|By: Dr. Steven Riser; ©2004|
|Christian parents want their children to develop Christian convictions, but how do they go about instilling those values in their children? Dr. Riser gives some practical tips.|
We are surrounded by Christian parents who are grieving because their children have departed from the Christian faith or never really embraced it in the first place. They may be involved in alcohol, drugs, rebellion, immorality or humanistic philosophy—all bringing shame on their families and the cause of Christ. Others may choose to silently drift further and further from the Lord “doing their own thing.” A frequent comment that one hears from such parents is that, “We have tried our best to teach our child what is right and they have chosen to rebel against God and go their own way. Where did we do wrong?” Parents have ceded to others the primary responsibility of teaching and training their children and are suffering the consequences.
Many Christians fail to realize that we live in a foreign country and that this world is not our home, nor is it our friend (Jas. 4:4; 1 Jn. 2:15-17).
We are the outsiders; this world is not our home. We are strangers and pilgrims on this earth looking for a city whose builder and maker is God. We are described as aliens and exiles on our way to a place that Jesus has prepared for us. (John 14:2, 3) We are subject to the ungodly influences around us; Scripture warns us not to love the world or the things of this world (1 Jn. 2:15). We are exhorted not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed (Rom. 12:2).
Today, “believing” is not enough. It’s not that believing isn’t important; it is. In our time, believing is made out to be more of a preference based on one’s subjective feelings at the moment rather than a strong conviction based on sound evidence. We live in a culture that’s radically different from the one the baby boomers experienced in their formative years. In today’s culture, many beliefs are subjectively determined and therefore, may frequently be subject to change. It’s “politically correct” in our culture to be tolerant with everyone except those who believe in objective truth. Those who hold such a position are subject to widespread scorn and ridicule. They aren’t likely to uphold or maintain such beliefs without having strong convictions concerning the truth. It’s not enough to merely believe or give mental assent to biblical truths about God.
We need to develop inner convictions which will enable us to stand alone against those who subscribe to a secular humanistic worldview (Jas. 2:18-20).
The supreme virtue in a culture devoid of conviction is tolerance. Tolerance used to mean putting up with someone or something that you do not like or agree with. This belief is consistent with what Paul said in Romans 15:7. The “new” tolerance is different—it tells us that what every individual believes is equally right or valid. In other words, all values, beliefs, lifestyles and truth claims are equally valid. One of the differences between prejudice and conviction is that prejudice is based on ignorance and conviction is based on evidence. If morality is relative then the convictions that Christians espouse have no basis. If there is no absolute moral truth, then there is no basis for Christian convictions. True tolerance does not involve the watering down of our convictions to the lowest common denominator. True tolerance separates the person from the opinion. We commit to treat each other with respect even when we don’t agree with one another’s beliefs, values, practices or point of view. Political correctness is based on relative morality and seeks to put social pressure on Christians to conform to their secular humanistic point of view. It does not encourage people to think for themselves, nor does it accept those who subscribe to absolute moral truth. Those who espouse to relative truth are absolutely sure there is no absolute truth.
We can pray for godly wisdom (Jas. 1:5) and diligently heed the Scriptures that warn us of these dangers: the world, the flesh and the devil. We can seek to cultivate the character and conduct of Christ and follow the Biblical admonitions to model, train and teach our children to stand alone for God by developing godly convictions. We must develop convictions concerning how we should live to best please God and how we can successfully confront the dangers of this world—by learning to do God’s will, God’s way. In short, we can ask God to give us the knowledge, desire and power to live in a way that is pleasing to Him.
The word “conviction” comes from “convictio.” Convictions are strong beliefs or truths that one is fully convinced of, having been persuaded by evidence or argument and not merely subjective feelings. We have a conviction when we are thoroughly convinced or fully persuaded that something is true. Convictions are more than personal preferences or subjective opinions; they involve strong beliefs that manifest themselves in actions. A conviction is a strong belief that we have obediently made a part of our life and practice. Having convictions is being so thoroughly convinced that something is absolutely true that you take a stand for it regardless of the consequences. Paul said that “the Gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction” (1 Thess.1: 5)
Teaching standards and developing convictions are similar but different. Clearly parents are called to teach their children (Deut. 6:7). We all need to teach spiritual standards, but we can never directly command convictions in others. In order to develop convictions, a person needs to “see” the truth of what is being taught and he also has to “own” that truth. In other words, there needs to be: instruction, understanding and assimilation and application of the truth. Standards are something that are taught and learned; while convictions are something that are both owned and applied (Rom. 14:22-23).
