If you grow up in some fire-eating baptist circles, you know from an early age that you are a black-hearted son of the serpent from conception, raging with murderous God-hating genes, and until you grow up and reveal your true colors, rebelling against every semblance of God, morality, and goodness, there is no hope for your helluva soul. This leads many of these children to embrace the expectations of their parents, peers, and pastors, and go through the liturgy of rebellion, waiting until the tears in their grandmother’s eyes seem harsh enough, and then during the altar call some Wednesday night, there is an explosive conversion that sends you on a 10 city testimony tour to show off your tattoos and STDs and explain to all the other kids how to do what you’ve done. Other kids grow up in this, and since they really do come to love Jesus from an early age but have such lousy wild oats and can’t seem to figure out how to sow them in a high handed way, they fade away and become librarians at bible colleges.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the cultural Christianity prominent in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, mainline churches, and some Reformed denominations. Here, the children are taught from an early age that since they have been baptized and regenerated by the Holy Spirit and take the sacraments and know the creed and their catechism, they would pretty much have to become the BTK Killer for anyone to be too concerned with their souls. The Christian life is a “struggle” against sin and the flesh and the devil, after all, and it is frequently a life-long struggle. And so let’s not get too judgmental of Tommy’s third wife, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and the fact that he’s running an online porn shop. Let’s all remember that St. Paul had a thorn in his flesh too. And of course kids can and do grow up in these traditions and really come to know Jesus, but frequently the fact that these few, these lucky few, know Jesus is completely ignored and unnoticed. If anything, they’re a bit too big for their britches, and perhaps they should teach a catechism class and just calm their beaty little hearts down.
So what’s a kid to do who grows up in a Christian Church? What’s a kid to do who grows up with Christian parents, who has generally always believed in Jesus, has always wanted to embrace the faith of his parents?
On the one hand, we must not despise the real gift of having Christian parents, of growing up in the church. It’s not a bummer to grow up hearing about Jesus from your earliest days. But on the other hand, we must insist that hearing about Jesus is not the same thing as knowing Jesus. Being baptized and taking communion is not necessarily the same thing as embracing Him, as strapping your entire life to that Rocket and asking the Spirit to light the fuse.
The key to talking about this really is the gospel. The fact of human wretchedness is true, but the fact of God’s grace in Jesus is also earth shattering. And the cross of Christ holds both of these realities together. When people come face to face with the cross, with what the cross means, it condemns and saves, it tells both truths together.
This means that kids growing up in Christian homes, kids growing up in the blessings of the covenant need to learn to see their sin and to see their Savior. This is what baptism means, this is what communion means, this is what the confession of sin in the liturgy means, this is what forgiveness always means.
We must avoid creating a culture that demands a cataclysmic conversion for every covenant child, but we must also simultaneously avoid creating a culture that acts like grace is normal or natural. No, actually sin and rebellion is normal and natural, and every covenant kid needs to see that black dragon in his heart. And then in the next breath see Jesus the Warrior crushing the serpent’s head, and washing his sins clean and breathing His Spirit into him.
Children of the covenant need to learn to give powerful testimonies of God’s grace in their lives. They might not have robbed a string of banks, but the same flesh is in them, the same war must be waged inside of them. And they must know and see victory, and that is always a cataclysmic joy, always an earth shattering glory.
Of course in one sense, these could seem like “boring testimonies,” and we can speak with real gratitude of those who grow up always knowing and loving Jesus. But there’s really nothing boring about a descendant of Adam being busted out of the dungeon of the devil. And there is no true follower of Christ who does not know that freedom, who does not know that joy down deep in his bones, who does not want to stand up on his chair and shout ‘freedom!’ at the top of his lungs.
Don’t tell me you grew up in the church and you’ve always just pretty much believed. Show me your scars, show me your wounds, show me that rascally Spirit-smile and those bold bright eyes that tell of battles and glories where the flesh was slain, where sin was crushed, where you chased the devil and laughed him back to hell.
