The world around us is a world governed entirely, and gloriously, by God. But there is an optical illusion involved—and so we may tend to divide that world up into two categories. There is the world that we know that is beyond our own control, and which we therefore leave to God, and there is the world close to us that we sometimes think we control. But of course God governs all of it, and we are tasked with the responsibility of learning to walk by faith, in harmony with the Spirit, and not by sight. It is sometimes easier to walk by faith when we are trusting for those things obviously “out of reach.” But when attempting to trust God for things within reach, it is easy to slip off the point and try to take over ourselves. Like a two-year-old fussing at his mother, we say, “Me do it.”
How does this relate to our children and their education? Suppose I were to say to you that you should take an interest in the salvation of your great, great, great grandchildren. What would be the natural response? It would be easy to say that you were never going to meet them, and that you didn’t even know their names. How could you take an interest in their salvation? Well, in the first place, it should be obvious to you that if you were to have a stake in it, it wouldn’t be by the normal means. You couldn’t give them a Christian education, or take them to church, or have family devotions with them—for the compelling reason that they won’t be born for another century and a half yet.
But if we were to talk about the salvation of your own children, quoting such passages as “train up a child in the way he should go,” it would be easy to think that God wanted you to do a big part of it. And the difficulty here is that it is at just this point that many parents slip into a works mentality instead of a grace-through-faith mentality. We know that if God were to give us our great, great, great grandchildren, the whole thing would be entirely of grace. But if He gives us our children, we tend to think it has to be partially the result of what He gave, and partially what we earned. But this is deadly, and the source of a great deal of spiritual frustration.
Educating children in the Lord is a parental duty, no doubt about it. But we are to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). What is it that overcomes the world? Is it not our faith (1 John 5:4)? The just shall live by faith (Rom. 1:17), and it should follow from this that just parents shall bring up their children by faith—faith from first to last, from faith to faith, and faith in between. Educating children rightly is a duty, but we have to come to see our performance of our duties as the natural fruit of faith.
The central duty of Christians is simply to believe God. The central duty of Christian parents as parents is therefore to believe God’s promises concerning their children. Now this faith is no dead faith. Faith manifests its presence through the works it performs. The problem is that unbelief often manifests its presence through the spiritually counterfeit works that it performs—and often the works (at least externally) look the same. A parent who believes God’s promises will provide a solid Christian education for his children. A parent who does not believe God’s promises may provide a Christian education as a means of forcing God’s hand, or manipulating Him, or to impress people. But the students from these respective families are sitting side by side in the same classroom.
As I am privileged to see my children providing a solid Christian education for my grandchildren, I have begun to think ahead. I have three children and thirteen grandchildren. I don’t know how many great grandchildren I will have, or how many great, great grandchildren. But as I have meditated on this, it has occurred to me that the one tangible link that I have to the future is through my children and my children’s children. And as I see them fanning out in front of me, heading off into an unknown world, a world that I will not see, how can I love them? How can I equip them? How can I go with them? There is only one way—by faith.
Faith works, as Paul and James both agree. The works that faith will display are organic, natural, and fruitful. And the fruit is all inter-related. It is not the case that the work of Christian education produces the fruit of godliness in the students. Rather, the gift of faith produces the blossom of Christian education and nurture and the subsequent fruit of godly graduates. All doing must be based on the foundation of being. This is especially true of the “much doing” that goes into the building of a school, or in providing a rigorous home school education. If we forget this, we will lapse into the fruitless labors of “Christianism,” experienced as one gigantic squirrel-cage-run. It is the privilege of faith to be glorified in its works, while it is the misfortune of unbelief to be distracted by them—and sometimes to be driven to distraction by them.
Scripture tells us that with all our getting, we should get wisdom. And at the heart of this wisdom is the call to hear the promises of God and simply believe them. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Has God given us promises concerning our children? Then let us read them, believe them, and gladly work in the light of them. It is this—and only this—that enables some parents and educators to do an enormous amount of work in expansive freedom. Without it, trivial duties become a grief and a burden. All of us will live the entire length of our lives—all of us will survive for the time appointed. But not all of us are able to live the width of our lives. Faith gives our labors texture, and faith enables us to rejoice in the arduous task of educating our children, and through them, future generations.