On Parenting with the Gospel

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


One of the toughest moments in parenting is that brief lapse on the clock between the time my child's disobedience comes to my attention, and the time I begin to respond. What I do in that brief lapse in time can make all the difference in the world as to how I respond to my kid.

The reason it is such a tough moment is because the way I respond will largely shape and mold my child's understanding of sin as well as, most importantly, the gospel.

There are two dangers we have to avoid in formulating a response.

The first is an overreaction, usually manifested in irritation and frustration. You know what I mean, if you're a parent. Depending mostly in your mood at that moment, your frustration and irritation with their sin can fall anywhere on the Richter scale of parenting. Our kids could experience anything between an unfelt tremor in our relationship with them, and a house-destroying, child-abusing massive earthquake of sinful anger and wrath. Most of us don't make it a habit of crossing the 4.0 mark, though some have perhaps gone past 8.0 at one time or another, or perhaps even repeatedly. If so, there is grace, much grace, for such parents.

What happens, if this pattern of responding with irritation, frustration, or moodiness is consistently followed is that we create an environment of performance-oriented behavior in our kids. That is, they'll learn to behave in a way that doesn't make us overreact. And let me tell you, from experience, they learn to play that game. I've watched my kids even ask me sometimes, "Dad are we irritating you?" I feel terrible, because I know that my gospel-less handling of their sin before has largely contributed to such a question.

When we create a performance-oriented atmosphere, or a "don't make mom or dad angry" environment, we set ourselves up in our parenting so as to never get inside their hearts to identify and correct the root problem in their sinful behavior. Overreaction is a sure means of obscuring the gospel from our kids.

The second danger is as bad as the first: an underreaction. It is usually manifested in a failure to deal with the sin at all. This danger, if not avoided consistently, will teach our kids that sin isn't that important, and that it's no big deal to worry about it.

Perhaps your home reflects this danger more than the first. How often do your kids get away with sinful behavior? How much of it goes unnoticed? If you're answer to the first is that you don't see sinful behavior that often, it's time to spend more time at home, getting to know your kids. And if you are at home enough but don't notice the behavior, turn off the television or put down the magazine and again, get to know your kids.

There are parents like this who desperately want their kids to come to know Christ and to be saved. But perhaps no one has put two and two together for them. If that's what they want, then they have to be saved from something. That something is, of course, their sin. But if they don't have anyone pointing out their sin, then they will have no lense through which to view the Savior, and hence no desire for Him whatsoever.

This failure, like the first, also does not get at the heart of the child to identify and deal with the root problem of the sin. Underreaction also obscures the gospel from our kids.

If the first danger over emphasizes sin, the second danger ignores sin almost completely. So what's the balance? A reponse that deals with the sin in a gentle yet firm manner.

This manner doesn't let sin escape either our notice or theirs. It firmly makes as much of the sin as God does (describing in biblical terminology so they can know exactly what God calls it and thinks about it). But it also gently applies the divine remedy to the wounded or hardened conscience, hopefully either healing it or breaking it.

This mannner firmly yet gently takes the necessary time to explore with the child their heart - the motivations and/or influences provoking their sinful behavior. It uses the Scriptures to identify the sin, call it what it is, and unashamedly point to its consequences both temporally and eternally. Yet this manner also uses Scriptures as a book chock full of stories, stories about how God loved and redeemed His own disobedient children called the nation of Israel.

This manner firmly yet gently discusses God's demands of repentance from that sinful behavior. But it also discusses the necessary and vital role of the Holy Spirit's help in making such repentance a success.

This manner firmly yet gently holds the child - regenerated or not - in a place of accountability, where the child is forced to at least reckon with God's view and solution of their sin, and hopefully bring them willingly to the cross for redemption and/or reminder of the truth of justification.

So in that brief moment between the time your child's sin comes to your attention and the time you actually begin responding, put sinful anger to death. Your child's behavior doesn't need to become driven by your mood. It needs to be driven by an inward desire to please King Jesus. And if necessary, renew your own mind even more with a fresh reading of God's record of redemption in the Scriptures, preparing yourself for your next corrective moment.

But whatever you do, don't ignore it either! Deal with it squarely, face to face, exercising the privilege and responsibility God has given you to rear your child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. If you've ignored it before because it's too much of an inconvenience to you, put your convenience to death. Peacemaking is never convenient. Ask Jesus about that, because He made peace between you and God and it was by no means convenient! And if you've ignored it before because that's what your parents did, then don't be like them. Be like God the Father, and study how He deals with His disobedient children. And finally, that last suggestion applies also to those who have ignored it before because they don't know how to respond.

It's a growth issue, for both you and them. You grow in your responses to them, and they grow in their obedience to you and King Jesus. There's much grace for the journey as both of you walk that sometimes weary and winding road. But be assured that at the end of that road, there is the tangible prize of a child who fills you with joy and makes the Heavenly Father's heart glad.

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