You’re reading the English translation of the winner of Christianity Today’s second annual essay contest for Christians who write in Spanish. Learn more about the competition and CT’s multilingual work and check out the winning essays written originally in Portuguese, French, Indonesian, and Chinese.
One of the most dramatic moments of the entire Bible occurs when Abraham reaches out his hand to take the knife, ready to sacrifice his son Isaac in obedience to the Lord (Gen. 22:10). Considering the customs of the time with regard to child sacrifices, perhaps the Lord's request did not seem so far-fetched to Abraham. Except that, of course, the Lord had promised Abraham that he would multiply his offspring “as the stars of heaven” through this son (21:12; 26:4).
But according to Hebrews 11:19, Abraham obeyed God because he “reasoned that God could even raise the dead.” As we know, the Lord did not let Abraham harm Isaac but provided a ram for the sacrifice (Gen. 22:12–13). After Abraham’s demonstration of reverence to God, the Lord promised to bless him to the point that all nations would also be blessed through his offspring (v. 18).
This passage marks a radical contrast with the practice of the other nations of Abraham's time (and continuing in subsequent centuries) that did sacrifice their children to pagan gods. Even some of the Israelites did so, in total disobedience to God (2 Kings 16:3).
Today it is almost impossible to identify ourselves with this event in the lives of Abraham and Isaac. We can’t fathom offering our children as a physical, living sacrifice before God, much less sacrificing them to pagan gods.
But is it true that the days of offering our children in sacrifice are so far behind us? Or is it possible we haven’t realized what idols and gods we have raised up in our days? What would it look like to offer our children to God in the 21st century?
A modern idol
Several years ago, my husband and I moved to the United States to attend graduate school and had our only son during this time. Since the moment I learned he was in the womb, planning his education became a priority for both me and my husband. In particular, I remember wanting him to have the opportunities that I did not have during my formative years.
Upon entering my graduate program in the United States, I soon realized that I was at a significant disadvantage in comparison to my peers. I had grown up in Mexico as the daughter of a single mother who did not have the opportunity to attend college and had to work hard to secure my education. I did not have the opportunity to learn arts and music like many of my peers, and often felt out of place by not being able to participate in their conversations. They had had experiences that had expanded their knowledge in areas of culture that I never had access to.
For this reason, I decided my son would never endure a similar experience. I felt it was my responsibility to provide him with the educational and cultural opportunities that I did not have. So, at four years old, our son was already studying violin in the children's classes at the university, and I planned his summers with classes and activities in arts, sports, science and technology.
Perhaps it is important to clarify that my husband and I had been calling ourselves followers of Christ for several years, and at this point in our history, we were attending an evangelical megachurch where my husband served as an interpreter and I taught children's classes.
We were Christians and were actively involved in the life of the church. However, we still loved what the Bible calls “the world”: its perspective, its values, and, evidently, its idols.
Without knowing it, we were willing to take our son to the altar of the world and give him up before another god: education aimed at achieving success and a better social status.
The world according to Scripture
In the New Testament, the apostle John warns Christians to not “love the world or anything in the world.” (1 John 2:15). And John divides into three parts what he refers to when he speaks of the world: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (v. 16).
To express the meaning of pride, other Bible translations use the terms vainglory, boastful pride, or arrogance. The point John conveys is that what is attractive to the flesh, what we lust for with our eyes, and any desirable thing that causes us to boast once we have obtained it is of the world. The litmus test for whether something is of the world or not is whether it is contrary to the desires of the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:16–17).
Followers of Christ are, by definition, those who have been transformed by the Spirit of God to seek the kingdom of God above all things. Although we were born into the world and by nature pursued the desires of the flesh, Christians have found something whose value is infinitely superior to all that the world and the pleasures of the flesh can offer. We are those who have found a pearl “of great value” and leave everything behind—or sell all that we have—to buy it (Matt. 13:46).
