Christian Education by Example
"Actions speak louder than words!" How frequently this adage is used by all of us as it conveys an important reality of daily life. We all judge the genuineness of someone's words within the framework of a person's behavior, and everyone else judges the genuineness of our words by the same standard as well. Why is this so? The answer may seem obvious but is nevertheless significant. It is only when we observe the consistent pattern of a person's conduct over a considerable period of time that we discover what the true motivating force in someone's life is. Let me illustrate. If we occasionally engage in religious conversation, thereby creating an impression of godliness, but if the consistent pattern of our life manifests a spirit of worldliness and a persistent pursuit of the goods and pleasures of this world, then any statements we make concerning Biblical truth and religious experience will have no impact, as our religious talk is not confirmed by a consistent religious walk. Therefore when Scripture speaks of godly conversation it does not merely refer to godly words, but it always encompasses both word and deed. This is why Scripture frequently states little about the conversion experiences of the saints, but bears abundant testimony to the fruits of godliness in their life. This is precisely why Christ did not say, "By their words ye shall know them,'' but rather, "By their fruits ye shall know them."
This principle of godly words being confirmed by a godly walk is of fundamental importance in the realm of Christian education. Let me state from the outset, that also in this article the term Christian education does not merely refer to the instruction our children receive in our Christian schools, but to the comprehensive effort of home, school, and church to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. This Christian education will only have an impact upon our children if they can observe a consistent affirmation of the godly instruction they receive in the godly walk of their parents, teachers, and office-bearers. Must we not fear that a number of our young people are "turned off" to religion because they fail to observe the vital relationship between the talk and walk of those who instruct them? If our rising generation fails to observe the reality of religion in the lives of those who instruct them, then we must not be surprised if young people will turn their back upon religion. Therefore, if we wish to keep our children within the confines of our denomination, it is not enough to provide them with Christian instruction, but it is the solemn obligation of every parent, teacher, and office-bearer, to adorn this instruction by Christian living. This is precisely what the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism had in mind, when in formulating the answer to question 86, "Why must we still do good works?", they conclude by stating, "that by our godly conversation, others may be gained to Christ.'' More importantly, Christ Himself emphasizes this principle in His Sermon on the Mount when He states in Matthew 5:16, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
If it is the duty then of Christian educators to conduct themselves in such a manner that they may gain their pupils to Christ – which is the real purpose of Christian education – by their godly conversation, it is most important that we understand what the fundamental elements of such conduct are.
It may seem redundant to define the meaning of the word "Christian." However, in order to understand what it implies to be Christian in our example, it must be briefly restated here. To be Christian means to be Christ-like. This is precisely the reason why God's children in Antioch were called Christians; they were Christ-like in their talk and their walk, so much so, that the abundant and consistent evidence of being Christ-like earned them this title. It could be seen that they had been with Jesus, as Christ became manifest in their conduct, or to state it simply, they were like Christ.
In the first chapter of the Bible, the Holy Spirit conveys to us the essential truth that man was created in the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. Man had a perfect knowledge of God, was in a right relationship with God, that is, was righteous, and was fully devoted to God by living in perfect conformity to Him, His will, and His attributes; that is, he was holy. Through our dreadful fall we have lost this wondrous image, and have become ignorant of God, are no longer in a right relationship with God, that is, are unrighteous, and are devoted to ourselves and our own corrupt will; that is, are unholy. However, God's eternal purpose in creating man could not fail, and therefore He eternally anointed His Son Jesus Christ, to restore fallen sinners as His image-bearers again. Therefore God's Son is not only Jesus, who saves sinners from sin and its consequences, but He is also Christ, the Anointed One of His Father, who eternally ordained Him to be Prophet, Priest, and King. Why was He ordained to these three offices? By executing these three offices, He accomplishes the very purpose for which He saves His people, namely to restore them as God's image-bearers. Therefore, as Prophet He restores the knowledge of God, as Priest He restores a right relationship with God or makes them righteous, and as King He brings them into willing subjection to God and thus restores conformity to God or makes them holy. The obvious result, therefore, of Christ's work in sinners by His Spirit, is the manifestation of God's image again in the lives of His children. Thus to be Christian, means to be God's image-bearer again, not because of anything to be found in myself, but because Christ, who in His sinless human nature bears God's image to absolute perfection, has made me a partaker of Himself and all His benefits.
