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THE CHILD’S SINFUL HEART: SEARCH AND RESCUE

One area of our child’s heart that we often do not want to give serious consideration to is that they by birth and nature are sinners. John 1:12-13 indicates that no one is born a “child of God” but they must become one by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Also Romans 3:23 and 5:12 states, “all have sinned.” All means everyone including our children. As sinners we are the objects of the wrath of God as all sin is personal and hostile to God.

The effect of sin is on every part of who we are as humans. However, though our children and we are totally sinful, it does not mean that we are as sinful as we can possibly be. Being created in the image of God does give the potential for all people to do good things that reflect the character of God.  Those things done apart from Christ though do not credit any righteousness to us but simply are good for mankind and society. As sinners also, we are totally helpless within ourselves to resolve the issue of God’s disposition towards us. See such verses as John 6:44; 15:5; Romans 8:6-8; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Hebrews 11:6.

We all like to convince ourselves to some degree we are fundamentally good and not as bad as the Bible makes us out to be. We love to compare ourselves to others and our children remind us when we are pointing out their sin, “Yeah, but how about (insert name)?”

So who is this child you are trying to raise? Well they are a sinner like you. They attempt to make meaning out of things often the same way you do. They have self-centered desires, wants, and passions like you and many that are contrary to yours so in accordance with James 4:1-3 you fight and quarrel with them.

Why is it important to consider the doctrine of sin in our parenting? It drives you to the necessity of preaching the gospel every day to your child. You still need the gospel to center your own life upon because you sin every day and your child, by nature and by practice, sin and need the gospel daily.

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RESCUING A PARENT’S HEART: The Biggest Obstacle to Parenting Are Your Own Idols

You are the biggest obstacle to your parenting. We love to blame others and the culture but the Scriptures indicate that it is our own selfish desires that are the causes to conflicts and quarrels. James 4:1-10 states: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

Often in disciplining our children, we use wrong motives and are driven by selfish desires that come from idols that we have established in our hearts. Just think of the last time you were angry with your child. What is it that you really wanted? Did your child interrupt your desire for comfort or peace? Did you accuse your child of being disrespectful when what really happened is they did something that you did not like? Did they not show appreciation for something that you did for them? Were you wrapped up somehow in an activity they were doing and they did not achieve something you desired? Were you embarrassed about something your child did and became angry about it rather than grieve or fight for them? Your answer to these questions may indicate your heart is embracing idols.

Paul Tripp talks about the principle of inescapable influence. It is understanding that whatever controls your heart will control your life. Your desires and passions will eventually overtake you so that as James 4 indicates, you will hurt others, fight and quarrel for them. If the gospel of Jesus Christ is not the center of your heart, other things will take their place. Anything that displaces Christ will become an idol and idols make false promises and never deliver what you wanted. That is why you will continually return to them thinking that eventually you will get what the idol promised. Christ is our strength and our joy and delivers what is promised.

Tomorrow I will present the importance of understanding biblical grace in your parenting.

RESCUING A PARENT’S HEART: YOU CAN’T LEAD CHILDREN WHERE YOU REFUSE TO GO

You must be an authentic example to your children. The Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1690s, John Tillotson wrote, “To give children good instruction and a bad example is but beckoning to them with the head to show them the way to heaven while taking them by the hand and lead them in the way to hell.”

The first place to be an authentic example for your children is in your marriage for it is one of the main instruments that God designed to preach the gospel. Ephesians 5 lays out the elements of the gospel of Jesus Christ through the roles of the husband and wife. How unattractive the gospel is when a husband will not love his wife like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her and then turns around and demands his children not to be so selfish and self-centered. Or the wife who does not biblically submit to her husband nor respect his position and them demands that her children respect and honor her.

Hypocrisy has a crippling effect upon a family and it is usually pride that is behind the hypocrisy. Such pride leads to a blindness of our faults and sins. We see the sin in our children’s hearts and not the same sin in our own. It leads to being uncorrectable and the impression that you are right because you are the parent. It leads to discouragement and disobedience to the only direct command in the New Testament for parents that is given in two of the Epistles in that fathers are not to provoke or exasperate their children to anger.

Humility to the gospel leads to living out Ephesians 5:1,2 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Humility leads to living out the gospel as your failings are exposed to your children. Confession and quick resolution of wrong doings is accomplished. The home turns into a redemptive community where sin is dealt with but with grace. Discipline is happening and can be handled with gentleness.

