Today I’m finishing up my review of John Piper’s article, “Parents, Require Obedience of Your Children.” In my first post I wrote about some ways that I disagreed with Piper, in my second post I shared some ideas about parenting very young children, and in this post I’m finishing up with the ways John Piper and I agree. And then….on to different, less dense topics : )
“Obedience is not merely a ‘legal’ category. It is a gospel category.”
First, we should expect obedience from our children because God includes a child’s obedience to their parents in the new covenant. As such, it is part of the gospel-centered life and a requirement for any child who has accepted God’s gift of salvation and entered into his family. We know that each believer is equipped with God’s provision of strength, grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Thus, even a very young child is capable of obeying the basic commands that God gives to them (specifically, obeying their parents.) For me, obeying God includes those times when I have to fight for faith (i.e., a fight to believe and obey). I will need a way of escape (1 Cor 10:13) grace and help (Heb 4:16), and abundant doses of God’s word (Heb 4:12), but God says that I can do all things (e.g., be content in the context; Phil 4:13) through Christ who strengthens me. Applying these same truths to my two boys who have accepted Jesus as their savior, I know that because of God’s great love and faithfulness towards them and because they have the very power of Christ assisting them that they CAN obey any reasonable command that I give to them. (Obviously, if I give them a ridiculous command like, go outside but don’t get dirty…well….I’m just being foolish : ). They can learn to say yes to God’s truths (e.g., obeying my parent is right, lying is wrong, if I want friends I need to be kind, etc.) and no to the lies of sin (i.e. “I deserve this even though Mom said no,” “If I punch Brenn I’ll feel better,” “I know that mom loves this camera and told me to be careful with it but I’m sure she’ll be fine with me swinging it like a lasso like I saw on that cool movie that I watched last night with Papa!”) Will they learn all these spiritual concepts/truths on their own? They could, but God likes to use people who are teachers and guides, and he especially likes to do that with children in the form of parents (Deut 11:19). Parents are God’s means of admonishing children when they break his commands. They should use that moment of painful consequence to remind them of the many truths in scripture, most notably, the truth of the gospel. In “Give Them Grace,” Elyse Fitzpatrick says this,
“Yes, give them God’s law. Teach it to them and tell them that God commands obedience. But before you are done…explain again the beautiful story of Christ’s perfect keeping of it for them. Jesus Christ was the only one who ever deserved to hear, “You are good,” but he relinquished his right relationship with the law and his Father and suffered as a lawbreaker. This is the message we all need to hear, it is the only message that will transform our hearts.”
“It is into this context of gospel declarations that training in discipline, or gospel obligation is given: because of his great love, we are to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. Paul never ignores our obligatory response [to the gospel]. The Holy Spirit teaches us of the glories of Jesus, and he trains us to be holy.”
If my boys have entered into God’s family, then they are capable of obeying me. God says so and I must do my part to guide them into true obedience.
“Since parents represent God to children — especially before they can know God through faith in the gospel — we show them both justice and mercy.”
Second, we should require obedience of our children because we love them. John Piper didn’t specifically say this, but I believe that the concept of love is captured by his call to show both justice and mercy. When people cried, “where’s the grace?!” after reading the article, I sometimes wondered what they really meant. Did they mean, “requiring obedience means relinquishing grace” or did they mean “parents who extend grace won’t need to require obedience!” or maybe, “how dare he tell parents what they should do…he should show parents some grace?” I’m just not sure. But I do know this, giving my children grace doesn’t mean ignoring their sin and just praying that it will magically disappear (with the Spirit’s help, of course.) Quite literally, to “show grace” means to give my children undeserved kindness. But we can probably all agree that it is not a kindness to give a child whatever they want. It isn’t a kindness to let them run off alone in a crowded park even though they want to. It isn’t kindness to let them eat chicken nuggets and lemonade to the exclusion of all other food. Obviously! We all know this! But a more pointed example would be that it isn’t “kind” of me to let Jack pout his way out of a portion of his meal. It isn’t kindness to pacify a whiny Brenn by giving him what he wants. It isn’t kindness to pick up all their stuff after I’ve let them ignore my commands to clean their room (even though, let’s be honest, it is faster that way!). My children need something that God has charged me to give them as their parent, guide, and human teacher. Tripp writes in “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands,”
“Paul understands the Christian life eschatologically. This means that today is preparation for tomorrow, and tomorrow is preparation for something else yet to come. …Teaching others how to solve now problems with then in view is one of the most important things we can do, because it is not something we sinners do well on our own. We tend to be shortsighted and self-absorbed. We forget that God’s primary goal is not changing our situation and relationships so that we can be happy, but changing us through our situations and relationships so that we will be holy. We need people who love God and us enough to come alongside and help us deal with our spiritual myopia.”
