With Father’s Day approaching, I have been thinking about my father quite a bit. I’ve been thinking about all the whining he had to put up with when I was younger. I’ve been thinking about the various ways he handled my disobedience. I’ve also been thinking about the gifts he gave me throughout the years. Many of the most memorable gifts were experiences. We went hunting and fishing together. We spent time hiking in the mountains together. We worked in the fields together. These gifts have stuck with me through the years.
As important as these gifts have been, my father gave me one gift that has had a much broader and longer lasting impact on my life. He gave me the gift of a sincere faith. I received this gift by watching my father pursue Christ with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. This gift has changed the way I live and the way I parent. In reality, it has changed everything in my life.
So what does sincere faith look like?
Just as my father gave me the gift of sincere faith, another young pastor in the Bible received this gift from both a parent and grandparent. His name was Timothy. Timothy grew up with a grandmother who was a believer, a mother who was a believer, and a father who was an unbeliever—an interesting family dynamic. In the beginning of Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he says, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Timothy 1:5, ESV). Paul talks about Timothy’s sincere faith, but he gives credit where credit is due. This sincere faith dwelt in his grandmother and his mother first. They lived a sincere faith and passed it down to Timothy. I realize this particular verse is speaking about a mother and a grandmother, but the same principle applies to fathers. Pursing a sincere faith in Christ is one of the most important gifts you can give your child.
The word “sincere” literally means, “without hypocrisy.” Timothy's grandmother and mother had a faith that was without hypocrisy—it was sincere, genuine, honest. This does not mean their faith was perfect. Honest faith includes admitting that you are a sinner in need of a Savior. It means admitting that you are not perfect and mess up. It means repenting and asking forgiveness. In this process we can become tempted to pretend like we are perfect—like we have no flaws. However, that’s a hypocritical and dishonest faith.
This is what frustrated Jesus. In Matthew, he addressed the Pharisees saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” I want to stop there for a moment. Jesus has just called the Pharisees hypocrites. Why are they hypocrites? He explains, saying, “For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27–28, ESV). Hypocritical faith appears beautiful on the outside but inside is full of uncleanness. A hypocrite does all of the right things (goes to church, serves in the church, reads the Bible, etc...) but is just “going through the motions”—their heart is not in it.
Real faith involves passion. Our children are passion detectors—they can see what we care about. God has given them x-ray vision when it comes to seeing through hypocrisy. They can spot phoniness in a heartbeat. They know if you’re just going through the motions or if you really believe what you're teaching. In his book, Parenting By God’s Promises, Joel Beeke writes,
“What children need to see is not a perfect mom or dad, and certainly not a mom or dad who never says, ‘I’m sorry.’ They need to see in us an unwavering commitment to Jesus Christ, an unconditional love for them, and a strong bond of love for each other as husband and wife. The need to see a mom and dad laboring shoulder to shoulder, of whom the children can say, ‘My mom and dad hate sin, they love God, and their only hope is in Christ Jesus. They want with all that is within them to live holy and godly lives. I can see it, I can feel it; I know it is true and it is real, and I want to be like them. I want the God of my father and mother to be my God’” (p. 85-86).
Fathers, the gift of a sincere, honest faith is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children. You can work really hard to provide for their needs; you can make sure you enroll them in all of the sports and activities they want to be in; you can send them to the best schools; you can buy them all of the electronics and technology they want; but if you haven’t passed on your sincere faith, you’ve missed the point. You haven’t given them what they truly need.
Fathers, here’s what this means for you. Seek Christ above all else. Seek him with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your mind, and with all of your strength. Seek him in the good times and the bad times. Seek him when you do well and when you mess up. Trust me, this is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children. Pray that one day someone can say to your child, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your father and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.”