Faith is not Genetic
Course: 52 Major Stories of the Bible
Lecture: Faith is not Genetic
Let’s pray. Father, there are passages in Scripture that are joyous and exciting, but today’s passage certainly is not one of those. It is dark and scary because the book of Judges is full of Your disgust of sin and what happens when the next generation does not renew their commitment to You. Father, we pray that we will not leave gilt-ridden and heavy hearted; rather, I pray that we will leave with excitement and joy in our hearts for our calling to prepare the next generation of believers. We pray, Father, that we will see the positive example of what can happen through the negative examples given in Judges. In Your name we pray, Amen.
Covenant Renewal Ceremony
Directly before the book of Judges, the book of Joshua ends with a covenant renewal ceremony. In Joshua 24, Joshua gathers all the tribes of Israel together at a place called Shechem and begins recounting all of the wonderful things God has done, starting with how he used Abraham to create the nation of Israel, preserved it, brought it out of Egypt, fought for it and gave it land. Starting in Joshua 24:12, he summarizes what he has been saying and writes, “It was not by your sword or by your bowl, I [meaning God] gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built and you dwelt in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and all of orchards that you did not plant.” God truly was the warrior who fought the battle and gave the Promised Land to the descendants of Abraham. Then he continues to the covenant renewal portion, “Now therefore, [in other words, in light of what God has done for you], fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and faithfulness, put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the river [meaning the Jordan River] and in Egypt and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the regions beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in the land in which you dwell, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua is calling his generation to covenant renewal. He has recounted how God has kept His part of the covenant and committed Himself to this generation, and Joshua is calling his generation to renew the covenant to commit themselves to God as their covenantal God. Now, there is nothing new in this covenant renewal business. It has gone on as far back as Isaac and Jacob, and it seems that God renews His commitment in almost every generation. He promises to be their God if they will be His people. For the people, their part of the renewal ceremony is to commit themselves to God as their covenantal God in faithful obedience. It is not enough for parents to commit themselves to God, whether that parent be Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or Bill and Robin. Each generation, our sons and our daughters, must make the commitment for themselves. That is covenant renewal.
So as Joshua 24 continues, Joshua calls them to commit themselves and they promise that God will be their God, that Yahweh will be their God and that they will be His people, and so the covenant is renewed. There are many things that we pass onto our children genetically. We can pass on our personalities, both the good parts and bad parts, we can pass on our pronated ankles and our tendency to sleepwalk as I did to my children. There are things that we can pass on to the next generation, but there is one thing that we cannot pass on to the next generation, which is our faith. Faith is not genetic. I cannot pass my faith on to my children or to your children. I can teach them, I can nurture, I can encourage, but I cannot automatically transfer my faith to my children. There is no family plan when it comes to salvation, but each one of our sons and daughters, each generation, must make their own commitment, must renew their parents’ covenantal relationship with Yahweh, their God. Faith is not genetic. This certainly explains the emphasis on teaching children. It has been all the way through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. There are injunctions to teach your children all the way through these books. Set up a pile of stones and when your sons ask, “What do those stones stand for?” Say, “That was when God did this. They are stones of remembrance.” This message is all the way through the early part of the Old Testament, but just for example, one passage is the Shema back in Deuteronomy: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might.” Continuing through Deuteronomy 6:6, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your hearts. You shall teach them diligently to your children. You shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” The Jewish nation was being taught that it was not enough for them to be faithfully obedient, but it was of paramount importance that they teach their children day in and day out about the ways of the Lord. So when it comes time for the children to renew the covenant, they will do so. This is why I encourage you to gather with fellow believers and talk about something that is really imporatant together, not just about the weather and the Seahawks. Talk to your children about the covenant, talk about God, talk about what he has for us and what He expects form us. I know that some of the children here are from families where neither or only one parent is a Christian, but the Lord drew all of us to him through someone, maybe a parent, but perhaps he used a Sunday School teacher, a VBS leader, or a neighbor. And when you and I became disciples of Jesus Christ, the character of that person was tied up with our faith so some extent. When my kids became Christians, a large part of it was because Mom and Dad were Christians. But there will come a time in everyone’s spiritual life when they will say, “This Jesus stuff was alright for Mom and Dad, but is it right for me?” It usually happens in high school and college. Every one of us should go through that process of making the decision for ourselves. As I college professor, I discovered it generally happens about that time in students’ lives when they ask, “is this my faith?” That is covenant renewal. That is taking someone else’s faith and making it our own. That is what is going on in the end of the book of Joshua: the call to covenant renewal.
