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The Believing Parent


I want to talk with you about being a parent.

It feels kind of funny for me to say that because for a long time I promised myself I would never write anything about raising children.

Parenting is complicated and I would never want to write anything that might make it sound to anyone as if it weren’t. I just don’t have a lot of time for the know it all parent. Yet unfortunately, sometimes it seems that is what a lot of people want when they go to listen to someone talk about raising children. When it comes to parenting advice, what most people want isn’t complicated, it’s simple. They want a “one two three and out pops a strong Christian” kind of parenting plan and it just doesn’t work that way.

The thing is, I have nine children.

Six daughters. Three sons. Several are adopted. One is physically disabled. A couple of them are even teenagers. That means I do a lot of thinking about this subject. I have to in order to survive.

Plus, the Bible does talk about being a parent. Maybe not a lot. But enough. And you and I both know that people definitely need to hear what God says about it.

I definitely need to hear what God says about it.

In spite of some of the challenges that come with talking about parenting, there still are a number of good reasons for thinking and talking about being a parent. One of the biggest reasons has to be the fact that I want to be a godly parent myself.

It has been said you often learn by writing. And if there’s one thing I want to learn it is how to honor God as a father and so it’s worth it, I think to do the work of investigating what God says about raising children and writing about it.

Plus, and to be straight up, this is the primary reason I am interested in this subject, being a husband and a father is not only about my relationship with my wife and my children, it’s about my relationship with God.

And yours, as well.

Being a parent is a gift and a responsibility.

If you are a dad or mom, God’s privileged you with a stewardship. You are not just a parent for yourself or a parent for your kids. God’s placed you in the family, to serve as His representative and to act as an agent of His grace.

And that makes being a mom or dad a really, really big deal.

The Fundamental Issue

When I was younger, I was always looking for the one sport I would be good at without really trying. I still haven’t found it. Some of us are like that with raising children. We want to be good at it. We just don’t really want to work at it.

As Christians however, that kind of attitude is foolish. For one thing being a parent is too important not to work at. For another, you won’t be a good Christian parent unless you do.

We have to work hard at becoming better parents because being a Christian parent is not something any of us are naturally good at.

Now, I know that may be hard for you to believe at first. After all, some of you have laid back temperaments. And others of you have always been fairly good with kids. But there’s more to being a Christian parent than having your children like you.

Having your children like you is obviously a big bonus. And it definitely helps you as you go about serving God as a mother or father. But it’s way too low a goal to be your primary one. It is certainly not a distinctive of Christian parenting anyway. There are plenty of unbelievers whose children adore them.

What we are after when we talk about being a Christian parent is applying what we believe about God and Jesus and the gospel to the way we actually raise our children. And that requires effort, because it’s not something that will happen if we just sit back and wait for it.

When we become Christians, it is as if God opens our eyes to a whole new way of looking at the world around us. This way of thinking is completely different than the way we were taught to think about things before. It is sometimes easy to forget that if you have been a Christian for a while. But the gospel is a radical message and it represents a worldview that is radically different than the one we had as unbelievers.

Just take a moment and think back to when you first became a Christian or at least when you were in the beginning stages. Think especially about some of the basic truths you started to understand and confess as a new believer.

It’s not like you have to even go all that deep.

Maybe creation. Or the fall. Or the incarnation. Maybe redemption. Or we can keep going, the future restoration.

If you look at the way some people talk and act and feel and sing about some of these things you might go away thinking that those truths are really kind of ordinary but I think if you slow down and even just say them out loud to yourself, like I believe that, you’ll have to admit that even those like really basic truths that we believed all the way back when we first were converted, are actually quite shocking.

I believe that the way things started, there was nothing and then God spoke and there was something. An entire universe. From a word.

I believe that all of the problems we have in this world ultimately go back to this man and this woman in a garden who refused to listen to what God said.

I believe that God the Son became man and when I say he became man I don’t mean He just took on the form of a man, but that He somehow united Himself to human nature in such a way that we could say He was fully God and fully man and that He did all this not because He needed to but because He wanted to, and He wanted to so that these people who were hating him could enter into an eternal relationship with Him.

I believe that God the Son became man and died like a criminal on a cross. Crucified. Because of what we did. And then he rose again.

