As I wind down this particular series of posts (see here, here, and here), I wish to close with an exploration of a single question: how is it that believers can benefit from being part of a legacy of believers? After all, even the knowledge that one has received a call from God does not mean that one has a willingness to heed that call. To the extent that there is the freedom to choose, as the Bible makes plain in places like Deuteronomy 30:19, one can choose death in rebellion against God’s ways rather than life in obedience to them. Furthermore, regardless of the privileged experience of being raised in a family that seeks to obey God, there are always sins that have to be repented of, areas where the Holy Spirit is required to open up insight, and the lifetime of wrestling against the fallen nature that humanity is born with that is hostile to God and His ways. Let it it be understood at the outset that the blessings of growing up as a child or grandchild of faithful believers even under the best of circumstances does not mean that one escapes the general problem of humanity in needing to turn away from one’s wicked ways and to overcome one’s own characteristic bent nature.
One of the classic examples of the life of the first generation believer is that of the Apostle Paul. His conversion experience was so dramatic as to become paradigmatic as a “Damascus Road” conversion, where he was struck with blindness and had a harrowing face to face encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ when he was on a mission from the Sanhedrin to persecute followers of God’s ways. His previous life is something that remained with him all of his days. As Paul spoke in Acts 26:9-11: “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” Paul never forgot the disreputable things that he had done in defense of Judaism against believers. Even though he was forgiven for what he had done and became a notable missionary of God’s ways, he carried a burden all of his days, and remains libeled in the Talmud to this day for having rejected his former ways by those who felt betrayed by his conversion and who made sure to speak great evil of him.
Paul’s experiences give us some indication of the sort of privilege that the descendants of faithful believers can enjoy. A believer who is raised to follow God’s way can grow up, with hope, having avoided the painful life experience of having cast a vote to put believers to death, from participating in lynch mobs, from seeking to compel others to blaspheme and from being saved from this self-destruction by a painful if dramatic encounter with our Lord and Savior. It is not necessary to have an intimate experience with the fullness of evil that mankind is capable of to be a faithful and zealous believer. It is far better to the extent that someone can live their lives without having an understanding of how far mankind can fall from the divine image and likeness in which we were created. To the extent that it is possible to enter into God’s Kingdom without needing to possess deep and intimate knowledge of the fallen state of humanity by only having to experience and fight against one’s own sinful human nature (which is sufficient), such a privilege is to be taken advantage of.
That said, not all who have the opportunity to be privileged by having a lifelong understanding of God’s work at least in part are able to avoid that painful experience with evil that marks the characteristic experience of first generation believers whose encounter with God’s ways is intense and dramatic. So it can be as well for those who grew up being taught by God’ ways but who rejected it upon being old enough to choose which way to follow for themselves. In some cases, as with the Amish, there are periods of trial and testing that determine whether someone can move from early instruction to a lifetime of obedience of whether someone needs to experience the ways of the world before rejecting them and being scarred thereby. Not all who have the opportunity to be privileged by having it possible to have smooth transition between being raised as a believer subject to the authority of godly parents and recognizing the seeds and reality of mankind’s rejection of and rebellion against God and being an baptized adult with God’s Holy Spirit of truth within are able to enjoy or experience that privilege. Still, it remains as something that some people can experience. And such a privilege is worth remembering as well, in the hope at least that some way enjoy it.