By Pastor David M. Choi
And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. -Mark 8:27-30
Being born into a Christian family was something I used to take for granted when I was much younger. Yet it wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I began to realize what an amazing gift that was. Of course, there are many people who would disagree. For instance, Richard Dawkins, an atheist evolutionary biologist at Oxford University, sees parents raising their children according to their own religious beliefs as a form of child abuse, and even goes so far as to call it malicious. Children are highly malleable and intellectually vulnerable, and thus it deprives them of their freedom to choose.
But when you bring this to Christian parents, you’ll notice that it comes to them as a surprise. It doesn’t quite register. Whether it be my own parents, or Christian friends I have who are themselves parents, I’ve heard them say that – contrary to abuse or freedom deprivation – it’s the greatest gift they could ever give to their children: “How could we not tell our children about what our God has done for us in Jesus Christ?” It is a parent’s heart to give good things to their children, and for them the gospel is the best thing they could ever give to their children.
Even so, doesn’t that deprive them of their freedom to choose? I don’t think it does. In fact, what is odd and intrinsic to the Christian faith is that we do not get to choose for others, even our own children (which is different from making your kids go to church). From my own personal upbringing, I’ve never once felt that I didn’t have the freedom to choose; only that I was better informed about what I would potentially be rejecting. Every parent knows that all they can do is guide their child and offer to her the gift of faith. But there comes a time when the child must choose for herself.
As a youth pastor, I am on the frontlines of helping young students understand the faith better, while watching them grow into making that decisive decision. It is beautiful and terrifying all at once, and it often keeps me up at night. Like our parents, though, I am utterly incapable of choosing faith for my students. But that’s the risk of genuine love, is it not? Christ will not impose himself on us. He simply offers us himself through the testimony of his word, and then we have to choose. For some reason, God finds the risk of rejection worth the freedom of his love.
My students are at an age where they are maturing and growing in their independence. As young children, they heard their parents tell them what God is like. But now as emerging adults, they must hear Christ for themselves, who is calling out to them, and personally answer that decisive question: “But who do you say that I am?” The extent of my capacity is simply to present the good news, again and again, and to pray for them, that they would be given the grace to confess in freedom what we’ve all had to confess in freedom for ourselves: “You are the Christ.”
Prayer: Dear Jesus, thank you for the gift of Christian parents, friends, and mentors. Help me, Lord, not to take such gifts for granted, but to see how you are calling me to yourself through their light and patient witness. Though you have guided me this far, I know that I need to make the faith my own. Give me strength to do so, day by day, moment by moment. Help me not to base my faith on what the world says you’re like, but what you have shown me of yourself through Christ and Christ alone, as he lived, died, and rose again for me. Amen.