How Do You Share the Gospel When You Discipline Your Kids?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


This was the follow up question my fellow employee asked me at lunch a couple of days ago (the fellow I referred to in last night's post) after we discussed the matrix of conflict concept. This is crucial in parenting. Not to share the gospel when we discipline our kids is, I believe, to drive them to anxiety and exasperation (Eph. 6:4). If parents discipline without the gospel they cause both emotional and physical pain to a child only to offer no spiritual power or hope which can heal the guilt incurred in the emotions, and cause the heart to view the pain with thanksgiving.

So how do I do it? The words rolled off my lips to my buddy at lunch today with ease, so much so that after I said what I'm about to say, we both said "You/I need to write that down!" Prophetic speech? These are words that are easier spoken and blogged than lived out.

1. Show them their sin.
Our children need to understand that their action was sinful. Their hearts, undoubtedly, already tell them that, "their consciences bearing witness against them." But they need a guide to show them the details and explain it to them. We show our kids their sin when we teach them the following.

First, we must show them what they have done. This means explaining the nature of their sin and the effects it had on not only the one they offended but anyone else standing around. In other words, explain the sin from specific to general, from simple to detailed, from personal to public. Give them both the detailed picture and the big picture.

Second, we must show them when they sinned. If we can point to a specific time or incident that provoked or promoted their sinful behavior we are giving them a world of knowledge and hope, both of which are fighting power against that sin next time. What happened before they sinned? What sparked the sinful behavior? Questions like these lead the very natural follow up questions in number four below.

Third, we must show them why they sinned. They have a sinful heart....just like mom and dad....just like brother and sister....just like Johnny or Susie, their friends at church. We sin because we are sinners, and we are not sinners because we sin. Our children need to know this. The more aware we make them of that sinful nature working 24/7 within their souls, the more fertile ground we are plowing the for gospel seeds to grow strong. The gospel grows best in a soul that has been plowed with a humble mind towards the true nature of its it own heart.

2. Show them what God says about their sin.
What we have to say about our children's sin is not near as important as what God has to say. After examining the things listed above, I've gathered plenty of information to utilize in pointing them to the Scriptures. There I show them what God says about what they have done. I name their sin by the same name God gives it.

It's not an issue of "not being nice to Sophia or Eli." It's an issue of hating their brother or sister, as God teaches in 1 John. They have not "fibbed," they have spoken a lie, and God has much to say about that. They are not "being a jerk" to my wife and I. They are dishonoring us, something God forbids in the Ten Commandments. The emphasis should be on us seeing their sin the way God does, and leading them to do the same, rather than candy-coating it or glossing over it.

The point here should be clear enough: if we don't tell our children what God says about their sin, then we can't lead them to what God has done about their sin.

3. Show them what God has done about their sin.
This is the crux (the "cross" point) of the discipline session. After showing them what God says about their sin we can tell them how God feels about sin. In short, He hates it and fully intends to destroy it. Though He is patient now toward sinners, He will not be as patient forever. There will come a day when He will take vengeance against sin. It is called justice and it will last forever.

Further, our sin has caused us to be an enemy of God, the one who created us. God wants to be our friend, and He wants us to be His friend. But sin separates us. The solution is to destroy the sin. The question I lead them to is this: do you want your sin destroyed, or do you want to be destroyed along with your sin? Do you want your sin judged, or would you rather be judged along with your sin? Since sin must be dealt with justly, how do you want to handle that?

The crux here is in the faith, the belief, the hope to which we lead them. Faith is not believing that the testimony of the Bible about Jesus is true. No, it is believing that the truth the Bible says about Jesus is something God did for me. His work on the cross in judging Jesus for my sin instead of punishing me was a work for me. His act of rising from the dead to free us from the power of sin was an act He did for me. That is the essence of biblical faith. And leading our children there means leading them to a proper knowledge of their sin.

4. Show them what you are going to do about their sin.
So far the discipline session is a great Bible lesson! But the reality is that God teaches us to spank our children. As I tell my children over and again, "let your sore hiney teach your sinful heart to run to Jesus." Spanking is not being mean, as my oldest accused me of a while back. It is obeying God for the sake of the child's heart. Sometimes I doubt its efficiency and effectiveness. But I can't doubt God's Word. I'm hanging on to hope here with four children ages ten and under. We've got a long way to go and I'm hanging on to the truth that God will bless obedience to His Word.
Isaiah 53 teaches us that we are healed by the stripes of Jesus. When the Romans whipped our Savior, God was whipping our Savior. The text teaches that it pleased God to bruise His own Son. And He did it for us! That torture and death inflicted on Jesus was a physical one backed by the eternal and powerfully divine judgment of God. "Jesus took our eternal punishment in hell for us when He was whipped and when He died," as I tell my kids. That is key to me because it provides a connection point between their spanking and Jesus. The one Jesus took killed Him for our sins. The one I give them (not a whipping of course!...or a 'whoopin' as my grandparents used to call it!) is a symbolic reminder of the greater one Jesus took for them. So the spanking can be used not only as a painful too to remind them of the punishment that awaits them when they disobey, but it can also be used as a tool to remind them of the cross, a physical act with a heavenly lesson.


The spanking can come at any point in this 'outline' or discipline session. It can be woven seamlessly into any point. It may be that you need to explain this to your child before you spank. Doing so may give you a cooling down period in which hearing these things you are saying will benefit you as much as your child. Spanking at the beginning may be better for your child. They know it's coming. And our lesson may be lost in their anxiety of waiting for the inevitable. For goodness sake! Let's get the spanking over with! But then again, leaving it to the end may be a useful tool sometimes, for in building that anxiety we can lead up to the climax of the discipline session by praising God that a spanking is all they get for their sin! It could be eternally worse! Each parent must carefully think it through, spanking at the wisest time, while being sure to explain the truth along the way.

I change up this 'outline' from incident to incident, provided I'm batting a 1000 that day or that week! Of course that would be a rare week in my personal life. But my point here is that I want to avoid the appearance of a lecture. Don't memorize what I said above. Just memorize the points and go with the flow. Kids hate lectures. Let's don't make the session worse by provoking their already sinful hearts to further irritation with something we can make fresh in a moment's worth of mental energy.

But that can only happen when the cross is fresh to you! Examine your own heart before disciplining your kids. Doing so will show you your own sinfulness, something I desperately need to see before I discipline my kids. Otherwise, I'll spank like a Pharisee, hypocritically inflicting pain both emotionally and physically with an air or superiority. When I've acted this way before, I have set a trajectory for my kids that means they are less likely to love me. I'm a disciplinarian to them when I act this way. I hate that with a passion. I know the love the heavenly Father has for me, and I want my kids to see me that way. The cross makes all the difference in the world here. If it is not pressing down on my own sinful heart, bringing all its mercy, grace, forgiveness, peace and hope with it, it is less likely to be felt by our kids when we are disciplining them.

May God grant us the grace and strength to lead our children in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake!

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