Many of man’s philosophies for the rearing of children typically arise from individual experiences. Moreover, in the area of bringing up children, even Christians often look to ungodly counsel, or to “common sense,” rather than to the sole authority and totally sufficient standard of the Scriptures.
In my experience, the most effective parents have a clear grasp of the cross and its implications for daily life. The implications are manifold. They include the fear of God, a marriage that preaches the gospel to its children, deeply ingrained humility, gratitude, joy, firmness coupled with affection, and consistent teaching modeled by parents daily.
If we measure our success as parents solely by what our children become, there is no inviolable guarantee in Scripture that we will experience absolute success on those terms… The true measure of success for Christian parents is the parents’ own character. To the degree that we have followed God’s design for parenting, we have succeeded as parents before God.
What’s my goal for my kids? Is it just to keep them off drugs, get good grades and come out to church with the family? That might make for training a good American, but not necessarily for training a good Christian. I want my children to see their role as a Christian is not only preventing themselves from being stained by the world (here is where many Christian parents stop), but also empowered by the Holy Spirit to be used as an agent to transform the world. It’s helping them to understand, modeling it for them and giving them opportunities to be ambassadors for Christ.
That means that God is more than Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. That means there is an organized family time around the Word. That means you are living as a good example of Christ. That means you are committed to spending quantity time with them instructing and disciplining as commanded in Scripture both in the formal and informal situations that repeatedly come your way. That means you are adorning the Gospel by showing them love and forgiveness and joy and a strong marriage with your spouse. That means that you are listening to them more than you are speaking to them to hear what they are hearing and process what they are processing about life in an effort to help them to see everything from a biblical worldview.
Recently I listened to a great sermon by Paul Tripp as he spoke about the need to shepherd our children’s hearts. When the heart is ignored and we concentrate only on the externals, he compared it to a child that has everything he needs and wants in his backyard, but has his face pressed up against the fence desiring the junk in the neighbor’s yard. Legalistic parents just try to build higher fences. Christian parents shepherd the orientation of the heart.
If you want to raise a Pharisee, just follow these simple steps (sarcasm!). 1. Make the Christian home all about rule-keeping (do’s and don’t’s), but never explain to them why we should follow God’s Word. 2. Add your own rules to God’s Word and make them more important than God’s Word. 3. Strictly enforce the rules on your children, but give yourself a pass. 4. Show your children nothing about grace, forgiveness, mercy and love. 5. Preach at them until they are blue in the face (bore them with the Bible) and never listen to what they have to say about God’s Word. 6. Make Jesus a burden rather than a blessing – make God’s Word a bondage rather than a liberation. 7. Give them no opportunity to think spiritually for themselves. 8. Fail to guide them in a spiritual worldview – teaching them how to process life with the Bible. 9. Praise their externals regardless of their motives. 10. Teach them to obey only because they have to and not because they should also want to as God’s commands come from a loving and trustworthy Father. 11. Make your disciple punishment rather than correction. 12. Demand self-reformation, rather than pointing them to Christ-transformation by grace. 13. Teach them to obey you as God rather than to obey God by obeying you. 14. Use Scripture and church as punishment. 15. Never pray for them. 16. Correct them more than you encourage them. 17. Beat your kids into external conformity, often to simply make yourself look good and do nothing to shepherd their hearts.
Parents, by nature, your children want to feel special. Will they learn that from you? And will you reject the superficial spoiling, self-esteem movement, permissive attitudes and worthless flattering in your efforts to achieve it? Start with God’s image. Then cultivate their love for God’s image. Then show Christ as the solution to repair God’s image. Nurture their relationship with Christ toward His causes. Only then will our children find their worth in life.
Perhaps most of all, our children need to hear that we love them. And why do we love them? Simply because they are our children. Period! They do not earn our love, nor can they lose our love regardless of what they do. This is modeling the divine love of God. Why does He love us? Because He chooses to do so. The love is unconditional and not based on our performance. And the Bible says the only reason we love Him is because He first loves us (1 Jn. 4:19). And how did He show that loved? Through His own sacrifice. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Children can easily see where your priorities are and where your love is directed.
Because those in the world are so quick to live vicariously through their children, to catalog their successes in conversation and on social media, we Christians are tempted to follow suit. We want to show the world that our following in the pathway of Christ doesn’t make us losers, but that in fact we are empowered for even greater successes. We Christians herald our outspoken athletes and our teenage pop stars and in turn highlight whatever headlines our own children garner. Our standards, however, ought to be different. Our faith isn’t a better path to a better life, as the world defines it. It is instead a different path, a different life, and a different understanding of what we mean by better. We cherish academic success, but smart, I’m sorry to report, is not listed among the fruit of the Spirit. Neither is pretty, wealthy, athletic, musical. There is nothing wrong with those things, nothing wrong with excelling in those things. They are not, however, the goal. They are not the measure of success for those called to pick up their cross and follow Him.
When we get right down to specific principles of child-training, the Bible does not have a great deal to say directly. But when we understand the great principle established in this verse [Eph. 6:4], the Bible becomes an inexhaustible source-book for successful child training.
The goal of parenting is to work yourself out of a job. The goal of parenting is to send young adults out into the world who are prepared to live as God’s children and as salt and light in a corrupt and broken world.
Your children need God’s law, but you cannot ask the law to do what only grace can accomplish.
Recognizing what you are unable to do is essential to good parenting. God has tasked parents with many things, but nowhere in His word has He tasked you with the responsibility to create heart change.