C’mon, who doesn’t like The Wonder Years? Many viewers enjoy the nostalgic feeling of the show. We love that it’s set in early-1960s suburbia and is replete with witty, retrospective commentary. We can easily identify with so many of the characters. Preeminently, we love and identify with Kevin. His character is very believable (warts and all). What’s more, we have the gruff and detached father, the sweet mother, the hippie older sister, the dumb and domineering older brother, the cute girl across the street, and (most importantly for this post) the best friend, Paul.
In season two, there is an episode called “Birthday Boy” in which Kevin’s birthday falls on the same day as Paul’s Bar Mitzvah. Not without reason, Kevin is initially jealous of the fact that Paul’s going to get a truck load of gifts and money. However, as the Bar Mitzvah approaches, he finds (sitting around the dinner table with Paul’s family) that Paul, as a Jew, has an identity that has been passed down to him from past generations. Kevin feels the lack of this in his own life. Kevin comes to realize that he has no discernible heritage or familial identity; nothing substantial to his personal identity has passed down to him. He knows he’s Kevin Arnold, but he doesn’t know what that means.
Paul’s Jewish family is not so much a model for us (as Christians), but it does retain one very important aspect of biblical teaching: covenant identity. The children of Christians (or even of one Christian parent – 1 Cor 7:14) are not spiritual orphans with no heritage or identity. God has included (and still includes) the children in his covenantal dealings with his people. This fact is manifestly plain as we look through God’s successive, redemptive covenants in the Bible. In Genesis 17:7, God says”
And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
This is the same (at later times) when God makes covenant with Israel under Moses and when he makes covenant with David. The children are included in God’s covenants. This is also explicitly true of the New Covenant. As the end of his sermon in Acts 2, Peter says that the promised New Covenant blessings (including the forgiveness of sins and giving of the Holy Spirit) are “for you [Jewish listeners] and for your children [standard covenantal inclusion] and for all who are far off [the Gentiles].” Thus it is apparent that God makes covenant with (and extends covenantal promises to) believing adults and their children.
As if that grace weren’t enough, God goes further. He identifies our children as his own. In Ezekiel 16, Yahweh is *how shall we say?* tearing into Israel for being unfaithful to him. One of the unthinkable things the people of Israel were doing was sacrificing their children in the fire to foreign gods, just like the wicked King Manasseh (2 Kings 21:6). Here’s what God has to say about that in verses 20 and 21. “And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your whorings so small a matter that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them?” I’m aware that this context is a horrible example of unfaithful covenantal parenting. But even so, note how God refers to the children: those “whom you had borne to me,” and “my children.” The children of the covenant are borne to God and they are his.
To put it succinctly, covenant children (the children of at least one believer) belong to Yahweh. That is who they are. That is their identity. Our children should never, like Kevin Arnold, flounder around, wondering who they are. As parents, we need to train them up in their baptism (which is the sign of the covenant into which God has included them).
Who are you, son or daughter? You are a child of the covenant. Yahweh is your God. Christ is your King and Savior. God’s covenant grace is for you. God’s covenant law is for you. You are a child of the covenant, just like me and Mommy. This is who WE are.
Our children are not spiritual orphans; they are God’s own children, from their conception. God’s gracious covenant gives them identity, just as it does for their parents.