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  • Pr Lionel Neo (CPC)

Is Your Faith Second-Hand?

2nd Gen Christian = 2nd hand faith?

Once during a mission trip, I recall a fellow youth who said these words as shared his testimony to a crowd of Thai believers, "I grew up in a Christian family, and so I am a second-hand … I mean, second-gen Christian”.

Whilst that was meant as a joke, I can understand the sentiment behind the statement. In comparison to his Thai Christians audience, who were mostly adult converts that faced significant opposition from their families, he was perhaps apologetic that his testimony would be nowhere near as action-packed or compelling as theirs.

Many young people in Presbyterian churches today are second-gen, or even multi-gen Christians. I too am a second-gen Christian. And there too were times growing up when I have wondered if I was only in church due to force of habit or my parents’ habit of force, rather than some decisive point in my life where I had personally encountered God, and when I had decided to follow Jesus, leaving the world behind.

Furthermore, second-hand has the connotation of something passed down (we are not the original owners), or something bought at a bargain price (of an inferior, deteriorating quality). It’s a common stereotype that multi-gen young believers are less fervent than their first gen counterparts. But is being a second gen Christian automatically a bad thing? How about the Biblical injunctions to “Train a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6), or the way faith was supposed to be transmitted through a family’s entire lifestyle (Deuteronomy 6:4 – 8)?

Whilst we should not conflate ‘coming to church since we are young’ with ‘coming to Christ’, neither should we entirely separate them or see them as antagonistic. In today’s piece, I want to give 3 reasons for why we do not need to have a second hand faith even as a second gen Christian.

Pre-loved instead of second-hand

The word pre-loved is usually as a euphemism for second-hand goods - ‘pre’ being a shorthand for previously loved, but now presumably unwanted.

But ‘pre’ could also have another meaning, such as in ‘prepay’ - paid beforehand. Whoever who truly calls upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13) are pre-loved – we are chosen in Christ before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), and God adopted us because of His love for us (Ephesians 1:5).

And whatever act of will any Christian has done in “making a decision for Christ”, whether quietly repeating the sinner’s prayer in a Sunday School class, or finally turning to God within the confines of a jail cell, all that is overshadowed by the Christ event, His work for us on the cross.

Karl Barth, a famous 20th century theologian, noted that a church minister was once asked when was he converted, to which the minister replied, “On Golgotha (where Jesus was crucified)”.

He says, “This answer … was not the witty retort of an embarrassed and unconverted man, but the only possible and straightforward answer of a truly converted Christian ….

Have I anything to testify about myself which I cannot testify infinitely better if I make my own the simplest ingredient of the Old Testament or New Testament witness? Have I experienced anything more important, incisive, serious, contemporary than this, that I have been personally present and have shared in the crossing of Israel through the Red Sea but also in the adoration of the golden calf, in the baptism of Jesus but also the denial of Peter and the treachery of Judas …

However high may rise or however deep may fall the waves of life's events ... the real events in which it is clear to me that in the whole dimension of my existence I belong to God, are secured from the other side, by the Word of God Himself."[1]

As we focus on objectivity of Christ’s salvation of us, we will not be insecure through comparison with the testimony of others. Our security is in God’s gracious choice of us.

Living forward instead of looking back

That is not to say that personal experience, our life-history with God, does not count as well. We are enjoined repeatedly in scriptures to remember God’s goodness and faithfulness to us. Likewise, I think it is valuable to cultivate assurance in our salvation through personal experiences – we do not get another Christ or a better Christ through these, but we can get a firmer or clearer grasp of who He is.

And that brings me to the second point – as second gen Christians (but not just second gen!), I invite you to live forward instead of look back. We have a relationship with a living God; a relationship in the here and now, and not a monument to revisit occasionally.

Take a husband and wife for example. Sure, they might have had the most epic proposal and wedding ceremony, one that was the talk of the town, but if their relationship is currently down in the dumps, and they have not spoken for a week, all these mean nothing. Or imagine if a husband forgets his wife’s birthday, but he retorts, “But twenty years ago I threw you this special birthday party in Venice!” - that is not the sign of a good spouse, but a terrible one.

Perhaps many of us have too small a view of what it means to be a Christian; it is certain not a staid routine of going to church once a week, and perhaps praying and reading the Bible occasionally.

To truly follow Christ, to believe in His words, is a real, relentless adventure. To love God with all our being, to proclaim and live out the gospel wherever we are placed, to dive deep into knowing Him in whom all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom are hid, to be truth-tellers even when the truth is unpopular, to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, to love those around us and to forgive freely, to care for the outcast and the downcast, to look at and pray for the situations around us through the eyes of faith and hope – all these are certainly not marks of a life marked by boredom.

Just as in a marriage, what matters is not how a relationship begins, but how it grows and where it is going. Let us live forward with a living God.

Heirloom instead of hand-me-down

My final point is that as second gen Christians, we can look at our faiths not just as a ‘hand me down’, but an heirloom - something precious that is passed down, something we should be grateful to receive. Apostle Paul says to Timothy, “5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.”

During the same aforementioned mission trip, I remember one of my friends being completely hopeless with songs like ‘With Christ in the Vessel’ and its actions; he was worse than all the Thai kids we were teaching. As he became a Christian only in his poly days, he was entirely unfamiliar with Sunday School songs. The rest of us were quite mean and we teased him endlessly about his haplessness.

But this also reminded me about what I had taken for granted as a second gen Christian. It’s not simply being good at children’s songs, but having those deep Biblical or theological foundations, because of all the years of Sunday School, cell groups and worship services we have attended. What many of us need is for the truth we have learnt to come alive for us.

It is only just recently, after I had been attending seminary for a while, that I learnt that my mother dedicated me to service to God when I was just a baby. As second gen Christians on this side of eternity, we will never know the full impact or implications of what has been sown into our lives, by our parents, our youth leaders and mentors. But what we do know, like Timothy in the Bible, is we have an entire community backing us in our journey of faith, and we are part of grand story that stretches back beyond our births.

[1] Taken from

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