Convictions are based on the truth, but where does truth come from? Jesus clearly answers the question in John 17:17b where He said, “Thy [God’s] Word is truth.” The Psalmist assures us, “Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven.” Truth is that which corresponds to reality. God is the supreme realist and we are realistic insofar as we see things from His point of view. God’s Word is the blueprint of reality. Reality is that which exists. If reality can’t be relative then truth can’t be relative. Only the perception of the truth can be relative. God is the only valid source of morality; He is the only one who has the right to bind the conscience. For Christians, the Bible has always been our final authority for faith and practice. In 2 Thessalonians 2:15, Paul said to “stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Teaching had to be followed by internalization.
Christian convictions, based on the Word of God, are of varying types. We may become convinced concerning a given interpretation, a specific application, a general principle, and an application of a principle. Some Christians argue against holding convictions that go beyond direct commands of Scripture. We should be thoroughly convinced when the evidence warrants and should act accordingly. Not every Christian will share the same convictions.
Convictions, unlike prejudices, are founded upon a thorough, objective investigation of facts.
Conviction describes the work of the Holy Spirit by which the satanic blindness is lifted from men’s eyes and they are enabled to see themselves in God’s sight—guilty of death because of sin against a holy God and unable to save themselves. It is by conviction, brought about by the Spirit, in our conscience, that a sinner is brought to repentance. Our convictions about right and wrong are formed in our conscience. Everyone has convictions and a conscience (Acts 24:16; Heb. 10:22; 1 Pet. 3:16). The Spirit convicts and convinces. We should not confuse our conscience with the Spirit. Our conscience helps us differentiate between right and wrong so we can develop our convictions. If we don’t stand for something, we will most likely stand for anything. Convictions can be positive or negative. We can have negative convictions regarding our sin or we can have positive convictions regarding God’s truth. If we fail to obey our conscience—what we know to be true, we can’t grow spiritually. If we fail to obey an enlightened conscience, we can make a ship wreck of our faith (1 Tim. 1:19).
Biblical faith presupposes and requires inner conviction. Faith begins with the promises of God contained in His Word being illuminated by the Spirit of God. The writer of Hebrews helps us to understand the relationship between faith and conviction. Hebrews 11: l says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence [conviction] of things not seen.” The word evidence can be translated “proof” or “conviction.” Biblical faith is not just convicting, it is also convincing. It is not a leap in the dark nor is it a worked up feeling, but rather peaceful confidence based on evidence that demands a verdict. When one is persuaded by the evidence it results in conviction. Once we see truth, we can’t unsee it.
Paul says that faith is a gift (Eph. 2:8, 9). God’s Word is an incorruptible seed (1 Pet. 1:23) engrafted into our lives and fertilized by the Spirit of God (Titus 3:5). In 1 Corinthians 12:3b Paul said, “...no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Without the calling, illumination and regeneration of the Holy Spirit, conviction and faith would not be possible. Faith is like a muscle that grows—some people have “little faith”, some have “faith” and some have “great faith.” The seed of the Gospel is germinated by the regenerating activity of the Spirit. As we learn to ruminate on God’s Word, it becomes a vital part of our lives and we become persons with God-given convictions which in godly actions and godly habits.
Clearly, saving faith in the Bible involves more than just mental assent. It is a whole soul’s trust in God and in His Word as true. Without such faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Faith involves several dimensions and impacts on all of life:
Any intimate relationship impacts on how we think, feel and act. The Christian faith involves:
Unbelief arises out of ignorance, while faith arises out of being persuaded by evidence—revealed and illuminated by God. God said to the prophet Hosea that His people are destroyed “through lack of knowledge” of His ways, Word, will, promise and provision (Hosea 4:6).
While cultivating biblical convictions is a needful and beneficial practice, it is possible that our convictions can be misused or abused. How is this so?
We should not be quick to judge one another for differences in lifestyle and convictions. Paul makes clear in Romans 14:3-4, that the Lord is our judge, not one another. Sometimes the Lord leads some believers to do things he does not lead others to do. In Luke 6:37, Jesus warned us not to judge in the sense of condemnation. Discernment yes! Condemnation no!
There is also the danger of becoming proud or self-righteous regarding our convictions and lifestyle. Such pride is sin and must be avoided like the plague. Godly convictions are the result of the work of God’s Word and Spirit in us and therefore nothing for which we can take pride in. We must remember Paul’s warning not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (Rom. 12:3). Pride can keep us from being open to others and other points of view which we may need to hear. If our convictions are sound they can withstand re-examination. Since no one has all the truth, we should always be open to additional truth.
In addition to appearing “holier than thou,” some come off as “weirder than thou.” Admittedly God’s ways are different than man’s, but they are also qualitatively superior and therefore preferable. Our convictions need to be in accord with God’s wisdom, not based on some odd eccentricity on our part. A balanced life is a healthy life. Paul said, “Let your moderation be known to all men”(Phil. 4:5a). We shouldn’t be so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good, nor should we be so earthly minded that we are no heavenly good. Beware of being more interested in converting others to your particular conviction than converting unbelievers to Christ.