I believe that there is this day in the future when Jesus is going to return and bodies are going to start flying out of the grave and meet their souls in mid-air and be transformed somehow into these glorious bodies that are going to enjoy the presence of God forever in this perfect new world that God is going to create.

If you look back at what you received when you became a Christian, you weren’t just picking up some nice little tips on how to live a better life. It wasn’t like you went to this seminar and you thought the guy had some good ideas about how to be a better person or something like that. When you became a Christian you were basically receiving this shocking, alternative view of reality, this way of looking at what has gone on in this world and what is going on in this world and what is going to go on in this world that is completely different than the way you looked at it all before.

The gospel is not a nice little idea that you can put in a compartment and have it not affect every other area of your life. When you became a Christian, you were embracing this whole new of thinking and a big part of growing in your Christian life is learning to look at everything in light of this new reality.

Like being a mom or a dad.

That is a big part of how the spiritual growth process is supposed to work. We are supposed to go back to the gospel and ask how would I think and act and feel if the gospel were true? Because it is. And then we are to put off ways of thinking and acting and feeling that don’t match up with this reality and put on ways of thinking and acting and feeling that do.

The problem is (and this is a major problem), if you look at many people’s lives this whole process of renewing one’s life in light of the new reality that they have received in the gospel seems to have almost been aborted.

Maybe not completely. But it is definitely stuck.

They hear the gospel. They become Christians. They get all excited. They learn this whole new language. They have all these big God-words that they can throw around like sanctification and justification. They become more religious perhaps, but if you look real closely at their fundamental way of looking at reality, that hasn’t changed all that much. It is not that they out and out reject what they said they embraced when they became Christians. Instead, it is like they try to meld or fuse the new view of reality that they have embraced as Christians with the old real view of reality that they used to live by before they became Christians.

And that’s honestly where a lot of people at when it comes to being parents.

They are parents and they are Christians. But they are not acting like Christian parents. The way they parent doesn’t match up with the gospel they have embraced.

I am convinced the greatest danger many of us face is not that we will out and out deny the truths we embraced when we first became believers. Instead it is that we will accept those truths, confess them at church and then go out and live by a completely different set of truths that we have learned from the unbelieving world all around us.

Saying we believe that God created the world and then looking at our lives and our families and acting as if we were the ones in charge.

Saying we believe that God created the world and then not considering the purpose that He has given us but instead feeling like we have the right to make our plans and design our own purpose in life.

Saying we believe in the fall but then looking at most of our problems as completely biological in nature.

Saying we believe in the fall, that our children are born depraved, but then acting as if the most important thing we could ever do for them was increase their self-esteem.

Saying we believe in the fall but then getting all upset when things go wrong because we think that deserve better.

Saying we believe in the fall but then thinking of ourselves as better than other people.

Saying we believe in the incarnation but then doubting God’s concern for us and acting as if he were somehow far removed from what is happening in our lives.

Saying we believe in the incarnation but then being unwilling to make sacrifices ourselves to serve others in need.

Saying we believe in the incarnation but then defining success as being important in the eyes of others.

Saying we believe in the cross but trying to manipulate God by going to church and doing the right things in order to get stuff from Him.

Saying we believe in the cross but then becoming furious when we are criticized because it is so important that we think of ourselves as good people.

Saying we believe in the cross but finding our identity and self-worth basically on the basis of how hard we work or how moral we are.

Saying we believe in the cross but looking at people as lost cases because we think of their sin as really too great.

Saying we believe in Jesus’ return and the resurrection of the dead but then spending our whole lives fearing death.

Saying we believe in Jesus’ return and the resurrection of the dead but then neglecting our families and neglecting our spiritual responsibilities in order to get more and more stuff here on earth.

And ultimately this is the fundamental issue when it comes to parenting.

It is not whether or not you spank or what to do when your child pees his bed. It’s how do you relate to your children in a way that is consistent with the gospel? The gospel is supposed to make a very practical difference in the way you act as a parent.

Believing you are accepted by God and adopted into His family solely because of the work of Jesus Christ should make several specific changes in the way you approach parenting.

First, believing the gospel should keep you from obsessing about being a good parent and having perfect children.