Ben Alexander says
This was great. This is a needed area for shepherding. I like how you spoke to the once-baptized everything’s fine ditch too. There are a lot of children growing up now in homes whose parents are new to raising up children “in the covenant,” and there are plenty of overreactions that are prevalent. Thanks for addressing an important area for us.
Great article! So many times we think of a “testimony” about how we come to Jesus…and then we were saved. The End. But the Christian walk is about being saved again and again and again. Don’t get me wrong…I believe in an eternal security. But in the process of sanctification I need Jesus to rescue me daily. Just today, I was sent to purchase something for work and got the RUN-A-ROUND! 5 places before I achieved my purpose. I was VERY tempted to be irritated and give big sighs of despair. But I ran to Jesus and He saved me. He gave me a new perspective that my time was in HIS hands. He gave me HIS joy and forgiveness for the one who caused the confusion. Perhaps we need to be telling one another everyday how and from what Jesus saves us. I think our testimonies would encourage one another to walk in the Spirit.
Rita Joiner says
As someone who was blessed growing up in a faithful Christian home and who is now bringing up little ones in the church, I loved this.
Cle Callihan says
Good article. I’ve known “fire-breathing” Baptists who loved God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and some who were drunkards. I’ve known some in Reformed churches who loved God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and some who were immoral.
The church denomination in which one grows up or if one grows up in a home of non-believers, as I did, makes no difference unless one has a personal, intimate, relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and is guided daily,moment by moment, by His Spirit.
john malfe says
Just what So many of us need to see and read. We share all the time of how we came to know jesus christ as our saviour but never do we give a true day to day or other accounts of how Jesus has been working in our lives daily. and molding us, into the person he wants us to be. Excellent!!
I so needed this. I was one of those kids who grew up knowing GOD. I was saved at an early age but questioned it later cause I did not have that “bad” rode to show I went down. But then I look back and see the times I REALLY messed up, times God protected me and times I got out of church. Then I seen the times he corrected me and when he really worked on my heart to get back in church and the time he truly spoke to me about rededicating my life to him.
I can say being saved at a real young age I am not sure I truly got the concept and it was not until my 30’s that God spoke to me and told me that I still had lots to learn.
Chris and I were just discussing this…sometimes it seems as though we are just sniffing out sin all day long. I smell sin here, and some there, and there it is a big glob of it on my wall!
So pointing out the dragon without pointing to the cross is futile and even destructive. Man are those baptist roots hard to pull up!
Good stuff! The normal outline we teach folks to go by when sharing their testimony is: my life before Christ, how I came to know Christ, and my life since. I’ve tried to teach my kids another outline: BBSS – my Background (I grew up in the church); But (that doesn’t guarantee my salvation); Sin – how I’ve seen firsthand that I’m a sinner: Savior – how I’ve seen Christ free me from sin and how I’m trusting in him to be my Savior.
I want to like this, and I agree with most of it. But I really dislike the labeling and stereotyping. Baptists have the same problems as Catholics with people thinking their souls are safe when they in fact are not- they just rely on different standards of measurement. I have spent time in a wide variety of church communities (strict Presbyterian, evangelical Presbyterian, fire breathing Baptist, Assembly of God, Evangelical Free, etc)and noticed pretty similar attitudes towards determining one`s spiritual state, with the exception being the Assembly of God, where I did notice a lot of talk about needing to get saved over and over again. Can we have these conversations as Christians without feeling the need to put other groups into our stereotypically neatly wrapped packages?
As a former Baptist, I know a blog post is good when it makes me shout for joy at God’s goodness. Thanks for this reminder.
Ben Rossell says
Toby – Fantastic! Thank you for this, dear brother.
Christian Teknon says
You’re still missing the point. ANYONE can give a testimony of what God is doing or has done in their life. There is however, a difference between a “current” testimony and a “salvation” testimony. As one of the children you describe who grew up knowing and loving Jesus, I have never had any difficulty speaking to the grace of God in my life. The hard part is knowing how to describe having no memory of life without Jesus. “I was.. uh… saved… when I was… uh… little. And then…”