“Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world'” (John 4:42 NKJV).
Specific beliefs and doctrines often have complex, far-reaching implications. For example the eastern doctrine of reincarnation, fundamental to Hinduism and related religions, is about much more than just multiple life experiences. If one is given a particular form of existence by the gods, it is obviously their will that the form be continued throughout that cycle of life. Devout Hindus believe it is an offense to the gods to attempt to change one’s caste or social status. If karma is earned and the gods are willing, one’s situation will be improved in his next life.
This idea has direct application to religious affiliation. Modern extremist Hindus in India and Nepal argue for laws prohibiting conversion, based on this line of reasoning. One should remain faithful to that religion into which he or she was born. Faith, according to this doctrinal system, is always inherited. (I cannot help but note, however, that I have never heard of a Hindu official objecting to a Christian or Muslim being converted to their religion.)
Though relatively few Americans subscribe to reincarnation, there is still a strong tendency to view religion as largely inherited. We often stress the importance of teaching our children the Bible from infancy (yes, that is not quite the same thing, but read on), and the blessing of being born into and raised within a Christian home. How many prayers have we heard and prayed that give thanks to God for Christian parents? There is much good to be said about Christian influence from birth.
Yet there is one point that must be made. It is certainly true that a Christian environment makes faith easier and more probable. But when all is said and done, that faith must ultimately become personal or it is not valid. Practicing the faith of our fathers (or mothers) is never adequate.
I love the story of Jesus’ confrontation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, recorded in John 4. An often overlooked aspect of that story is the acceptance of Jesus by the woman’s neighbors. Though initially brought to him by her testimony, they soon progressed to personal conviction. “We have heard for ourselves and know that this is indeed the Christ . . .” (John 4:42) is a critically important statement.
One reason for the high percentage of young people brought up within Christianity who forsake their faith upon obtaining adulthood is that it never really became their faith. They were taken to church and told what to believe. They were assigned membership in a particular fellowship largely based on family history. But they might have difficulty explaining even the simpler elements of their beliefs to outsiders, or describing the differences between their church and others.
Too many have never worked through the many options and decided which is true. Too few have paid a personal price of study, prayer, and even suffering to earn religious conviction, or to prove the validity of a particular world view. We believe what we have been exposed to, until something else more appealing is presented, or until what we have accepted is wrecked on the reefs of life’s realities.
Is your faith personal, or is it inherited? Have you heard for yourself and come to a knowledge of truth? Until one does that his or her faith may be suspect.