When a home is guided by gospel-centered humility, it guards and protects the gospel and it will be continued from one generation to another as described by Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14,15, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

GOD RESCUES PARENTS IN THEIR WEAKNESS

Dave Harvey, pastor of Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, Pa has said, “I thought parenting was going to portray my strengths, never realizing that God had ordained it to reveal my weaknesses.”

The mistake many Christian parents make is believing that the only way that they can glorify God in their parenting is to have children who are obedient, well-behaved at all times, and can answer all the questions in Sunday school.  If you read many of the Christian books on parenting, it gives you the impression that if you just follow their method, this will happen. The reality of life as affirmed in the Scriptures is that you can parent “rightly” and have children who will still bring to you heartache.

Check out the scenario of Ezekiel 18:5-10, “If a man is righteous and does what is just and right—if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord GOD. If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things …”

To parent to the glory of God means that I must recognize first of all the majesty and sovereignty of God in all things. We do not always know how God has ordained a situation or a person’s life to glorify himself. Consider Peter on the beach with Jesus after the resurrection and note the way God had chosen to glorify himself in Peter’s life: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19 ESV)

The point of this for parenting is that God is too great to only be glorified by children that appear to be “good.” He may choose to glorify himself through some suffering and sin and the furnace of affliction.

Our goal as parents must include that we will strive for faithful obedience on our part and for faithful obedience on our children’s part. We must however be prepared to know that God will choose the way to glorify himself and that may be through a season of weakness as a parent.

RESCUE: The Goal of Eternity

John Angell James, a British Pastor (1785-1859) wrote:

But how it would embitter our last moments, and plant our dying pillow with thorns, to leave you on earth in an unconverted state; following us to the grave, but not to heaven. Or should you be called to die before us, how could we sustain the dreadful thought … that the very next moment after you had passed beyond our kind attentions, you would be receive to the torments which know neither end nor mitigation? And when you had departed under such circumstances, what could heal our wounds or dry out tears.” …

 What then, my children, are all worldly acquirements and possessions without piety? …Original genius, a vigorous understanding, a well-stored mind, and all this adorned by the most amiable temper and most insinuating address, will neither comfort under trials of life nor save their lovely possessor from the worm that never dies and the fire that is never quenched. O! no: they may qualify for earth but not qualify for heaven.

(John Angell James, “The Christian Father’s Present to His Children”)

My comment: Never, ever, not one day should you assume the gospel for yourselves nor for your children. What day do you not need the gospel?

RESCUE: The Goal of Giving our Children a Vibrant Faith

One of the beautiful things about the gospel is that it produces a living and vibrant faith. It is our daily protection in that through faith in the gospel I have salvation, justification, peace, and an understanding of the Word of God. Through it I am being transformed from glory to glory. I have all I ever need for life and godliness, freedom from the power of sin, and my Sabbath rest in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

I can go on and on but the point is that we should want our children to possess such a faith.  That their understanding of the Christian faith through the Word of God would be informed through the central meaning of it in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Next to the tragedy of a child who never grasps the gospel, is the child who may make some level of profession of faith and then walk away.

Tom Bisset in his book, ‘Why Christian Kids Leave the Faith,” lists 4 main reasons why some people leave the faith.

  1. They encounter troubling and unanswered questions about the faith. They see the tough issues of life and do not see a Christian answer. These can be theological questions or just questions of doubt. They may be told “you just need to believe” and so they will leave in the name of intellectual honesty. Some of the material that is available in the name of apologetics is intellectually weak and at times dishonest.
  2. Their faith just does not work for them. The Christian faith is presented as one where there should be peace, joy, and happiness as found in the promises of the Bible. They become disillusioned with the church, with other Christians in watching their lives and ultimately disillusioned with God.
  3. Other things in life become more important than their faith. The person becomes preoccupied by such things as seeking pleasures, ambitions, personal issues or just some of the hard realities of life. Pretty soon a secular view of life displaces a sacred view based upon the Scriptures. The person begins to drift just like a boat from its moorings and their faith is a beam on the horizon.
  4. They never personally owned their own faith. In other words, there was not authentic repentance and faith. They simply conformed to the spiritual expectations of their parents and others and did what was required to show belief such a saying a prayer and being baptized. Then when faced with the reality of life later their faith collapsed because it was thin on the outside and hollow on the inside.