The stage is now set for life in the Promised Land; the stage is now set for life after Joshua. We move into the book of Judges, and Charles Dickens first line in ‘’The Tale of Two Cities’’ is probably the best title for the book of Judges: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
The Best of Times
It was the best of times, Judges Chapter 2, verse 7, “And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel.” This was a great generation. Considering what I will say in just a minute, it is really important that you hear this up front: this was a great generation. If you look at all the generations that came before and after, this generation better understood what covenantal faithful obedience meant. They understood what it meant to love God and to love one another. This was a great generation in the history of the Israelite nation. In the beginning of Judges, the tribes of Judah and Simeon get together to work together to finish the conquest of the land. Jerusalem is captured by the tribe of Benjamin and there is a great start after Joshua of finishing the conquest of the land. It was a great time.
The Worst of Times
Unfortunately, you do not have to read very far to realize how quickly it became the worst of times. Judges 2:10, “And all that generation [(the generation of Joshua)] also were gathered to their fathers [(so they all died)] and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that He had done for Israel.” In one generation, the knowledge of God is lost. It actually took less than one generation. Judges 1:19 talks about Judah, a great generation, a good tribe, finishing the conquest of their land. Verse 19, “And the Lord was with Judah and he took possession of the hill country but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.” Now, that is not an historical statement. That is a judgment on the lack of faith. The God who parted the waters of the Red Sea is defeated by chariots of iron? I do not think so. Something is already going on. The lack of faith is starting to come out already because God promised to fight and to give the land for them if they would be faithful. Already they are starting to fail in their task. The people of Benjamin are talking about conquering Jerusalem in Judges 1:21, “For the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem. So the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.” And in verse 27 the author lays out all the other failures of the Israelite nation. How quickly this great generation failed to do what God had called them to do. They did not complete God’s punishments of the Amorites, they co-mingled with the people, and they quickly start worshipping the Amorites’ gods.
There is this downward spiral that really kicks into gear in Chapter 2 an continues through almost the entire book of Judges until the last verse in the last chapter where the author ways that “everyone did right in his own eyes.” So the knowledge of God, the knowledge of Yahweh has been lost, and the commitment to be faithfully obedient to His ways has been lost. Instead of letting Yahweh determine what is right and wrong, everyone’s doing what they want to do. That is not an historical statement. This is not a discussion of political anarchy. It is the discussion of a lack of faith and the destruction that that leads to. They did not train their children. They did not listen to the verse following the Shema. They did not talk about it at the dinner table. They did not write it on their hands, they did not write it on their doorposts. They did not train their children for covenant renewal. And in one generation the knowledge of God is lost. And this downward spiral accelerates. Not only does the next generations fall quickly, they fall far. If you have read much on Amorite or Canaanite or Philistine religion you can see how bad their religion was. It was disgusting to the core. These people worshipped Baal who was the chief fertility God. He granted, they thought, fertility to the land and to people. His chief consort was Asherah. It was a horrible religion. You remember Deuteronomy 12:31? Moses tells them every abominable thing that the Lord hates that they have done. And that certainly is true. The Canaanites worshipped idols; they worshipped false gods, including the sacrifice of