Paul says, “Let every one be fully persuaded in their own mind” (Rom. 14:5). Be fully convinced but be humble enough to admit when you are wrong on some issues. When an issue arises that causes us to question our prior convictions and corresponding practices, we need to examine the matter thoroughly and objectively. If we wish to know the truth, we must be willing to obey it (John 17:7). We must consider not only what is lawful but what is profitable or edifying. We should not use our freedom as an excuse to live for ourselves rather than living for God.
It’s not enough to develop godly convictions through prayer and the assimilation of God’s Word; we need to be willing to share them with others. But we need to share them in humility and without condemning others (1 Pet. 3:15). When shared in this way, others are more likely to honestly consider these things as well. God may use you to open their eyes to serious dangers they have not seen. What you have to share may be the solution they have been seeking to a problem already recognized. Sharing the wisdom and insight God has given you is an important part of edifying one another. However, it’s not edifying to argue, accuse or condemn. Grant some grace to your brother and sisters to differ from you. The convictions we share are not meant to be requirements of the law to be placed upon others. Only God has the right to bind the conscience. We live by grace, not by works of the law. Each of us is responsible before God for the choices he or she makes. It is God who will judge us all. To our own Master we stand or fall.
While it is true that we cannot develop convictions for our children, there are some simple things we can do to aid them as they seek to develop their own convictions. First, communicate to your children the importance of developing convictions. Teach them how to think critically for themselves. Teach them to know what they believe and why they believe it. Remind them when their actions are not consistent with their “professed” convictions. Second, realize that motivation for children will be developed as they see and experience the satisfaction of a life led by conviction. Children need to see their parents who are satisfied to live a life of conviction regardless of their material blessings. As we share with them the blessing that comes from believing and obeying the truth, they will want to emulate our character and conduct. Finally, we can provide the best teaching backed up by a consistent example. We can’t do anything for God without His power; therefore we mustn’t overlook the power of prayer in this important process.
Paul says that we walk (live) by faith (conviction), not by sight (2 Cor.5:7). It is those things that we know by moral and spiritual conviction that will aid us in our walk with God.
It is imperative that Christians be active in developing convictions through what the Bible calls a “proving” process–rationally examining the evidence (Eph. 5:10; 1 Thess. 5:21; Rom. 12:2; Phil. 1:10).
The ability to prove the will of God in every aspect of life, to understand what pleases God, is a mark of spiritual maturity. Absent the process of “proving”—conviction formulation, the Christian must rely on the convictions of others, trite cliché’s or tradition, all of which are inadequate. Each believer needs to develop his own convictions based on the clear Biblical teaching and other reliable evidence. In short, we develop convictions by becoming convinced as a result of examining the evidence and discovering the truth. Consider the following strategy:
All Christians are engaged in spiritual warfare against ideas, philosophies, and general thought patterns that contradict God’s. In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 Paul said, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Because Jesus is Lord, He has the right to make exclusive claims on us—including our minds. We would all do well to ask, “Is Jesus Christ the Lord of my mind?” Are we seeking to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”? We are called by God to think His thoughts after Him so we may emulate His way. Clearly, His thoughts are higher than ours and His ways are superior to ours. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Christ’s servants are called to infiltrate enemy territory Scripture calls “the world,” and take the minds of those, once enslaved to error and the evil one, captive for Christ and His truth. We are engaged in nothing less than a battle for the hearts and minds of men. The knowledge of God contained in the Holy Scripture is the standard by which every thought must be measured. Any idea that is not consistent with God’s inspired Word is sheer imagination and does not correspond with reality. The Christian faith is based on God truth, not our personal experience or cultural morality. The Christian faith is essentially offensive and exclusive. Its aim is to replace error with truth. Paul knew that every unbiblical presupposition was essentially a rival religion. Because of Paul’s love for Christ and his desire for the glory of God, he exhibited a holy intolerance for and antagonism toward every idea that was contrary to God’s revealed Word.
Because we are in a battle for the hearts and minds of men, we can’t use conventional weapons. Only by truth and love can the kingdom of God be advanced in the world. Growth in grace involves the liberation of one’s ideas and convictions, in ever increasing degrees, from worldly wisdom and increased conformity to the wisdom of God. When the believer’s every thought is brought to the point of obedience to the authority of Jesus, then we have attained the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Since Christ exercises His authority over people through His Word, submission to the authority of Scripture is equivalent to the Lordship of Christ. Without ongoing renewal in one’s thinking, we inevitably fall prey to error and deception and the world will squeeze us into its mold (Rom. 12:1). Are you a prisoner of Scripture? Is your conscience captive to the Word of God? Is Christ the Lord of your mind? Are you actively engaged in the process of cultivating Christian convictions?