Glorifying God Through Parenting
(From the recent God-Honoring Relationships Conference)
I can think of no more urgent need than to raise up a generation of children who love God and hate evil (Ps 97:10). The world is insidiously seductive (1 John 2:15-17). Our children’s very own flesh wars against them, and Satan himself seeks to devour them. And what should we seek as God’s appointed means of grace to help our children? The simple answer is this—God uses God-fearing parents and loving church communities to bless children and turn their hearts to Him. Yet the final outcome of childrearing is more complicated than what we do or fail to do for our children. The final outcome of our childrearing is the combined result of five influences that we will consider together.
- God—The Ultimate Influence
- Parents—The Ordained Means of Influence
- The Satan & the World—The Unavoidable Influences
- The Church—The Convicting and Convincing Spiritual Influence
- The Child’s Heart—The Overlooked Influence
First, the Ultimate Influence in a Child’s Life is God: God’s Grace is Sovereign
As parents, our relationship to our children is that of ambassadors and not owners. We are not the ultimate influence in their lives nor the ultimate determinative influence for how their lives will turn out.
This is a critical admission.
At the end of the day, what happens to your children is the outworking of God’s sovereign will. God doesn’t decide what He will do when a person is born. God’s will was decreed before everything was created. God’s will was set before Isaac’s sons, Esau or Jacob, did anything good or bad (Romans 9:10-13). Although Saul was one of the greatest failures in the OT, his son Jonathan was one of the godliest men born of Israel. Conversely, godly men like Samuel and Eli had grossly wicked sons. There are no guaranteed formulas to follow to ensure that your child will be saved at a young age and live a godly life for Jesus. Proverbs 22:6 is a general principle, not a promise. And conversely, your failures as a parent are not ultimately determinative of your child’s success (2 Kings 17:14).
- Parents can’t convict; the Holy Spirit does (John 16:7-8).
- Parents can’t save their children; God does (Titus 3:5).
- Parents can’t sanctify their children; God does ( 3:3).
- But parents aren’t abandoned by God in parenting. They are themselves a means of grace, and they are given means of grace to minister to their children.
- Parents can pray and be assured that God hears (James 5:16b-17).
- Parents can teach their children the Gospel, believing that it is God’s power unto salvation (Rom 1:16).
God ordained to use His Word and prayer. So faithfully teach your children the Word (Deut 6:4-9) and believe that praying expectantly is not presuming upon God’s grace. Conversely, know that parenting according to God’s means of grace is what it means to hope in God’s grace.
Second, the Ordained Means of Influence in a Child’s Life is Parenting
Parents, who are tools in God’s hand, have received a gift from the Lord in their children. Parents are a means of grace God intends to use as His ambassadors in their children’s lives. God provides the sufficient means of grace for parents to faithfully discharge this privilege. So all Christian parents can parent with hope that God will use them to glorify Himself through their parenting.
“There should be one will in a Christian home, and that is to be the will of God. God’s will is to be mediated through the father, who is submissive to God as he applies the principles of God’s Word in its totality to the totality of his family’s life. Where a father is absent, the mother or grandparents or guardians must assume this role, because there is to be one will in the Christian home, and not two. This is the ultimate responsibility of the father to ensure this is the case in his family,” Pastor Al Martin.
Conceptually, parenting is easy. It’s the execution of effectual parenting that’s so hard. Parenting is simply calling your children to follow you as you follow Christ. You know where the landmines are (because you have either learned where they are from God’s Word, or by God’s grace you have miraculously survived stepping on them)! So lead your children to follow carefully behind you, step by step, as you follow Christ on His narrow path. As you do, teach your children what you do for Christ and why you do it. The Bible is your curriculum. You are the illustration. Life is the classroom. And your child is your student. And what’s at stake isn’t a college degree or a job with a certain income. What’s at stake is eternity in heaven or hell.
Parenting is first and foremost evangelism and discipleship. Our Lord is the best example to follow.
- Jesus kept the disciples near him to teach them what they should be and do (Mark 3:13-14).
- Likewise Paul discipled Timothy like an apprentice (Phil 3:17-19; 2 Tim 3:10-13).
- This pattern of parenting is as old as the OT. Parents pleaded with their children to listen to them and follow their examples (Prov 23:26).
Parents must prayerfully and lovingly use their God-given authority to raise their children up to follow the Lord. The parent’s biblical voice, when heeded by their children, is the voice God promised to bless (Eph 6:1-4).
If a child does not obey, then parents must discipline because the child is disobeying God. To not discipline is to fail to teach your children the vital lesson that leads humbled sinners to seek God’s grace in repentance. That lesson is that there is a wage earned when we sin, and that wage is death. “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently,” Prov. 13:24.
Discipline is not punishment, although it is painful. The word discipline means training (in this case, to fear God). It should take whatever lovingly mediated form is necessary to teach the child that the temporal pleasures of sin never outweigh its eternal cost. Biblical discipline includes using the rod, but not exclusively (Prov 23:13-14; 29:15). Follow a careful pattern whenever you discipline:
- Teach before you discipline.
- Always discipline in love and in privacy.
- Discipline in the context of sharing the Gospel.