children. If you read Leviticus 18 you can see the depth of the sexual depravity that these people had gone to and the sexual depravity was not just every day life, it was religious life. Religion and culture were all wrapped up and the perversions of Leviticus 18 were the religious perversions of the Amorite religions of homosexuality and incest and bestiality. I think this got driven home to me harder than any other time a couple of years ago I was in New Orleans. I was not even in one of the bad areas of town when I went in to a regular store looking for some knickknacks or something, and I went in and I was absolutely amazed. I was looking at a bunch of carved figurines and the carved figurines I was looking at in New Orleans two years ago were identical to the pictures of the Canaanite idols that I had seen in archeology textbooks. Figurines with grossly exaggerated sexual organs because that is what their religion was. Now as I look at some of these things and I think about how bad the Amorites are and it is easy to see that we are not far behind them as a nation here. Sexual perversions of homosexuality, incest and bestiality, worshipping idols and worshipping sex. The Israelites not only fell quickly, they fell hard from a marvelous monotheistic worship of a pure God separate from sin into the sexual depravity of the Amorites worship. So you have in Judges a series of almost identical cycles with four parts. The passage starts off with the author saying something like, “the people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” In almost every case, the evil was worshipping Baal. Secondly, God then sends an enemy nation to punish them. Sometimes He sends the Midianites, sometimes he sends the Philistines, and sometimes He sends other people, but the enemy people always oppress the children of Israel. Thirdly, the Israelites finally call out in repentance, they call out for God to help them. Fourthly, God sends a judge. He sends an individual who will lead them into battle, who will conquer the enemy and then that person, that judge will lead the Israelite nation for the rest of his or her life. So we have the judges of Othneal and Ehood, Deborah, Jephtha, Samson, Gideon. We do not have time to go into any of their detailed stories, but if you want to read one I encourage you to read the story of Gideon in Chapters 6, 7, and 8. The Midianites were oppressing Israel; they come in every year and raid the harvest. Israel cries out after seven years, God raises up Gideon and defeats the Midianites and gives the land rest. See, this is a cycle, and as soon as Gideon is dead, they start sinning again. They do what is evil in God’s sight and they worship Baal. That is the cycle that goes all the way through the book of Judges. Worshipping other gods, of God sending punishment, of people repenting and then God sending a judge to bring them out from foreign oppression.
You know, Judges is a dark, dark book literarily and theologically speaking. It is supposed to be a dark book because it shows what happens when you abandon God; it shows that no matter how strong one generation is, if the next generation has abandoned God as they fall into sin, what happened in Judges will happen to us as well. Now there are a few bright spots in Judges, not many, but a few. Perhaps one of the strongest images of a forgiving God can be found in Judges because no matter how repeatedly the Israelites sin, and no matter how heinous their sins are, God in His mercy and His grace is always there to forgive if the repentance is true. So there are some bright lights in the book of Judges, but it is a dark book intentionally.
Necessity of Covenant Renewal
Of the many lessons that Judges teaches us, there is one I want to emphasize here: the necessity of covenant renewal. Joshua calls the next generation to renew their commitment to Yahweh, the covenantal God, but they failed to teach the next generation and Judges describes what happens when no matter now good the first generation is, how quickly the next generation can fail. That is what the book of Judges is all about. Faith is not genetic. Every generation must make up its own mind. Each person, each son, each daughter, must make up their own mind as to whether they will renew the covenant of their parents.
