Another nugget of wisdom from Counsel from the Cross, this time on gospel-centered parenting. I wrote some about this in a post a while back on discipline verses punsishment, subtitled parenting our children the way God parents His.
What does gospel-centered parenting look like? Here is how Paul put it:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4); and “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Col. 3:21).
Isn’t it easy to see how Paul’s counsel to parents is based on God’s gracious pattern with us? We are not to be harsh or demanding with our children. We are not to provoke them to anger or discourage them. Of course, the obvious question we have to consider is what will provoke them or discourage them, and, by contrast, what does it look like to discipline and instruct “in the Lord”?
Although there are many ways we can provoke our kids in disciplining them, we learn from Paul’s expositions of grace in these epistles that we provoke and discourage our children when we forget the gospel and demand, as a condition of our approval and affection, that they obey the law that “neither our fathers not we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10). By itself, God’s law, although it is “holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12), will serve only to aggravate or discourage them. The law will stir up within them the desire to sin because they are not able to obey it. It won’t furnish them with the power or motivation to obey us or the Lord. The law has its uses with our children, but making them good isn’t one of them. Only the gospel and God’s grace can change hearts.
The proper place and function of the law is something that we might recognize in our own lives but fail to believe when it comes to raising our children. We know that we don’t change and mature by making a list of things we need to do and then scrutinizing our failures when we don’t do them. But, amazingly, we think that’s how our children will change. But when they cry that they can’t obey, we should agree with them, although it is true that we are to acquaint them with the law’s demands.
Rather than telling them that they can and will obey, we must tell them—frankly, gently, sadly—that they cannot obey. They need help. They need Jesus. Making a list and giving stickers and time-outs when they succeed or fail won’t change their hearts. It may make them little Pharisees, knowing how to look obedient so that they can get approval, but it won’t change their hearts. We are to use their disobediences as a gospel opportunity to remind them that they are sinful and flawed, but if they flee to Jesus he will love and welcome them. We must remind them that they “do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with (their) weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as (they) are, yet without sin. Let (them) then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that (they) may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).
Jesus understands their weaknesses. He knows about temptations. When we—and our children—struggle with obedience, we can draw near to the throne of grace where we won’t receive judgment and punishment, but mercy and grace to help. That is the portrait of the Savior that our children need to see. This is the image that will transform their hearts and teach them to run to him, rather than away from him, when they sin.
… The gospel is the environment of our parenting.