You obviously need to think long and hard about how to be a good father to your children and you obviously should long that they will learn to walk with God and honor Him with their lives. Any one that doesn’t think about that stuff needs to go back and think about the amazing stewardship opportunity God has given them in gifting them children. But there’s a difference between thinking about that and wanting it and obsessing about it and finding your identity in it.

When we are not finding our righteousness and approval in Christ and enjoying the fact that we are accepted because of what He has done, we try to find our righteousness and approval somewhere else, like having the perfect children or being the perfect parent, which is fine to want I suppose, but when you put a goal, even a good goal like that in the place of Christ, it falls apart.

Have you ever been around a parent like that?

I get stressed out and I am not even their child.

Kids can’t handle being your god or your righteousness or your identity, they are just kids. Let them be what they are, really special, precious HUMAN BEINGS, who are desperately needy for the grace of God, just like you!

Second, believing the gospel should keep you from self-righteous parenting.

If you really are convinced that you are accepted only because of what Jesus has done, that you are a hell deserving sinner whose only hope is grace, then you are going to have to show that kind of grace to your children. You are not going to stand up on your holy little platform way above your children and act as if obedience were always easy for you, you are not going to talk or think like you always get everything right the first time you do it, you are going to learn to be patient with them and forgiving of them the way that God has forgiven you.

You can parent from way up above your children or you can learn to come alongside of them. Coming alongside doesn’t mean that you start acting like you are a child as well, but it definitely means that your children know that you know what it is like to struggle with sin and with failure and that your children know that you know your only hope is Christ.

Third, believing the gospel should give you confidence that even if things aren’t going the way you like it with your children at this moment, that God is at work for your good, and knowing that should keep you from overreacting and freaking out and making difficult parenting situations worse.

If God loves me enough to crucify His own Son that I might be part of His family, then I can be absolutely sure, He really loves me right now, today, in this moment. That means, He is working for my good and He’s even using this crying, stubborn child or this rebellious teenager to help accomplish that good and to bring Himself glory. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a responsibility to act in this moment, that I just put my hands behind my head and sit back and turn on the T.V. and let happen what happens, but it does mean that as I act and respond to the sin I see in my family, I must not start acting and responding like the situation is completely out of control and that nothing good can ever come out of it. That would be a lie. God is in control and He is able to use even real sins to accomplish His great plan and I know that His great plan has to do with Him being glorified and me experiencing His love and that in this moment with this child, He is doing just that.

And finally, believing the gospel should produce a joy that keeps popping out and spilling all over my children and everyone else in my family.

Yeah, I might have just gotten a flat tire. But I am going to live forever. My body is going to come flying up out of the ground and be transformed into a resurrected body that is so glorious even the angels are going to be amazed. Oh yeah, I might have a difficult boss. But there’s a day coming in the future when I am going to stand before the Creator of the Universe and He is going to look at my life and say, holy, blameless, and above reproach.

What a difference it would make in our families if the things we say we believe at church, we believed in our homes. Yes life is hard and painful and frustrating, but God loves us and is for us and is present in our lives and is working and will work and has plans for us that include showering His grace upon us forever and really believing that has got to produce a deep, abiding joy which will impact and influence everyone around us.

I mean, have you ever been around someone who has that solid joy – not someone who is just superficially happy about a new I-phone or something, but someone with that inexpressible joy that comes from knowing and being convinced of gospel truths, those kind of people are the kind of people that change your life forever.

Sometimes when I am really struggling to live a godly life in my family, I like to play a game I like to call, “what if?”

I ask myself, what if God actually knows everything? What if God actually is intimately and actively involved in the most minute details of our lives? What if God actually is in control of all things? What if God actually is absolutely good? What if God actually does want our best? What if God actually is orchestrating every event in our lives for our good and His glory? What if God actually is for us? What if God actually loves us? What if God actually loves us to the point where He sent His Son to die in our place? What if God actually did write a book called the Bible? What if God actually has given us the Holy Spirit to guide and teach us through His Word? What if we actually believed all that?

Because we say we do.

I just wonder how our perspective would change if we stopped simply saying we believed these things about God and actually related to our children, like we really did?