I remember as a kid the movie that was going around was ‘’For Pete’s Sake’’. It is stuck in my mind because I can still remember the guy saying, “Well, I’m going to get to heaven on the family plan.” There is no family plan. I cannot transfer my faith to you, to my son or daughter. Each generation must renew the covenant for themselves, must make their own commitment to God. Judges is the picture of what happens when the covenant isn’t renewed. Judges is here to show us that if the covenant is not renewed by our children, that if our children do what is right in their own eyes, then quickly our children will co-mingle worship with the Baals of this world and eventually will give themselves totally to Baal. Whatever Baal happens to look like today. That is what the book of Judges is telling us. We all know of churches that started strong and ended weak. We all know of churches where the first generation were godly people, heavily committed to their Lord, but they failed to train the next generation of believers. And when that set of leaders pass on, just as they do in Judges 2, when the next generation comes to leadership, surprise, surprise, surprise, they don not make the covenant renewal that they needed to. Life is a cycle, and the book of Judges should scare the living daylights out of you of how quickly the children can leave the faith of their parents. As much as it depends on us, we must be committed to raising up the next generation of believers.
Responsibility of Older Generation
For our part, what does that look like? There is a long list, but certainly we have to start by teaching our children. And teaching always starts at home. If a church has your children for two hours a week, they cannot combat this world. All that a church institution can do is come alongside you and help what you are doing in your home around your dinner table. We must commit to teaching our children at home. We must commit to talking to them about polytheism and what it looks like. We must commit to talk about monotheism and what that looks like, and what it looks like not to serve today’s Baals. We need to start the discussions and say, “Do you really believe in one God? What are the competing gods on the internet, television, movies, in your neighborhood, and in your schools? What does Baal look like today?” To not serve American Asherah poles, but to serve the one God and Him only. That is where it has to start. That is what our commitment has to be if we are truly to raise up the next generation of believers. We have to continue to accept the responsibility of teaching our children at home around the dinner table constantly, having it on our lips, coming out of our mouths, written on the frontlets between our eyes, written on our doorposts (Deuteronomy 6). You know the great commission is to teach someone to obey. How do you teach someone to obey? “Now you do this, and you do that...” That is not going to work with me; I do not think it worked with you either. The only way to teach obedience is to model it, right? The only way to model it is to spend time. It takes our time. Sometimes I think the greatest sin is our busyness because when you are so busy that you do not have any margin, you cannot do anything. You cannot model, you cannot serve, you cannot teach, you cannot encourage because we are so busy with life. There were three men that were absolutely critical in the development of me as a person. Mr. Cornforth was my third grade teacher. Turns out he was Roger Maris’s best friend as an ex-New York Yankee. I always wondered why Mr. Cornforth could hit the softball out of the playfield. Mr. Monson was my fifth grade Sunday School teacher. Mr. Eberly was my seventh grade school teacher. I went to a Christian school in seventh grade. And Mr. Cornforth and Mr. Eberly, while they were committed to me as my teachers went way beyond what they were being paid. And they took an interest in me and they wanted to nurture me as a person. Especially Mr. Eberly nurtured me in my faith. Mr. Monson was there every Sunday, prepared for Sunday School. We spent time at his house. Why? Because he was modeling godliness to the next generation. Mr. Monson understood that that is the only way you can really help children of the next generation prepare to renew their covenantal commitments to their God. It takes time. We have to be desperate in prayer for them. It is an ugly world they are growing up in.
You all in college are facing things that I never dreamt of in college, even on a Christian campus. My kids are being faced with things whether it being the Internet or the proverbial man down on the corner. Man, they want to destroy my kids and they have got the drugs and pornography to do it just like that. It is an ugly world and if we are not dedicated to praying for them, it is not going to work. We have to understand that this is difficult. I mean, this list can go on and on. I do not want to depress you, I want to encourage you to do this difficult thing. Truth is truth, it does not change and, in essence, our praise will always stay the same. We will always declare who God is and what He has done, but the forms of that praise is going to change, you all. Sorry! It’s just inevitable. We will be a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks and that means our outward forms and expressions are going to have to change as we strive to teach the eternal truths of God. We will be stretched outside our comfort zones. I went to a great church down in California once called “Rock Harbor” and let me tell you, it was rockin’! It was moving and it was shaking, all four thousand of them, average age 25. I did not see one observer in the entire church. Everyone was participating in worship. They have learned to communicate God’s eternal truths with Costa Mesa. It was marvelous to watch. But the outward forms are going to change; they have to change if we are going to stand true to our commitment to prepare the next generation of believers. For our children’s part, they have it a lot easier. Their time will come. But they have to be challenged, and they will be challenged with the understanding that they must renew their parents’ covenant for themselves. Each one of them is going to be called to make a decision for himself or for herself at some point in time in his or her life. Our prayers that as individual parents and as members of this family of God, that we will have done what we could to encourage and to instruct and to challenge the next generation of believers. I have an object lesson I would like to close with. I trust that you will not think it is theatrical; it is not intended to be. I wanted to put flesh and bones behind what we are talking about. (Children arrive at the front of the church from Sunday School) I want you to see the objects of your commitment. I want you to not see these as numbers, but as precious lives who will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. God has put us in the position to have a hand in that whole process.
