your parents but through faith in Christ. Godly parents are great, 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 must have is living, personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Even if your family members don’t follow Jesus, the Bible says that you can still 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 more look at Timothy. We’ve seen that Timothy had a godly mother and grandmother. But Timothy’s father was not a Christian. Timothy’s father did little or nothing to instruct Timothy in the Bible. Timothy’s father did not provide his son with a model of how a man lives for Jesus. 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: assume that God and church are 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.

No matter what your parents are like, the gospel call is the same: Believe on 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, so his delight in your salvation will also be that much greater. There will be joy in heaven as the Lord and his angels celebrate over you.

PRAYER

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.