“Grace” is given when I make the uncomfortable choice to love my children by confronting and dealing with their sin. I don’t want to, it’s not pleasant or convenient, I haven’t done anything to deserve the chaos being thrown at me, but I must choose to show this love anyway. I don’t repay their sin with anger or spite or violence. Instead, I show them the truths of the gospel. I remind them that sin hurts (sometimes providing the hurt if needed) and then I encourage them to seek forgiveness from God and then ask the Holy Spirit to help them when temptation next comes knocking at their hearts’ door. Now, there are also times when I give “grace” by showing mercy rather than the painful consequences. I am still confronting and dealing with their sin, but I am showing a different godly (God-like) response. I try to strike the same type of balance that God shows me each day. He gives mercy in abundance, but he doesn’t keep me from painful consequences when they would be better teachers for the situation. Either way, giving grace is never supposed to be passive or “accidental,” but a loving, actionable choice.
“Parents, you can do this. It is a hard season. … But there is divine grace for this.”
Third, I should require obedience from my children because when God laid each of my three beautiful children into my arms, he also laid the burden of their training on my shoulders. There are days when I am tempted to try the “let go and let God” style of parenting, but that doesn’t work in parenting any more than it does in sanctification. I can’t relinquish my responsibility to nurture and admonish (Col 3:16; Eph 6:4) my children at all points of life (Deut 11:19). Tripp writes (convicting),
“I will waste time and prayer if I wait for God to do something he has assigned me to do. … God will empower me to do the things that he has called me to do, but he will not do them for me! Therefore [if I shrink away from my responsibility] I will be waiting for something I will not receive. And as I am waiting, the second negative result will surface; things will worsen because of what I have left undone.”
To shepherd my children consistently and lovingly is not optional. Paul and I are their guides, their friends and teachers along this part of their life’s journey. We embody these roles thoughtfully, prayerfully and with an eye to truly helping our children navigate this journey. Would a guide along a winding, wooded walk say, “Well, I guess at this age they just tend to go off on that dangerous trail. I really hope they grow out of this phase soon!” No! The child will miss the beauty of the journey because they’ll fall down and get injured! On the other hand, what guide says, “Follow my very footprints EXACTLY or else!” Here too they’ll miss the beauty of the journey for fear that they won’t see your steps and make you angry! Instead, a good guide says, “I’ve been down this path before. I know it’s pitfalls and I will not let you go everywhere you want, even if it makes you angry for the moment. Eventually, I will train you to see those same problems too. But I want you to love this trip and see all the wonderful things around you. I’ll let you explore and learn, but I will always be right here to tell you the truth about what you see and experience. Here, hold my hand.”
I love how Rachel Yankovic states it in her book, “Fit to Burst.”
“Our opportunities to bless our children are often most present when we least feel like it. This is why we cannot depend on our emotions to dictate our actions. We need to discipline our own emotions to fall in line with obedience. We are to love our children, We are to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. That means all the time. … The life of a Christian parent is a life of constant giving, constant depositing, constant building up a bank account of love and security and trust in the lives of your children. The goal is that your persistent investing in them, bestowing on them and loving them will be so pervasive in their lives that it will simply become a part of their being. … I know this is hard–believe me. I certainly don’t mean that when a child is blatantly sinning we should use our highest pitched cutey voice to declare that they are a precious princess while giving them stickers. We should show them that they are precious by giving them what they need-not what we need or think we need, not what they deserve, but what they truly need.”
I am raising these children. Each day they are becoming the people that they are going to be in 10-15 years. Habits are being cemented; thought patterns are being laid down. Above all else, I want my children to have every opportunity to know and love the Son of God who loves them and gave himself for them (Gal 2:20). I want them to believe his words and to follow his commands because they trust God more than they trust themselves. It won’t be easy (really, it is impossible to do without God’s power) to guide these three little chaos makers (“like herding cats!” as a professor of mine used to say) but it’s one of my Father’s difficult, joyous, exhausting, fulfilling, humbling, and God-glorifying callings for my life. With his help, I will faithfully exhibit his steadfast love while requiring obedience from my children, and when I fall short of his glory, well, there’s grace for that.