The true Christian therefore, will manifest the three fundamental elements of God's image again. A Christian yearns to know God in all His glorious perfections as they are revealed in Christ, yearns to be righteous before God in Christ, and yearns to be holy unto God in Christ.
All this obviously means that for education to be Christian education, the three elements of the image of God must constitute the essential structure of such education. Consequently, the goal of such education must be that our children may know God, that they may be in a right relationship with God, and that they may lead holy lives – lives conformed to God's will and law. The logical conclusion of all this is that Christian educators in striving for this directly as well as indirectly by means of their instruction, must manifest by their consistent walk that they themselves are striving and yearning to know God in Christ, to be righteous before God in Christ, to be holy unto God in Christ. Only when our pupils perceive that these matters are a living reality in our lives will our instruction to them be credible. Children learn a little from what we say, more from what we do, but most from what we are. Since at home and at school children observe us on a daily basis, they soon discover who we are. They will perceive what the habitual tendencies of our life are. They will soon ascertain whether the three elements of God's image, the marks of the true Christian, consistently manifest themselves, be it not perfectly, but nevertheless in principle!
Therefore, in order to convince my pupil – who may be my child, student, or catechumen – that to know God must be the ultimate goal of all learning, they must perceive that diligent and prayerful searching of the Scriptures, whereby I may know God, is the genuine priority of my own life. This will become most evident when Scripture itself is the subject of instruction. Here especially children have the uncanny ability to perceive whether our heart is in it, or whether we are merely doing our duty; whether we have personal acquaintance with Jesus as the sum and substance of Scripture, or whether we at best have some intellectual knowledge of Him, or worse, reveal total ignorance of the purpose of His coming and work, and promote a religion of touch not and taste not, rule upon rule and precept upon precept. Our pupils must be able to read between the lines of our lives that "this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent."
Secondly, if I am to convince my pupil that I cannot be righteous, that is, be in a right relationship with God unless I am a partaker of Christ and all His benefits by a Spirit-wrought faith, and that without His righteousness applied to my soul, this life will merely be a prelude to everlasting separation from God as the object of His unquenchable wrath, then my pupil must perceive that I also am either seeking for or relying solely on the righteousness of Christ alone. If our children consistently perceive that in spite of the occasional mention of the name of Christ, I devote most attention to how I may be a church member in "good standing," then we must not be surprised if the result of such "Christian" education will be a generation of young people who are content to be dead professors, rather than young people who earnestly beseech God that He might also bestow on them the gift of saving faith in Jesus Christ by which alone we can be just before Him.
Finally, if I am to convince my pupil that the purpose of man's existence is to be holy, that is, to live a life in devotion to God and in conformity to His will, then not only must holiness be the guiding principle of all Christian education, but holiness must pervade the atmosphere at home, in the classroom, as well as in the catechism class. Our instruction, discipline, and relationship with our pupils must all function within the context of holiness. By holiness I obviously do not refer to a legalistic and loveless holiness. That would be a contradiction in terms, as devotion to God is the motivating principle of true holiness. Our pupils must understand that as Creator God is worthy that our lives be devoted to Him, that as Creator He is worthy that we live in conformity to His will. Is our life as Christian educators such a God-centered life, or can our pupils perceive that in our observance of Biblical principles we are merely going through the motions, and that I am far more devoted to my bank account, the fascination of my favorite hobby, or my reputation as an orthodox and respected office-bearer? Is our life and instruction truly conformed to God's revealed will, or does our life, in spite of its religious flavor, mainly conform to human ideas, phraseology, and traditions? If such is the case, then the fruits of our instruction will be accordingly, and our children will fail to understand that God in Christ is the true focal point of religion and must be the focal point of our life.
"Who is capable of these things?", is perhaps the question of a Christian educator, who feels the weight of his/her calling. What a blessing if holy despair would fill our soul, as no one of himself is capable of consistently being a Christian educator in talk and walk, and yet God requires that we be such educators! What a serious dilemma! However, what a wondrous solution we may find in God's Word for this dilemma. This precious Word of God, the superior textbook of Christian education, reveals that everything which Christian educators lack in themselves, may be found in the Christ of Christian education, who of God is made to sinners, destitute of His image, "wisdom (knowledge), and righteousness, and sanctification (holiness)!" (1 Cor. 1:30). Come therefore to Him all ye that labor and are heavy laden and He will in no wise cast you out!