If there’s anything Christians need to be giving themselves to in these dark days of cultural insanity, it is building strong families: raising bold and faithful children. It is no accident that our liberal overlords hate the Christian family. They hate it because it is so potent. When a man and a woman covenant together in marriage, and determine by faith in the promises of God that they will be biblically fruitful through welcoming as many children as they can, raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, they are building an army that will overwhelm the impotence and barrenness of the progressive wet dream. So here are four words of encouragement as you join the fray, as you come up for air in the midst of the fray, or even as you find various ways to assist others in this glorious work.
1. Standing on the Promises
Like everything else in the Christian life, we parent by faith. “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:2-3). We need the Spirit to raise our children faithfully, and this text tells us that we receive the Spirit by the hearing of faith, not the works of the law. The fundamental thing is hearing and believing, not some particular method of parenting. Faithful children is a gift from God, all of grace. And the only way to receive the grace of God is by faith, by heaving and believing.
So, what are we to hear and believe? First, we are to hear and believe the promises of the gospel, which is the forgiveness of sins for fathers and mothers. God promises complete cleansing and a perfect record for all who believe in His Son. So, you say you are justified by faith alone, and so you are. But is your parenting justified by faith alone too? Or are you running on the treadmill of good works trying to get God’s blessing that way? Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Our parenting must be justified by faith, just like the rest of our lives. And that means believing the gospel for our parenting, but it also means believing the promises of God regarding our children. Understood rightly, believing the promises of God for our children are part of the promises of the gospel. God promises that His blessing will rest upon all of those who trust in Jesus. What is that blessing? It is the promise of salvation for us and for our children (Acts 2:38-39).
So here are several of the promises specifically about our children that we must hear and believe. And we should note that these are all promises for children in the New Covenant:
“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore” (Is. 59:21). God promises to put His Spirit in the mouth of believers’ children. Do you believe?
“And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jer. 32:38-40). God promises to be our God, to give us one heart that fears Him, for our good and for the good of our children. Do you believe?
“My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever” (Ez. 37:24-25). This “David” is Jesus, the Son of David, the One who sits on the throne of David forever. Under the gracious rule of Christ, we promised that we will be guided to walk in the statutes of God, along with our children and grandchildren. Do you believe?
Finally, from the New Testament: “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39). There is that gift of the Spirit that is for us and for our children.
There’s a stark difference between parents who believe these promises and then seek to obey what God says to do in light of the promises, and those parents who doubt, are unsure, or are unaware of the promises. Faith in the promises is marked by joy, peace, patience, kindness, confidence, and courage. While doubt, insecurity, and ignorance of the promises is marked by anger, frustration, depression, fear, critical spirits, squabbling, and regular arguments and fights. If your home is not marked by joy and peace and patience, go back to these promises. Begin at the beginning before the Lord, as a father, as parents, or as whole family. Begin by believing the promises of God. Receive forgiveness for failures, and begin again by believing the promises. Do you receive the Spirit by striving? By bossing? By clamoring? By criticizing? By worrying? No, not at all. You receive the Spirit by believing the promises.
2. Requiring Obedience & Biblical Justice
The central command given to parents is to teach our children to love and obey God. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (Dt. 6:5-8).
The two specific commands here are to love God with all that you are, and to teach the commands of God to your children diligently, which means all day long. If you want your kids to love God, show them how. When you love something, it comes tumbling out all the time. So talk about God’s word all day long. Talk about the beauty of creation. Talk about answered prayer. Talk about the goodness of God. Talk about what you read in Scripture today. Sing hymns and psalms together regularly. And since we’re the kind of people who forget, put reminders to talk about God’s word everywhere. Incidentally, this is why educational programs where the Word of God is not honored all day long cannot be considered viable options for Christian parents. It is disobedience to this command, and you will reap what you sow. If you sow apathy and indifference and agnosticism for 8 hours a day, you cannot be shocked when you that’s the harvest you reap.
Parents must teach and require biblical obedience of their children. Obedience is to be right away, all the way, and cheerfully, since that is how we must obey God. Slow obedience is not obedience, incomplete obedience is not obedience, and fussing/whining/complaining/eye rolling obedience is not obedience. Parents must practice, teach, and require biblical obedience and not let the line slide. This is not because we think we are so high and mighty but because God requires us to do it, and because our children are practicing for how they will obey God when they are grown up.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). This means that we want to begin teaching obedience as early as possible since however you train him when he is young, that is the way he will go, and he will not depart from it (for good or ill). Practice makes permanent. If you practice making deals, if you practice compromise, if you practice coaxing and begging and bribing for ten years, then you will get teenagers and adults with hard hearts who are not quick to obey you or the Lord.
The problem of course is that “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,” and if only there was something we could do about that, but wait, there is: “but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Prov. 22:15). Far too many parents are frustrated and constantly running on fumes and at their wits end, and they scour parenting books and magazines and internet mom groups and websites for tips and tricks, but they are doing so disobediently because they have already decided not to obey God’s clear instructions here. The rod of discipline drives folly far from the hearts of our children. Do you believe God or not?
The Bible teaches that the rod of correction is love, and failure to love in this way is a form of hatred: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24). Hebrews says that discipline is painful for the present, but it results in the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:11). Do you want the peaceful fruit of righteousness or do you want to keep doing it your own way? There is a particular connection between a child’s backside and his soul: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol” (Prov. 23:13-14).
