What makes a family distinctly Christian? And if you are a parent, how do you raise your kids in a way that’s truly Christian at its core? The Bible says the chief Christian difference is not political or ethical or social, though being in Christ surely guides a family in those areas. No, our foundational trait is that we live not by our strength but relying on Jesus: “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20).
If morality or ideology or healthy habits made life Christian, our approach would be simple: Try hard. Think straight. Do right. But faith is an offbeat path with practices that feel unnatural: Receive from God. Trust his Word. Follow him. Rest in Jesus. Most Christian parents find it harder to lead their families in that—in faith.
Examples of faith
More often than the Bible defines faith, it gives us examples of faith. For instance, like Jacob who wrestled with God, we should grab on and not let go until the Lord blesses us as he sees fit (Gen. 32). Like Hannah who was childless and mocked, we should pray with many tears and give our worldly hopes back to God (1 Sam. 1). Like blind Bartimaeus who was told to hush, we should cry even louder to the merciful Son of David who is our only chance (Mark 10:46-52). But my favorite faith example may be Peter.
In Matthew 14, Peter and Jesus’ other disciples were facing hard times. Their ministry colleague John the Baptist had just been murdered, and when they tried to respond by getting some rest away from the crowds, more than 5,000 people followed them. Jesus multiplied a few loaves and fish to feed that crowd, showing the compassion and provision of God despite all that had happened. But the disciples remained fixated on their worldly situation. Mark 6:52 explains, “They had not understood about the loaves.”
Jesus would teach them about faith. He sent them off in a boat without him while he went to pray. Then as they struggled on the sea, he came to them, walking on the water and speaking the best words any of us might hear: “It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Matt. 14:27). Peter answered, “If it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus told him to come, and Peter climbed out of the boat and started walking on the water.
Life of faith
Those steps are an impressive example of faith. Faith looks beyond the dangers and troubles we can see in the world around us, believing who Jesus is. what he can do, and how he’s better in every way. We model faith each time we pray about anything. We model faith when we obey God even though the worldly consequences look stormy. We model faith when we open our Bibles daily and go weekly to worship because we know how much we need God’s Word and his people. We model faith when we live boldly for Jesus, even taking some risks, because we know he rules the world and loves us to our core. By God’s grace, kids who learn faith become both humble repenters and brave missionaries.
Failures of faith
But Peter’s example includes another side of faith that’s even more important. When Peter saw the wind swirling around him, he became scared and started to sink. He cried out, “Lord, save me!” (v. 30). That simple prayer is the essence of Christian faith. In his dire need, Peter’s gut reaction was not to yell to his comrades in the boat but to call on the strong arm and quick compassion of Jesus.
Of course, Jesus saved Peter and brought him to the boat, showing us that faith is not just for brave achievers but also for doubters and failures. Jesus is the true hero of this story and of any walk of faith. Think about it: the moment in the story when we sense Peter is most secure is not when he’s successfully walking to Jesus alone, but after he’s failed and Jesus has had to save him, while he’s with Jesus walking back to the boat.
Whether we have failed morally, or failed to act bravely, or failed to love our kids or spouse or neighbor, modeling faith means we cry out to Jesus for help and forgiveness. It is the instinct to go to Jesus especially when we feel beaten down and unworthy. Faith means we are quicker to pray than to scold, we more readily admit sins than hide them, and we thank God for our Christian growth instead of showing it off. That will make an impression on our kids. They will learn to remain settled and joyful in Jesus even when they encounter dangers in the world and ugliness within themselves.
Steps of faith
So as a parent, what can you do to lead your family in faith?
Live close to Jesus. Faith-filled parenting comes from being a faith-practicing parent. In your personal life, give time to prayer, the Bible, and worship so that you get to know the outstretched hand of Jesus and can give control of your kids over to him. When you fail at this and are feeling far from God, go back. That’s when he’s most eager for you to come near again.
Show your kids Jesus. Make it a family habit, natural and expected, to stop and pray whenever concerns about anything come up. Read, listen, and talk about Jesus regularly and often. Also make it your role as a parent to be your household’s most visible repenter, often letting your kids see how you admit you have sinned, are saddened by it, and decide to obey God anew—in his strength and under his forgiveness. Again, you will frequently fail to create this environment and keep these habits. Those are times to beg Jesus for help, which is faith too.
Step out of the boat sometimes. Now and then as God puts needs in front of you, have your family do something for Jesus even though you feel scared or ill-equipped. As you step into your task, pray about it and recruit prayer from others, and listen to God’s Word. You might be surprised by what God does. Or maybe things will go badly and you will seem to sink, but if you do, it will be an opportunity to reach for the comforting grip of Jesus. Either way, you will learn faith.
Ultimately, we need the Spirit to fill our hearts with faith, and we need God, in his amazing grace, to give our children eyes to see it and hearts to believe it. As we stumble along in faith as parents, we can rest assured that the work needed to lead our kids in faith depends on One infinitely stronger and more faithful than we are.
Editor’s note: Bible quotations are from the CSB.