4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
The task of parenting is both a privilege and responsibility. The awesome reality can quickly feel overwhelming in that God entrusts these helpless little image-bearers to us. Whether parenting biological children, adopted children or foster children, parents experience great joys and hardships as they navigate the ins and outs of child rearing. It is common to question numerous parenting decisions on a daily basis. How does God expect us to handle this profound responsibility? What does healthy parenting look like?
Mandate to Bear His Image
In the beginning, Genesis establishes God as the Creator of all things, culminating with the creation of humanity.1 “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”2 Then, God blesses the man and woman saying, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”3 God, who has authority over humanity, then gives humanity authority over His creation and asks that humanity steward the earth well, reflecting Him in that stewardship. We are most human when we reflect God well.
So what is the implication of man being created in the image of God? It does not mean that man physically looks like God, but that he, like God, was created with a spiritual nature and a moral likeness to God. Unlike any other part of God’s creation, Man was created to reflect God’s character (His love, compassion, kindness, mercy, grace, patience, etc). However, sin has distorted this image and only in Christ is this likeness fully restored.
Through parenting, God has graciously allowed humanity to be “image bearers.” As parents, we sometimes realize this in the literal sense by our children physically resembling us, however it is also realized in the spiritual sense. Our children, like us, are born into sin and often we see them resemble the same sin tendencies we have as a result of our parenting. In their sin, they too wear a distorted image apart from Christ. In Christ, we are born again and have the right to be called children of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit we can truly bear God’s image, resembling Him in spiritual and moral likeness.4 So, how do we raise children that bear God’s image?
God’s design for parenting expands far beyond childbearing. Scripture clearly requires a strong parental role in a child’s spiritual direction. Parental influence is paramount in shaping a child’s worldview.
Mandate to Teach God’s Ways
After relaying the Law to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, Moses declares to them an important statement, found in the verse below.
- Deuteronomy 6:1-9
We see in the above passage a mandate for Israel to meditate on the law of the Lord at all times, doing everything possible to impress it on the hearts of the children. This passage equates obedience to the Law with long life and prosperity. It places great emphasis on the need for Israel and the generations to come to fear the Lord and keep His commands. This mandate continues to be true for Christian parents today.
As Spiritual Israel,6 the Church today is given the same directive in parenting.7 Empowered by the Holy Spirit, parents are instructed to teach their children God’s ways. Children need to be guided toward true wisdom and understanding, which can only be found in a relationship with Christ. Therefore, parents must be intentional about teaching their children that God’s ways lead to life.8 Specifically, Scripture exhorts parents to faithfully and purposefully teach children in the ways of the Lord by imparting truth, modeling dependence, training in righteousness and correcting disobedience.
The Deuteronomy 6 passage exhorts parents to impress the commands of the Lord on their children’s hearts, taking every opportunity given to impart to them the truth of God’s Word. As parents, we are to instruct our children in the Word when they are sitting or walking, when they get up in the morning and lay down in the evening. We are to surround them with the Word of God. So, do we honor this command in our parenting or is it optional? Do we feel ill-equipped to teach are children the truth of God, because in our own lives we fail to make time for study in His Word? Do we believe falsely that the role of teaching our children is to be left to our Sunday School teachers and youth group leaders?
The Word of God is vital to our lives and the lives of our children. We know God through His Word (His character, His faithfulness, His standards and His wisdom) and we understand ourselves as well (our sin and our need for a Savior). If we fail to teach our children the story of God now, we can only hope that they will one day come to know the Lord later in life. We must believe that true life is in the Word of God and impart that life to our children.9 We rob our children when we nurture their need for nutrition, physical activity, and mental stimulus, but neglect their need for God. For it is written, Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.10 We must obey the Lord concerning our children’s need for His instruction.
As we instruct our children in God’s word, we must also model that we believe God’s truth ourselves. Children quickly reach a stage after birth where they mimic everything they see their parents doing. They pretend to drink coffee like mom, or they say they are going to work like dad. They watch everything we do and with them reflecting us like mirrors, we become much more aware of the things we do as parents. They bear our image, but who do we reflect?
As already stated, we were created to reflect God. In Christ, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to reflect God. Like Paul, we should be able to say to our children, “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”11 Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we should seek to model Christ in character,12 in prayer,13 and in dependence on the Father.14 In all things, we need to pursue holiness and model submission to the Lord. Our children are watching us very closely and they will do what we do. Do we love our children with Christ-like love, modeling compassion, long-suffering and grace? Do we model what it looks like to be broken about our own sin: confessing, repenting and receiving forgiveness? Do we spend time with God in His Word, showing Him to be the first priority in our lives? Do we demonstrate His character in our relationships with our spouses, friends, employers, etc? We must take seriously our role as God’s image bearer in parenting.