This is why the Deuteronomy 6 paradigm and the preaching of the gospel to yourself and to your children every single day and into all aspects of life is imperative. If they do not see the centrality of the gospel in the affairs of mankind, it will become irrelevant to them.

RESCUE: THE CHRISTIAN AND GOSPEL-CENTERED HOME

I don’t want to just make this a general statement but it is possible to have a home where the parents are Christians but it lacks the central message of the Christian faith in the gospel. These parents may understand the gospel as a message for unbelievers and then teach their children that the Christian faith is about their behavior. They present God the Father in a manner that the basis of his joy in them is on how well they behave and being good is the end all of our faith.

Certainly we must provide for our children clear guidance, rules, and commands based upon the Scripture, but they lead us to understand God’s love for us is based upon the work of Jesus Christ. See some of the previous posts, “Parenting for Recovering Pharisees, Aug 31” and “Grabbing the Life-Buoy of the Gospel, Sep 5.”

On the post yesterday, a “gospel-centered home” is defined as one that every part of the home is informed by the gospel. Is this a new concept or is it a consistent theme of the Bible?  Deuteronomy 6:4-9 states, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (ESV)

How did you spend your time with your children this past week? In their activities and appointments of the week, what did you teach and talk to them? Did you inform their time at home and in their activities with such a message as is found in Deuteronomy 6? Did they ask you questions that are in accordance with Deuteronomy 6? How you spent your time with your kids does show what you really want.

Tomorrow will be on setting goals for the family.

RESCUE: THE GOSPEL-CENTERED HOME DEFINED

What defines your parenting? What are your goals with your children? You know what defines your parenting and your goals for your children by the way you parent and what motivates your joy in parenting. For example, are you more concerned with their behavior or their heart?

The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15 that what is to be of first importance in our lives is that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

This means that there is nothing of equal or greater value than the fact that God sent His Son to the cross to bear his wrath for sinners like you and your children. If so, is there anything in life we should be more passionate about than the gospel. We should be thinking on it, reflecting on it, rejoicing in it and allowing it to guide the way we look at our families and the way we parent.

So what does a gospel-centered home look like? It is one where all aspects of the family and parenting are informed by the gospel. Such a home knows such things as:

  1. Jesus has won the victory over sin, Satan and death. Our sin as parents or the sin of our children are parts of the battle but Christ has won the victory and a home that realizes the power of God in the gospel and Christ (1 Corinthians 1:24) sees the hope we have and are not defeated.
  2. Jesus is our redemption and has set us free from the slavery of sin. We may fall but we do not need to stay where we are. Christ has purchased the freedom to pursue righteousness.
  3. Jesus is our justification where our sin was taken upon him and his righteousness credited to us so that we could be seen as justified in God’s sight.
  4. Jesus has cleansed us from all sins that we have committed and sins committed against us. The burden of guilt has been lifted and the power to forgive purchased.
  5. Jesus is our ransom and paid the price for our sin. There is neither further cost nor interest penalty. We are completely forgiven and there are no charges against us.
  6. Jesus is our reconciliation where the obstacle of sin has been taken away and we have been brought to God in a new relationship.

The battle is to discipline and nurture your children guided by these truths and many other truths of the gospel. Tomorrow I will post the fundamental difference between a home that may be “Christian” but absent of the gospel.

RESCUE: GRABBING THE LIFE-BUOY OF THE GOSPEL

In Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson’s outstanding book on parenting, “Give Them Grace,” they start out the book with the important distinction that there is a difference between being a Christian parent and Christian parenting.

Being a Christian parent is simply a father or mother who has been saved by God’s grace through their personal faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior who paid the penalty for their sin. Most Christian parents have a burden for the soul of their child and work hard personally or through Christian agencies (their church or a para-church organization) to put their child in a position to hear the gospel message. For too many, once they hear that their child has spoken a prayer, raised their hand, and can claim that they have Jesus in their heart, we all rejoice with the angels in heaven that they are saved.