- Instruct your child to confess, to seek repentance and forgiveness, then pray with your son or daughter.
- Finally, be consistent. If you are, prayerfully most of your disciplining with the rod will be done while your child is still young. Discipline teaches your child to think wisely. “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it” (Prov 22:3).
Third, Satan and His World System are the Unavoidable Influences in Your Child’s Life (Eph 2:2; 6:10ff)
Teaching your child God’s ways and how to live them out in the world is a twofold process. Think of your task as similar to that of a basketball coach. You first have to teach your players how to shoot and then teach them how to score against a wide array of defenses their opponents will throw at them.
Our English word “method” comes from the Greek word translated in the NASB Eph 6:11 strategy. The word is plural, which suggests that Satan has methods, and the context argues that his methods are purely to accomplish his evil intents. As a parent, you must teach your children to follow God’s ways while overcoming the methods Satan uses to attack them. Here are but a few:
- His method is to attack our purity - yours and your child’s (1 Cor. 7:5).
- His method is to capitalize on our anger in order to ruin our relationships (Eph. 4:26-27). We leave our children vulnerable to Satan’s attacks when we parent in anger. Be wise, therefore, and deal with your anger before you deal with your children, and parent in love (1 Cor 13:4-8). Embrace the truth that “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God,” James 1:20.
- His method is to lead our hearts away from sound doctrine that produces “purity and devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3-4). Teach your children the Bible and sound theology. Teaching means more than you talking. Your children have to understand and apply the Bible.
- His method is to tempt us to not trust God’s will for our lives but to do things our way (Gen 3:1-5; 1 Chr. 21:1; Matt. 16:21-23; Acts 5:1-3). Steven Lawson says, “Every casting doubt upon the truthfulness of the Word of God has in it the hiss of the serpent,” (Gen 3:1).
Parents, therefore, need to spiritually protect their children, but do so without smothering them. Your goal is to teach your children to make wise, Christ-honoring decisions and then to let them make them.
Fourth, The Church is the Convicting and Convincing Spiritual Influence
We are all busy, and parenting is exhausting. We labor to provide our children with an excellent education because of the doors we believe will open for them. We drive all over town so that our kids can grow up participating in sports and arts. But dear parents, please do not prioritize any of these over your children staying vitally connected to the church because:
- Faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of God. So make sure they don’t regularly miss gathering (Hebrews 10:24-25) because of other engagements.
- God fills good churches with spiritually gifted members who can love, encourage, counsel, evangelize, and teach your children (1 Cor 12:1-27).
- God gathers with His people (1 Cor 14:24-25) and unbelievers who are there are convicted by Him and His presence.
- It takes the whole body to cause the body and all of its members to grow (Eph 4:12-16).
The church has no parallel in this world. There is nothing else like it—no institution, no organization, no company, no community; nothing. It is unique, it is distinct, and it is one of a kind. And the reason is that the church is supernatural. It is the sovereign creation of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Church is made up of a new humanity being built by Jesus Christ for God-ordained purposes with eternal implications. It is, therefore, an irreplaceable means of grace in the life of your children. Make sure you expose them to all of its benefits. You need all the spiritual help you can get raising kids to fear God and trust Him.
Fifth, The Child’s Heart—The Overlooked Influence (Mark 7:14-23)
If I had to parent all over again, the one thing that I would change is that I would listen more and a lot more carefully, and I’d ask more questions to make sure I was rightly discerning what was going on behind my children’s words and expressions. I would try to plunge deeper into their hearts. “Counsel in a person’s heart is deep water; but a person of understanding draws it out,” Prov. 20:5.
As you teach your children God’s Word, hold them accountable to obey, and trust that God will do what He does—convict, convert, and sanctify. God will hold your children responsible for their response to His means of grace.
So Deal with Their Hearts:
Where do our children’s behaviors come from? Their hearts (Jer 17:9). What is the heart? It is the mind, the will, the desires, and emotions of your child.
Think of their hearts as the roots of a tree and their behaviors as the fruit it produces. Removing the fruit from a bad tree won’t change a bad tree into a good tree. This would be like merely controlling your child’s external behavior, which at best will produce a Pharisee. Instead, when you teach or discipline your child, always connect the fruit of their lives, their actions, and their attitudes, to their hearts, their thoughts, their motives, and their desires. From the Word of God, consistently, lovingly, firmly, and compassionately show them that their actions, attitudes, and choices are sinful because their heart is deceitfully wicked above all else (Jer 17:9). And then share with them the Gospel, explaining to them how Christ and Christ alone paid the price for sin and rose with power to grant a new heart to repentant sinners.
To expose the root of your children’s heart problems, ask probing questions. When they sin, ask them questions that will expose their idols, fears, true passions, insecurities, moral weaknesses, trigger points, evil desires they are hiding, etc.
When you sin against your children, make it your habit to humbly confess, repent, and ask them for forgiveness. In doing so, you will teach and model to them how they should deal with their sin.
Be encouraged. God is very patient. Keep applying God’s means of grace first to your own heart and then to your children’s, and hope in God. What He calls us to do, He grants the grace for us to do it.
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