Editor’s Note: This lesson is an updated excerpt from the “Sunday School by phone” lesson that I taught on August 16, 2020.
One generation succeeding another is not a new thing. In itself, that is the normal course of history, and – as a parent who dropped his oldest son off at college for the first time this year – the concept of preparing children to become adults that can stand on their own is one that I’m familiar with.
While a transition from one generation to the next is normal, there is a key variable: what will be different in the next generation, as compared to the previous one? Consider this verse from the second chapter of Judges:
After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.
Judges 2:10 NIV
In this case, we find that the later generation failed to carry on the commitment (the covenant) that the previous generation had made to God. Whether the faith had not been handed down by those who had gone on before (i.e., a lack of teaching), or it had not been received (i.e., a lack of learning), the net result was a sad loss of faith and righteousness. The transition from the deliverance and success of the Hebrew people in the book of Joshua, to the cyclic deterioration of their moral compass (and resulting distress) in the book of Judges, is a regrettable change, especially because it was completely preventable.
However, there are also cases where one generation may actually improve in some ways from the previous one. Abraham was called out of a pagan land to serve the true God, for instance. Sometimes, children break cycles of bad behavior that have existed for generations in their family. Not every generation is doomed to failure (despite what their predecessors may believe as they watch their children become teenagers).
In reality, I suspect that most generations do some things better and some things worse than their forefathers. You can think for yourselves how your generation compares to the one that came before it. (It’s probably more productive to do that, rather than to judge those that have come after us.) When we are frank in our evaluation, there is good and bad – better and worse – in almost every generation.
Like those who seek to mend generational conflict today, we shouldn’t be too hasty to pin the blame on a particular group for this downhill slide. Given the history of Israel after Joshua’s generation, we can agree that it was bad for the people to lose their commitment to God, but whether they rebelled, or the previous generation failed to pass along the message adequately, we don’t necessarily know for sure. As the lesson material stated, “God can be forgotten in one generation.”
The lesson (see reference to the Christian Standard, below) summarizes a key point: “This deficit knowledge of God led to evil behavior.” When one does not have a correct and complete understanding of God, the result is usually destructive choices.
While I’m not suggesting that we will ever know everything about God (especially in these mortal bodies), people struggle to find truth when they have only incorrect portrayals of Him, or don’t know enough about His character, His nature, and His past work.
The first of these gaps illustrates why truth is so important. In a world where every permutation of truth combined with falsehood seems to be available (and where fact and fiction often have equal standing on the Internet), the clear and simple truth from God is what people around us need. In an environment where the concepts of Christianity are clouded when all sorts of people who claim to follow Jesus make vastly different moral choices, getting back to the pure and simple teachings of Jesus Christ Himself is desperately needed.
The second of these gaps illustrates why discipleship is important. When the goal of teaching people about Jesus stops at salvation, we leave the destiny of each generation to spiritual infants. Accepting Jesus as one’s Savior is worthy of celebration, but following Him requires more than just that one step. When Jesus becomes our Lord, as well as our Teacher and our Friend, we should soak up as much truth from Him as possible. Then, as we demonstrate His leadership in our lives through our actions, we can move closer to the goal of becoming mature disciples.
When one knows the truth, and enough of it, that maturity allows the complete, accurate truth to be passed down to the next generation, who get to receive this with clarity and be regularly reminded of the reality of God’s role in each person’s life. That is a generational legacy that blesses all generations.
We don’t get to make heart-decisions for other people, but we can do our best to educate them about God, including His Son, Jesus Christ. We can also study in our own lives, to ensure that our understanding about God is as complete and correct as possible, even if our minds aren’t big enough to grasp His infinite-ness!
- Christian Standard, Volume CLV, Number 8, pages 83-84. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.