As we model dependence on the Lord, we must train our children in righteousness, equipping them to obey the Lord. Both imparting truth and modeling obedience are essential to the equipping component of parenting, but this next section will focus on empowering our children toward obedience to the Lord. “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.”15 How do we train our children to make decisions that honor the Lord?
As parents, we have the responsibility to point are children’s hearts toward honoring God in every area of life. We were created to worship and reflect God, but sin has blinded our eyes and the result is misdirected worship and a blurred reflection. Without Christ, our children, like us, are misguided in their worship. We see this everyday in the lives of our kids. They worship play, toys, snack-time, anything that brings momentary pleasure. They will either worship God or idols. So, how do we inspire our children to worship God and not fun?
The greatest part of the training component of teaching is the act of guiding the hearts of our children toward worshipping God. Does the home environment provide an atmosphere where the heart of God is known (think of the TV shows watched, music listened to, words spoken, character displayed, etc)? Do we challenge the idolatry in our child’s heart with God’s truth? Are we lazy in our parenting, making excuses for the way our children behave? What are some ways, we can train our children to think about the deeper things of God? Do we allow are children to feel the weight of their sin condition or do we pump their heads with a false sense of self, showing more concern for their self esteem than their brokenness concerning God’s standards? We must actively train our children in how to honor the Lord by guiding them toward worshipping Him. We must teach them how to pray, show God’s love to others and repent of their sins. We must share the Gospel with them often, giving them the opportunity to choose Christ and righteousness through Him. We must never grow tired of praying for our children, remembering that they are the Lord’s and He has a plan for them. There are no easy answers. We must think creatively about how we can equip and empower our children to make decisions that honor the Lord. This may look like intentional conversations, ministering together to others who are broken and in need of the Christ, or teaching them to pray when they experience the weight of their disobedient and sinful hearts. Whatever the case, we must not give the responsibility of training our children to other people and we cannot afford to be lazy concerning this mandate.
It is impossible to guide our children toward worshipping God, without providing them correction for sin. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God (child of God) may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”16 Correction is a blessing from the Lord.17 The definition of the word correct is “to make right.” When we correct our children in the Lord, we acknowledge their wrong and lead them toward righteousness. When we hesitate to provide our children correction, we hurt them and lead them toward destruction.18 Ironically, we often fail to discipline our children, because of a warped sense of what love is. Children often reject discipline (at least initially) and because we hate to see them hurt we fail to correct them. The Scriptures reveal that correction is loving. God corrects us out of love, wanting us to reflect His holiness.19 We must do the same with our children.
What does correction look like? We must pray that our motivation in correcting our children is loving. Correction done out of anger can be extremely hurtful. It is important to remember that our children’s sin is, primarily, against God. This should sadden us and inform our heart’s motivation for the corrective action. They have broken God’s standard and it is important for them to know it. We must reveal the truth of God as we correct. Once their sin is revealed, there must be a consequence for that sin.20 The child needs to understand that there is a consequence to sin, but correction must also be redemptive. Explain to the child, the penalty for sin and that Christ paid the penalty. Guide the child in asking for forgiveness and receiving forgiveness. We must assure the child of our love and allow them to experience reconciliation and grace. Is it important that we truly extend forgiveness in this process as Christ has forgiven us. We cannot hold grudges or harbor anger toward our children lest they believe the lie that grace is earned. No, grace is a gift and we must be careful that we do not shame our children or hold things over their heads in our effort to “teach” them. The gospel should be central in our correction, for in the gospel we recognize the awesome holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the redemptive love of Christ and the beauty of grace. We must fight the lie that discipline will hurt our children. Discipline in love leads to righteousness.
Lies in Parenting
- My Child Needs a Friend, Not a Parent. Parents who buy into this belief tend to have a hard time recognizing the authority of the parent in the relationship. They fail to acknowledge the responsibility of the parent to guide a child toward righteousness. This may be the result of insecurities they developed from their own upbringings, where authority was either abused or nonexistent. Also, they may have an unhealthy desire for the child’s approval.
- Lie: Authority is negative and love equals approval.
- Truth: God is our authority and he has given us a place of authority over our children. We are to exercise this authority in love, not dominating our children but accepting God’s mandate to parent them well. Christ did not exercise authority in a domineering way, but in humility, He became a servant, paying the penalty for our sins.21 When we exercise authority that guides our children toward righteousness, we demonstrate great love to them.
