Faith is a confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of God in the face of persecution and adverse consequences. Where does faith come from?
In this episode, Nik explores the genealogy of faith, starting with the role of parents in teaching their children what faith looks like. He examines how early experiences shape beliefs and how those beliefs evolve over time.
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Parents as Role Models
The journey of learning how to live for Christ often begins with parents as role models. In the households of persecuted believers, parents teach their children the importance of living and dying as a believer. They see it as an essential part of establishing a strong genealogy of faith.
Nik recounts the testimony of grown children:
I remember we were in Russia. My father called us into the kitchen. It was the only room that we heated in the house. He had pulled the chair away from the kitchen table. My mom was already standing there crying, so we knew something was up. And my father sat down in the chair, and he took me, my little sister, and my little brother in his lap, and he put his arms around us, and he said, “Kids, tomorrow, I go to prison.”
This suggests that it is the responsibility of parents to be examples in their lifestyle and character, encouraging their children’s spiritual growth by leading them closer to God. When parents lead their children in this way, they set up a foundation for their child’s relationship with Christ.
Parents have the opportunity to communicate biblical values and demonstrate them through action and example regardless of adverse consequences:
My father said to us kids, “All over this part of the country, they are killing entire families who refuse to deny their faith in Christ. If while I’m in prison, I hear that my family is hung to death rather than deny their faith in Christ, I will be the most proud person in that prison.”
Through prayers, conversations, stories from Scripture, and sincere devotionals together as a family, these moments will create memories that help build a character of faith.
Learning How to Live for Christ
The Holodomor was a man-made famine that occurred in Ukraine between 1932 and 1933. It is estimated that anywhere from three to seven million people died as a result of starvation during this genocide. The Soviet Union’s goal of the Holodomor was to break Ukraine’s spirit and force it into submission with Stalin’s government:
They’re systematically starving people to death in this area. If we are called by God to starve to death, we will do so with joy. I learned it from my great-great-grandmother… my great-grandmother… my grandmother… and my mother…. Now I’m living the genealogy of faith that was passed on to me as a treasure, and I’m living it in front of my daughters.
Nik followed up with the Ukranian families of persecuted believers to find out where they learned how to live for Christ. Younger generations learned to defend their beliefs through death by watching their parents and grandparents:
I learned it from my great-great-grandfather who went to that Russian prison, and they killed him two weeks later. He left us a buried Bible in the backyard, and we dug it up. The last thing he wrote to the family was Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful until death.”
Once again, we see that persecuted parents model for their children life with Christian beliefs intact. “You need faith with skin on it,” Nik explains. Even in the midst of persecution from their government, generations of believers chose to stand steadfastly in their beliefs and refused to compromise them.
The Faith of First-Generation Believers
For first-generation believers who don’t have a genealogy of faith, where does faith come from? Nik advises that we build them one.
Other believers can invite them into their lives, walk with them, and hold them accountable. Ruth and Nik Ripken make them a promise:
We have given you the stories from the Word of God directly that model for you and teach you how to live and how to die as a child of God, a follower of Christ. And now, until you have your own genealogy of faith… watch our lives. Watch Ruth and me…we’re going to stumble… but we’re going to model for you, in flesh, how somebody lives and dies in Christ.
The Ripkens show new believers how to live with Bible study, prayer, and intentionality in relationships. “They’re watching us have this genealogy of faith, and that’s why we go,” Nik concludes. “That’s why it’s important to reach the whole family.”
The challenges faced by first-generation believers stem from an embedded belief that religion and government are inextricably linked.
Religion and Government
The separation of religion and government is one of the most important factors in a democracy, yet there are still many countries around the world that have not adopted this belief. This begs the question: should religion and government be separate?
When church and state are combined, it can lead to unfair laws imposed on citizens based on religious beliefs. Religion may become a country’s identity rather than an individual decision. People may deprioritize their own individual spiritual journeys and instead focus on following what the government tells them they must believe in order to be considered a law-abiding member of society.
Are Muslim and Islam the Same?
Nik explains the religious worldview in Islamic countries:
That’s why they’re looking to go to Europe or America. If you’re born in an Islamic country, you’re a Muslim; if you’re born in a Christian country, you’re a Christian. “Muslims live in Muslim countries,” they believe, “and Christians live in Christian countries.”
If you’re born in an Islamic country as a Muslim and convert to Christ, you lose your job, your family, your children, your marriage, and your identity as a citizen of that country.
Is America a Christian Country?
We can easily become complacent in our faith and comfortable with our religion because of cultural norms. Just because a nation claims Christianity doesn’t mean that everyone living within it truly believes and follows Christ.
“The more we believe that we are Christians in a Christian country,” Nik explains, “the less likely we are to be witnesses for Christ. Our identity is in Christ, but through our government.”
Nik tells us that our identity should be rooted in Christ alone, not the culture or country around us. He encourages believers to understand our genealogy of faith. Only then can we remain true witnesses of our faith no matter what societal pressures we face.