Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4, ESV)
Before Jeanine and I were married, several people told us that marriage would be hard. In fact, they said that the first year of marriage would be the hardest. By God’s grace, we found that was not the case. But, I have to confess, parenting is the hardest, most humbling task I have ever had to do. If I ever think I have already obtained the goal of the upward call in Christ Jesus, parenting helps me realize how far I have yet to go. Parenting our five daughters magnifies my sins, especially, the sin of impatience. But this is God’s design.
If we humble ourselves before God, He uses our children to expose our own sin and to sanctify us. In other words, all those times our kids make us want to pull our hair out are opportunities for growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. And, they are opportunities for gospel conversations with our children, both believing and unbelieving children. Here are a couple of thoughts on why the humility of parenting is of great benefit to us.
Parenting exposes the progress of our sanctification. Before we ever teach our children the truth of who God is for us in Christ, we are displaying our faith as we live it out before them. Our children are watching us, noticing our hypocrisies, lies, speech, and conduct. Parenting is hard and humbling because our family observes us when we respond to the difficulties of life, when we have conflict with our spouse, and when we have conflict with one another. It is at home where living in light of the gospel counts the most, but for too many, especially pastors, this is where it matters the least. Sadly, there’s something about being at home and around those we know have to love us that we let down our guard and stop fighting against our own sin. Let us, instead, make it a priority to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ so that we may live holy lives before our family. May we, as parents, provide a picture of the gospel at home.
Parenting helps us better understand and apply the gospel. This is good news! Unfortunately, much parenting has behavior modification as its goal. When this is the case, we instill in our children a works-righteousness mentality — “do this, and/or you’ll get this.” I don’t mean to imply that we should not hold our children to a biblical standard or that we should not discipline our children when they transgress God’s standard. My point is simply that keeping commandments is not the ultimate goal of parenting. The ultimate aim of parenting is that our children would “set their hope in God” (Psalm 78:7) or as Paul says, that our children would become “wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3:15). If they love Christ, they will keep his commandments.
A biblical understanding of the gospel takes into account human inability to justify ourselves before a holy God; therefore, we set God’s standard before our children to show them what God requires and to expose their rebellion. Sinfulness and rebellion against God’s standard receives God’s judgment. So, when our children rebel against God and his Word, we discipline them accordingly with the purpose that they would understand God’s justice and, hopefully, escape his final judgment.Throughout our parenting we should continually display God’s covenant love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness so that our children would see that while their rebellion deserves punishment, God forgives repentant sinners through the person and work of His own Son, Jesus Christ.
Parenting is the hardest think I’ve ever had to do (pastoring is a very close second), and I know many other parents find it hard too. But let me encourage you. If you were a perfect parent, your children would not need Jesus. If your children were perfect, they would not need Jesus. As it stands, we all need Jesus, so we’re all in the same boat. Personally, I’ve been helped by a number of resources on parenting, but recently, I read Paul Tripp’s book titled Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that can Radically Change Your Parenting, and I was greatly blessed by it. Pick up a copy; read it with your spouse; and humble yourselves before the Lord, asking him to allow you to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ and to give you the grace to raise children who hope in God.