I am not trying to diminish the work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of a child for I agree with Charles Spurgeon who once said, “As soon as a child is capable of being damned, he is capable of being saved. As soon as a child can sin, that child can, if God’s grace helps him, believe and receive the Word of God.” However, it is a dangerous and even negligent for a parent at that point to assume that the gospel work ends there. Just as in my own personal life, I have discovered that leaving the gospel as only an entry point to the Christian life and moving on to “serious Bible study” led me to the realm of being a Pharisee. Not that Bible study in any way was bad, but I lost sight of how the gospel is the central message of the Bible. I grew in knowledge of the Bible but not as Peter exhorts in 2 Peter 3:18, “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Such a path for me led the way I parented my children. I taught them that God wants morality and that the real expression of our faith is in how good they were. The Christian faith is all about behavior and God is displeased with them when they misbehave and pleased when they behave. So as their father and God’s agent of authority in their lives, I was very displeased at their bad behavior (however I defined it) and so must discipline them, and I was very happy when they behaved (especially in public as it fed my pride in being a good father).

My children deserve the Christian faith Purple Heart medal for the wounds of moralism inflicted upon them. They survived my parenting because the particular grace of God touched each one of them as they grew in their own understanding of the gospel and the tenets of the Christian faith. Most of all they and their mother and father eventually grasped the truth that we all are radically sinful people who have a radical Savior who radically loved and continue to love us. So…they have recovered, and their mom and dad are certified recovering Pharisees living and loving in the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

More recovery news to come…

“Give  Them Grace” by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson. Crossway; 2011
“Come Ye Children,” by Charles Spurgeon. Pilgrim Publishing, 1976

Parenting for Recovering Pharisees

Christina Fox gets gospel-centered parenting. You don’t get to this overnight but it begins with the process that in your own heart, the gospel changes you. I have been away from writing on the blog for a while as other priorities have been pressing, but my plan is to present a series of how do we move from our natural, law-centered parenting to a more gospel-centered paradigm. Christina writes:

Cooking dinner, I hear the sounds of angry hearts bubbling over into stinging words. It gets louder, and soon someone is crying. Two boys come out into the great-room, red-faced, fists clenched, and both yelling at once. After multiple attempts, I finally gather that one had frustrated the other, who responded by kicking his brother.

I begin by saying, “Remember how Jesus said we were to treat one another?”

“I’m not Jesus!” my oldest responds immediately, his face scrunched up as his feet stomp the tile floor. He runs off to his room.

Sometimes, my children speak words that the Spirit has been trying to pierce into my heart for a while.

The pasta is boiling over. The water makes sizzling sounds as it hits the red glass cook top. I stare at it, knowing I need to leave the kitchen and talk through the conflict with them. I think of how quickly anger can overflow the heart, spattering burning hot drops of pain on anyone nearby.

Turning down the heat on the pot, I walk into the boy’s room, hoping to do the same with their anger. I find them both calm and playing with Legos. I get down on the floor, look my oldest in the eyes, and say, “I know you’re not Jesus.”

Deep into the Past

How often does a parent’s response to her child’s behavior imply that we expect perfection? The pharisaical heart has roots that dig deep into the past–back into childhood. A child can learn quickly the ways of self-righteousness. When they have behaved, they hear, “You’re such a good boy.” Over the years, they can grow to believe that the good they do comes from their own ability. When those beliefs take root, they can struggle with seeing their own sin. And perhaps even struggle with seeing their need for a Savior.

“Jesus called us to live as he lived. But he knows we can’t be perfect as he is perfect,” I tell my son. “That’s why he died for us, because we can’t do what’s right. Through faith in him, he gives us the Holy Spirit. We have his power living within us. That’s the only way we can ever obey. We need to pray and ask for his help.”

He nods his head, listening.

“When you don’t obey, remember that Jesus died for that disobedience. He loves you that much. When you feel the anger rising within you, pray and tell God you are angry. Ask him to help you to obey him.”

As a recovering Pharisee, I struggle with living as though I can earn grace. I know how the self-righteous heart can look down on those who don’t follow the rules. I don’t want my children to grow up with the heart of a Pharisee.

I do want them to know the holiness of God. I want them to know all that he expects, what he commands, and what glorifies him. I also want them to realize that they can’t perfectly obey him, and they need a Savior. I want their hearts to be grieved and humbled by their sin. I want them to run to the cross when they sin and remember his grace and mercy.

God’s grace covers even my parenting blunders. How grateful I am that his grace is greater than all my sin! I rest in his promise that he is at work in my children’s hearts despite my failed efforts. I trust in the story of redemption he is writing in their lives. And I look forward to that day when we will finally be like Jesus.