"...And to Goodness, Knowledge...": Part Three

This e-Pistle article is a continuation of a study of 2 Peter 1:5 – 8 begun in the previous three entries. It is also the third article considering Peter’s admonition to add “knowledge” upon “faith” and “goodness” (2 Peter 1:5).

In Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians, he asked God to give them “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation” that they might “know Him better.” In this, he was praying that their relationship with God might grow as Gods’ Spirit revealed Himself more and more to them. In the next verse (18), Paul prayed that they might be “enlightened” to another kind of knowledge. Here he speaks not of a relational knowing but of an intellectual knowledge and understanding. There were three areas of this knowledge which Paul desired for the Ephesians. In last month’s article, we discussed knowing “the hope to which He has called us” and the importance of passing this knowledge on to our children.

“The Riches of His Glorious Inheritance in the Saints”

Not very long ago, I was studying to teach on the conversation that Jesus had with the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16 – 30; Mark 10:17 – 22; Luke 18:18 – 30). The wealthy young man’s question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” drew my attention. In particular, the word “inherit” stood out to me. As I considered the concept of an inheritance, it greatly added to my understanding of why this rich young ruler so misunderstood the true source of eternal life. It would be helpful also to us as we seek to unpack the meaning of the second area of knowledge for which Paul petitioned the Lord on behalf of the Ephesians.

An inheritance comes to an individual from someone else; it is not something which one goes out and gets for himself. This is an affirmation of the sovereign grace of God in salvation. It is a truth reinforced so frequently in Scripture that it is remarkable there is controversy about it. This is a simple truth; so simple that a child can understand it. In fact, one must receive it “like a little child” or he will never enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:15). Though he may like to pretend that he is a grown-up, there are things that every child knows that he cannot do for himself. He may imagine himself driving, but he knows he cannot hold the steering wheel, reach the pedals, and see out of the front windshield all at the same time. If he is going to get anywhere, he knows that someone else is going to have to do the driving for him. A child accepts this as truth like a child, as a child.

As we consider how we may seek to instill this knowledge of God’s sovereign grace in our children’s minds, we find here an area of knowledge which they are uniquely equipped to comprehend. When they are children is the best time to build a foundational understanding of the inadequacy of human righteousness and the sufficiency of God’s grace. D. L. Moody is quoted as saying, “It is vitally important that our children be led to a personal relationship with Christ and instructed in His Word when they are young… If I could relive my life, I would devote my entire ministry to reaching children for God.” When one considers what a great contribution this man made to the kingdom of God in his ministry to adults, it is very significant how much emphasis he puts on the salvation of children. Another great American evangelist, Dr. R. A. Torrey said:

"No other form of Christian effort brings such immediate, such large, and such lasting results as work for the conversion of children. It has many advantages over other forms of work. First of all, children are more easily led to Christ than adults. In the second place, they are more likely to stay converted than those apparently converted at a later period of life. They also make better Christians, as they do not have as much to unlearn as those who have grown old in sin. They have more years of service before them. A man converted at sixty is a soul saved plus ten years of service; a child saved at ten is a soul saved plus sixty years of service."

Of course, as great as these two famous soul-winners were, the key evangelists in the lives of children are their parents. Author of Children in Crisis, Larry Sharp, writes, “We have every reason to be encouraged; devoting our energies and resources to nearly one-half of the world’s population is of great value. Eighty-five percent of all people who come to Christ do so between the ages of four and fourteen. When Christ changes children, the vital difference made in their lives is our encouragement.” Parents are in the position to provide this encouragement on a daily basis in the primary redemptive community designed by God: the family.
It is interesting that each of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler is immediately preceded by the story of Jesus welcoming the children and declaring things like “the Kingdom of heaven/God belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14b; Luke 18:16b). One has to wonder if this juxtaposition is intended to point out this very contrast between child-like faith and the works-based theology of the young man who went away sorrowing. He asked about inheriting eternal life and misunderstood the fundamental nature of an inheritance: it is someone’s to give, not someone’s to be acquired. Which brings us to another important truth.

An inheritance is something which one is given by virtue of a relationship, not by effort or merit. A child inherits for the very reason that he is a child: a child of the benefactor, his father. One inherits eternal life because he is a child of God, his heavenly Father. The Scriptural language of being “born again” (John 3) and of adoption (Romans 8 and 9, Galatians 4, Ephesians 1) testifies to the familial nature of this relationship, and nearly all of the Scriptural language that touches on God’s relationship to His people is specifically familial. God designed the family to communicate this relationship. In particular, He designed the relationship of a father to his children as an illustration.

In the preface to his anthology of readings from George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis writes:

"We have learned from Freud and others about those distortions in character and errors in thought which result from a man’s early conflicts with his father. Far the most important thing we can know about George MacDonald is that his whole life illustrates the opposite process. An almost perfect relationship with his father was the earthly root of all his wisdom. From his own father, he said, he first learned that Fatherhood must be at the core of the universe. He was thus prepared in an unusual way to teach that religion in which the relation of Father and Son is of all relations the most central."

Lewis – and MacDonald – were, of course, speaking of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. But these insights also point to the significance of the father – child relationship in the human family, and this is consistent with an important message of Scripture. The last verses in the Old Testament (Malachi 4:5, 6) and the first communication from God in the New Testament after four hundred years of silence (Luke 1:17) both speak of turning “the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers” as the key to God’s plan for making ready “a people prepared for the Lord.”