John suggests that we can judge our own salvation based on whether we seek the things of the world or the things of God. “If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them” (1 John 2:15). According to his argument, love for the world repels love for the Father and vice versa; that is, they cannot coexist.
One foot in the world, One foot in the kingdom
The temptation to keep one foot in the world tends to be overwhelming. We tell ourselves that it’s necessary to adapt our lives to this world's values, even if only partially. Many times, it seems logical to teach our children that the goal of their formative years is to prepare them for an adult life in which they can exchange their work for as much money as possible and get ahead of others in the race for success. But in doing this, are we not preparing them for the altar of the world?
In the same vein, few parents today teach their children to be content with merely having sufficient food to eat and clothes to cover themselves. Today’s Western society suggests that instructing our children this way is preparing them for mediocrity. However, being content with food and clothing is exactly what the New Testament teaches (1 Tim.6:8).
If we are honest, all Christian parents struggle with this to a certain extent. Our natural instinct and desire are to do everything in our power to ensure the well-being of our children.
But too often, we want to be in control of our children's future rather than to trust and rely on God. And as we know, whenever we act according to our own understanding, things do not turn out well. “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 16:25).
If we raise our children to seek education to get more money and status in the name of securing a better future, we are driving them in the way of the world. And “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7).
It is common to hear Christian parents say that they send their children to school not only to learn but also to be light and salt. But if we do not stop to analyze our motivations, we might as well pursue our children's education with the same motives as non-believing parents.
According to Barna research, between 2011 and 2018, “the percentage of young-adult [church] dropouts … increased from 59 to 64 percent. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. 18–29-year-olds who grew up in church … have withdrawn from church involvement as an adult after having been active as a child or teen.”
When we see the children we believed we were raising in the church turn away from the faith as they reach adulthood, is it possible that we were actually raising them according to the values of the world?
Analyzing our motivations
At this point, it is important to clarify that while the approach that sees education as a means to pursue and achieve success is certainly part of the snares of this world, education itself is not necessarily of the world. God gave us the ability to learn, and many have argued biblically for the value of education.
Rather, what we must examine is our motivations. God sees our hearts (1 Sam. 16:7). We must ask ourselves, Why do I want my child to receive the best education possible? Why do I want my son or daughter to belong to this particular sports league? How we answer—either with a response that honors God or one that glorifies the world— will determine if we love God above all else.
Do I want my son to play a sport so he will achieve a better social status or so he will glorify God in his body by exercising? Do I want him to learn a musical instrument so he will praise the Lord or simply because “well-educated” children play music? Do I want him to get a good job so he will use his knowledge and skills for the kingdom of God or just so he will have a life of abundance and a good socioeconomic status?
A living sacrifice
What would it look like, then, to offer our children to God nowadays? We would do well to begin by imitating Abraham's example: listening to God's instruction and obeying even when God's call may seem to run counter to the promise of success.
Like Abraham, we must believe that God will fulfill his promises regardless of our circumstances, for success is assured to those who love God (Rom. 8:28). To offer our children to God is to agree to let go of the reins and give God the space to fulfill His promise of success. The prosperity and success that God promises will always come on God's terms and not according to worldly interpretation of these terms.
Our son is now thirteen years old, and over the past few years we have walked hand in hand with the Lord, learning step by step to live a more contented life under God's provision. We have learned to pray that God's will be done in his life, not ours.
Our calling as God's redeemed people is to seek His glory at all times (1 Cor. 10:31). The goal of God's children is to please and serve him—not to do anything for the sake of ambition or conceit (Phil. 2:3) or other people’s approval but to do it for the Lord (Col. 3:23).
Let us ask God for forgiveness if in ignorance we have taught our children to worship idols and worldly values rather than to be living sacrifices to God. Let us rest in God's promises, for the Word says, “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
Rebeca Martínez Gómez is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, and holds a PhD in linguistics from the University of New Mexico. She lives with her husband and son in Albuquerque, where the Lord called them to evangelize and plant a church.
Translation into English by Livia Giselle Seidel.