These are the objects of the book of Judges in our lives. To those of you who are standing, I want to tell you that there will come a time in your life, perhaps it already has come, in which you are going to have to decide for yourself whether Jesus is to be your Jesus or not. There will come a time in your life when you will have to decide Yahweh is your God and whether you will follow Him or not. There will come a time when you realize that just because Mom and Dad are Christians does not mean that it is right for you. You will have to make that decision. Our prayer for each one of you standing is that the Shema will become your own statement of faith. Our prayer for each one of you is that someday you will say, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one, and I will love the Lord My God with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my strength. That is our prayer for each one of you who are standing. We thank you so much that God has sent you to us to be a part of our family. Will everyone else please stand? Those who are standing are, for the most part, the current adult generation. This is Joshua’s generation and the book of Joshua calls me to ask you: will you make the commitment necessary, so that as far as it depends upon us, that the book of Judges will not describe this next generation? Will you agree with the verses following the Shema that this is your commitment to this, the next generation? If it is your commitment, then I wouldd like to close with us all reading Deuteronomy 6:6-9 as a commitment to the next generation. Will you please read with me, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” My prayer is that that is our commitment to the next generation.
Let’s pray. Father, we understand that in your mercy and your grace you hold out the offer of forgiveness and salvation to us that one by one you call us and you say, “I will be your God, will you be part of my people?” We understand, God, that while we are saved into the family of God, we walk through the door one person at a time. My mom cannot walk through with me, my dad cannot walk through with me, Mr. Eberly cannot walk through the door with me. This is my decision. It is every one of these young adults and childrens’ decision. Father, we pray that You will encourage us to be a kind of church where Judges has absolutely no place in its description of sin. May everything we do be pleasing to you both in this generation and in the generations to come. Amen.
- What are some of the things that you — if you have children — have passed on to your children, both physical and spiritual?
- Do you know of any families or churches that can be described as, “The Best of Times”? What criteria are you using to measure their “success”? What have they done? What have they not done? What is it about their character that makes them stand out as a model?
- Do you know of any families or churches that fell, even though the older generation were (or seemed to be) godly? What led to this failure?
- We measure what is most important. What measurement tools do you use for your family and your church? What do those measurement tools tell you about your priorities? How do you measure spiritual growth? Is it possible?
- If it is true that I cannot impart (to others) what I myself do not possess, then it starts with me. How can we as a community of believers form a culture in which a person’s spiritual growth is the most important thing? What stands in the way? What “churchy” things clamor for attention, clamor to be the more important things? How does the way we “do church” elevate these false goals to a place of pre-eminence?
- If you are not sure how to answer these difficult questions, ask a young person in your church what he thinks is important to the church. This is not to say that young people have the right answers, but they do tend to pick up what the institution thinks is important. You might be surprised as to their answers. You could also find a older person who is a new believer. This is not a question of what ought to be. It is a question of what appears to be.
- Do you wear an apron or a bib? Why do you think so?
- Who has made the greatest impact on your life spiritually? Why? Are you doing the same for others?