Why do so many people—people with incredible conversion stories—parent children who abandon Christianity?
History overflows with great saints whose offspring lose faith:
- Samuel was a mighty prophet of God. His sons were a mess.
- David was a man after God’s own heart. His children were a disaster.
- Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were founded on the gospel. Now they lead the opposition.
I’ve witnessed dozens of couples, churches, ministries, and prayer groups who began with a furious fire of love for God whose next generation couldn’t blow a smoke ring.
Our children lose that fire because of the simplest and silliest of reasons: we assume the gospel. The following downhill slide reveals the stealthy creep of the lost gospel:
- The gospel is Accepted —>
- The gospel is Assumed —>
- The gospel is Confused —>
- The gospel is Lost (Mack Stiles, Marks of the Messenger)
The author continues, “For any generation to lose the gospel is tragic. But the generation that assumes the gospel … is most responsible for the loss of the gospel.” That generation is us. We are most responsible.
What happened to us?
We’re converted by one message but we teach another
A friend of mine lived wildly until the age of thirty. He slept with scores of women, drank an ocean of beer, and was a self-admitted, abusive jerk. In a desperate time of brokenness, he heard the hope of the gospel for the unworthy. He prayed, met and heard God, and he became a pastor.
He was converted by a flood of grace yet his sermons bullied, badgered, nagged, and scolded:
- You should never tell coarse jokes, nor should you cuss.
- You should be generous, and that includes tipping at least 20%.
- You should never come to church without your Bible.
Day after day, week after week, he proclaimed the Nike gospel, “Just do it! Be faithful; be loving; be generous; have hope; trust God; be nice!”
It’s virtually 100% predictable that we are converted by one message and then preach another. We are converted by the unbelievable hope of God’s love for the undeserving.
But we lecture on behavior. A list of Do’s and Don’ts that veil the message that originally changed our hearts.
The damnable presumption of assumption
One day I asked my friend why he neglected the gospel while lecturing on behavior. He said, “My congregation knows the gospel. Now they need to know what to do.” But he admitted to a confusion: why was his shrinking congregation so joyless?
Martin Luther wrote in his Commentary on Galatians,
“Continually listen to the gospel that teaches not what I ought to do (for that is the job of the law), but what Jesus Christ has done for me.
This is the gospel. It is the primary article of all Christian truth. It is most necessary that we should know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into our heads continually” (slightly edited).
We need at least to remember the gospel, if not to beat it into our heads continually; the reminder of the God who left heaven to live, die, and rise again. For us.
The gospel that tells us it’s a gift that cannot be taken; that we are his treasure; that we are his delight; that his Spirit makes a home in our hearts to live the life we’ve failed to live on our own; and that we have a future life that can be had now, a life richer than we can imagine.
Let’s remember the gospel. Or we’ll assume it, confuse it, and lose it. And so will our kids.
To learn more about grace, buy my book, Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids. Chapters include:
- Graceless Goodness: The Problem with Moralism
- The False Gospel of “Just Do It”
- The Ugliness of Religious Righteousness
- The Insidious Danger of “I’d Never Do That”
- We Read the Bible the Wrong Way
- If Grace is True, Why Be Moral?