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.