Recent statistics reported by the Baptist Press indicate that when a child is the first person in a household to make a decision for Christ, this decision has a limited affect on the family and there is a 3.5 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow. When a mother is the first to become a Christian, it has a slightly greater impact upon the family with a 17 percent chance everyone else in the household will follow. But when a father comes under the Lordship of Christ, the impact is dramatically increased to a 93 percent probability that everyone else in the family will follow and come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. In other words, one key relationship between a father and his children is used mightily of God to lead to the most important of all relationships: “…you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:15b – 17a). What an inheritance!

An inheritance is something that is to be passed on, so it is not just for one person, or one generation. The first insight about an inheritance that we have discussed concerns a correct knowledge and understanding of salvation. The second added to this and focused on the knowledge of the believer’s intimate relationship to God as it is illustrated through the family. This third insight suggests two more vital aspects of the Christian life which are critical to teach to our children: the believer’s responsibility to the lost and his membership in the Body of Christ.

The last instruction Jesus left to His followers was to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19a). It is important that Christian parents teach their children to be disciple-makers. We can do this in a number of ways. First, we must teach them to do this with their own children by setting the example for them by discipling them ourselves. All too often parents shuffle this responsibility off to the “professional” ministries of the local church or abdicate it altogether. But if our children would learn and embrace their responsibility for the next generation, we must step up to our responsibilities and teach them to pass on their inheritance to their children and their children’s children.

Another way that we can teach our children to be disciple-makers is by strategically involving our families in ministry. We must give our children opportunities to serve the Lord by reaching out to those in need, to meet needs spiritually and physically. Some youth ministers in the American church have rightly recognized that this is an important way for young people to learn how to live out their faith and battle the self-focus that is so prevalent among our youth. But most of the time, the underlying dynamic of these youth ministry outreach efforts is what I call “the tyranny of the peer group,” and such efforts are limited in their ability to picture for young people what it means for the Body of Christ, the Family of God, to work and serve together. Paul David Tripp, author of Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, calls the family “God’s primary learning community.” Teaching our children to minister should not be left to the “ministry professionals.” It is our privilege, our responsibility, and we have been provided with the ideal context in which to help them focus on the needs of others rather than reinforcing their own natural self-absorption.

Finally, notice that the phrase is “His glorious inheritance in the saints.” This inheritance, given to the Lord Jesus by His heavenly Father (John 6:37 – 40; John 10:27 – 29; John 17: 1- 10), is the salvation of His people, the eternal life given to “the saints.” Part of the problem of the American church is that Americans are very individualistic. We tend to think in terms of our own “personal relationship with Christ,” our own spiritual growth, our own spiritual needs. But His inheritance, which He has passed on to us, is bigger than each one of us as individuals. It is an inheritance “in the saints” who will one day gather around the throne as one and cry out praise to Him in a loud voice (Revelation 7:16). The knowledge of this inheritance, for which the Apostle Paul fervently prayed concerning the Ephesians, is essential training for every believer and so important for us to teach our children. Later in Ephesians, in another prayer he offers on their behalf, Paul requests that they “may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” (Ephesians 3:18, 19b). Every true believer’s heart resonates with the desire to grasp the vast proportions of Christ’s love, but it is so easy to overlook the phrase, “together with all the saints.” It is as if Paul is suggesting that one cannot grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ apart from the fellowship of “all the saints.” In fact, if you consider the theme of Ephesians starting in the middle of chapter two all the way through chapter six, it makes sense to conclude that this is indeed what Paul is saying.

How important it is, then, that our children should be included in the community of the saints as a whole and taught that they have a vital membership in the Body of Christ. And how unwise it is for the ministries of our churches to be structured in such a way as to segregate children and young people into homogenous age-groups disconnected from the larger body of believers. In his book, Family-Based Youth Ministry, Presbyterian youth minister Mark DeVries, writes:

"It might be hoped that churches would stand in the gap and provide an environment in which children and youth could dialogue and collaborate with adults. But sadly enough, for many teenagers, the place they are most segregated from the world of adults is their church. And churches with the more ‘successful’ youth programs seem to particularly exacerbate this problem. Most ‘successful’ youth ministries have their own youth Sunday school, youth missions, youth small groups, youth evangelism teams, youth worship, youth budget, youth interns, youth committees, youth offering, youth Bible studies, youth ‘elders’ (never did understand that one), youth centers, youth choir, youth rooms, youth discipleship programs, youth conferences, youth retreats, youth fundraisers and (my personal favorite) youth ministers. Even when families do worship together, almost inevitably the parents sit together, the children are shuffled off to ‘children’s church,’ and the youth sit in the balcony. The Church is the one place where teenagers could logically be linked to the world of adults, but for the most part, we have missed the opportunity."

But the opportunity is still available. It is available to parents to teach our children and young people what it means to be a part of the family of God. It is our Biblical responsibility, our privilege, and it is practical. As we seek to do this, by God’s grace, our children will learn to pass on “His glorious inheritance in the saints” through fellowship within the Body of Christ to build up the Church and in ministry through the Body of Christ to advance the Kingdom of God.

The next e-Pistle entry will continue this study with “His Incomparably Great Power for Us Who Believe.”