Are you putting your trust in your own wisdom, modern psychology, fear of what others might think, fear that you might mess it up? Well, if you’re failing to obey God in this way, you’re already messing it up. If you didn’t grow up in a home where spanking was done regularly and joyfully (without any anger), talk to a couple in your church that has happy, obedient children, and ask them for advice about how to do it. And while spanking is certainly not the only tool in your parenting toolbox, it is ordinarily a very regular occurrence for most kids in the toddler years, tapering off in the elementary years.
When you discipline, practice the principles of biblical justice (informally). I don’t mean this in a wooden way, but keep these principles in mind and apply them as seems fitting: explain the biblical charges, cite 2-3 witnesses, explain the penalty (how many spanks?), require calm submission to the penalty (no fits), then quickly hug and comfort your child, pray together and ask God’s forgiveness, assure them of their forgiveness, and make any other necessary apologies or restitution to anyone else wronged. Remember: the point of the discipline is to get back into joyful obedience and fellowship. If the spanking does not result in the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” you need to repeat the process until you succeed. There will usually be a few battles in the toddler years, and faithful parents must be committed to winning those battles. Remember, it is far easier to win a battle with a two year old over her peas, than it is to try to win a battle with a fifteen year old who wants to dress like a Canaanite.
3. Practice Joyful Obedience & Fellowship
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Fathers are singled out here as the ones particularly responsible for seeing that this takes place. Children are required to honor and obey both their mother and their father, but fathers are given the responsibility of making sure that it happens. The “discipline and instruction” of the Lord is the “culture and counsel” of the Lord Jesus. Culture is all day long, everywhere you go, just like in Deuteronomy, and counsel is the wisdom and ethics and love of Christ.
Fathers are also warned against provoking their children to wrath, and this means that fathers must love and teach, love and teach, and then require obedience of those things that they know their children have been thoroughly taught. Good parents are like good coaches. But many fathers provoke their children to wrath by requiring of them things they haven’t taught and practiced with them. There should be lots of teaching, explaining, and practicing before the game, before “it counts.” Play obedience games, where you practice obeying right away, all the way, and cheerfully. Give random commands that are fun or funny, and practice obeying together as a team: “Go hug your mom!” “yes sir!”, “Bring me one sock from your bedroom!” “Yes sir!” “Go put that one sock away!” “Yes sir!” Is there any chance they might ever need to be ready to put a sock away? If your house is like my house, probably more than once.
Be full of praise, encouragement, compliments, prizes, high fives, fist bumps, laughter, and aim to make obedience joyful and fun (because it is). It is a blessing to obey God. Try to do your best to prepare your children for the challenges they will face before they happen. What will their temptations be at the store? When you have guests over? Sharing toys with friends? Eating dinner? At school? A birthday party? Talk about it. Practice. Rehearse. Will they need to say “thank you”? Have you run that drill many times? Or are you just going to spring it on them? And if you notice certain areas of weakness when you have guests over or when you’re out, don’t make a huge deal about it and embarrass them in front of everyone. Take those weaknesses as your report card as a parent, jot down some notes on the things you’d like to see improved, talk to your spouse about it, and then prayerfully practice those things for the next couple of weeks before your next opportunity arises, before the next “game.” Set your children up to succeed, and if you know that they know how to obey and they still refuse, then you must discipline them. But no coach is considered a good coach who requires things that he has not thoroughly practiced and drilled with his team.
So cultivate a culture of fellowship and joy in your home where everyone is cheering for one another to succeed, not a gestapo culture where everyone is watching for infractions. While you must require obedience, and there will be times when you need to win certain battles, you do not need to make everything an obedience test. Love covers a multitude of sins. Accidents happen. Laugh a lot. Give opportunities for “do-overs” for “Mr. or Ms. Grumpypants.” And if you’ve been lazy or failing to hold a biblical standard in many areas, just pick the top one or two areas and begin there. Frequently, as you address the clearest problems, the other ones clear up on their own or with less effort.
This culture of joy and fellowship is particularly important so that there is joyful fellowship to be restored to after discipline. If everything is tense all the time, spanking will have less and less potency. The whole point of discipline is to get back into joyful fellowship. And the father is particularly responsible for seeing that his home is a happy place to be.
4. Loving the Standard vs. Conforming to the Standard
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). The goal is to have our children love the standard not merely conform to the standard.
This means that the basic structure of parenting is that children should live in a joyful, benevolent totalitarian dictatorship until mid-to-late elementary school. They should be told what to wear, when to go to bed, and what they love and value.
Sometime in the mid-elementary years, they may begin having their own opinions and some measure of freedom to begin using their judgment, while still giving lots of teaching and correction but spankings should be increasingly rare.
The goal should be to “let go” sometime in high school, giving your kids a year or two to make their own choices like adults while there is still a safety net before they move out of the house. If there are obvious problems in high school, work to rebuild trust; don’t clamp down.
Far too many parents get this all reversed and set themselves up for great frustration and sadness. It’s easy to let sin go when kids are young, when the sin seems relatively small and cute, but you’re training little, selfish monsters. And if you failed, and your kids are now in high school and showing the fruit of those failures, go back to step 1. Go back to the promises and the gospel, and then recognize that we serve a gracious God who meets us where we are, rather than where we should have been. Confess your sins to God, to your kids, and then address the issues as best as you can without pretending you can put the toothpaste back in the tube. If your son is 16, respect him as an adult who needs counsel, but don’t try to order him around like he’s still 5. Remember, God’s grace is sufficient for it all, and that is the key to the kind of cool, joyful confidence you need at every stage of parenting. God is good, and He has promised to save us and our children. So look to Him in faith, and then walk in that light.