- My Child’s Success in Life is My First Priority. Parents who buy into this belief tend to make idols out of their children, putting their wants and desires first. The child gets everything they want and seldom gets told no. These parents can be overly concerned with their child’s performance in life and how their child is perceived by others.
- Lie: Children belong to their parents.
- Truth: Children belong to God and, like their parents, are called to be about His kingdom and priorities.22
- My Child is Only Deserves My Love When He or She Obeys Me. Parents who buy into this belief tend to dominate their children, demonstrating a warped notion of authority. They may place the emphasis of a child’s worth on behavior instead of being made in God’s image.
- Lie: That a child’s sin is primarily against the parent and not God, and his worth is defined by his obedience.
- Truth: A child’s sin is against God primarily, and he has value because he is made in the image of God.
- My Needs Take Priority Over the Needs of My Children. Parents who buy into this belief may be passive or neglectful in their parenting. They tend to lack conviction that parenting is both a privilege and responsibility. The passive parent may be present, but not actively involved in parenting. Also, the parent may be altogether absent.
- Lie: Children are a burden and parenting is optional.
- Truth: Children are a joy and a gift from the Lord.23 Hopefully, the things already discussed in this document has built conviction that active parenting is a mandate from the Lord.
- My Child Will Learn If He or She Experiences Shame and Ridicule. Parents who buy into this belief tend to have a warped view of sin, correction, and grace. They often belittle their children, hoping it will result in obedience. They may also use fear or intimidation to manipulate obedience from a child.
- Lie: That shame corrects sin and that criticism is more effective than approval.
- Truth: Jesus died for our sin and our shame. Acknowledging a child’s sin and correcting him is meant to be redemptive and lead to reconciliation, not condemnation.24
Single Parent sand the Covenant Community
Single parents face an additional challenge in parenting that can often leave them feeling overwhelmed and alone. While the spiritual mandate in parenting is the same as for a two-parent household, it can often feel like too much responsibility for one person. It is important to remember that you are not alone. God is with you and He has given you the Church. Trust the Lord and make yourself vulnerable to a Gospel-centered local body of believers. Invite people into your family life, allowing your children to experience redemptive community.
Covenant Community: do life together, not neglecting the needs of the single parent, the widow or the orphan.25 Realize that we are one body called to reflect Christ in our care for one another. We cannot view speaking truth into each other’s parenting as a cultural faux pas. When we participate in a child’s Dedication to the Lord, we are committing to walk along side that child, pointing him toward Christ in all things. Let’s uphold our commitment to God and one another in this area and provide a loving environment, where a child can experience God’s truth and grace.
Parenting is a mandate from the Lord. We cannot shirk our responsibility to guide our children toward worshipping God and expect them to have a godly world-view. The Lord has placed them under our authority, so that we will teach them how to bear God’s image well. We are to teach them God’s truth, model dependence on him, train them in righteousness and correct their disobedience in the years that they are entrusted to our care. We were created to reflect God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, let us think seriously about how we can grow families that bear God’s image and point others toward him. This task cannot be taken lightly. Pray that the Lord would continually build conviction in your heart concerning his design for parenting.
- How much do you consider God’s purposes for your child in your parenting? Do you own the Spiritual mandate regarding parenting?
- What lies do you believe about parenting that you are fighting to give over to the Lord?
- Are there areas of teaching your children the ways of the Lord where you excel? Where is growth needed? Create a plan for growth.
2 Timothy 3:16
Helpful Parenting Resources
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
Gospel-Powered Parenting by William P. Farley
Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman
Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones
How does this study reinforce your belief in the gospel?
- Genesis 1
- Genesis 1:26a, 27
- Genesis 1:28
- John 1:12-13, 3:3-7; 1 John 5:18-19
- See also Joshua 1:8
- Romans 9
- Ephesians 6:4
- Psalm 119
- John 1:4, 6:48; 1 John 5:12; Luke 12:22-34
- Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 3:3
- 1 Corinthians 11:1
- Philippians 2:1-11
- Matthew 5:5-14
- John 5:19
- Proverbs 22:6
- 2 Timothy 3:16
- Job 5:17-18
- Proverbs 29:15; 5:12-15; 15:5, 10, 32; 12:1
- Hebrews 12:5b-6
- Proverbs 22:15, 23:13-14
- Philippians 2:6-11
- Genesis 18:19
- Matthew 19:14
- Ephesians 6:4
- James 1:27