The Gospel and Parenting (Part One)
Bart Cook and Jeff Pruitt
I don’t have to tell you that raising kids is hard. You probably already know that. Do you remember life before kids? What sleep was like? Do you remember coming home from work, figuring out what you wanted to do that night, and then just being able to do it? When children enter into the family, everything changes. Our responsibility increases as we enter into a new phase of life: parenting.
And here’s the thing: the Bible doesn’t really give us a lot of specific details or clear strategies on how exactly to parent our kids. There aren’t ten rules for how to be a great parent, a script for how to have the sex talk, the best ways to handle screen time, or what to do when your kid has torn open a pillow in the playroom and there are feathers literally everywhere on the floor (happened to me!).
I think there is a reason for that – I don’t think we need new strategies every year from the next great parenting book to be successful parents. God knew, and still knows, that we need something profoundly more helpful than the “how-to’s” and “rules for our house” guides that we find in the newest books in the parenting section of the bookstore. He knows that people are not that easy, and that every kid and every family is different. There’s isn’t a “one size fits all” guide to parenting that will transform our kids into the sweet angels we want them to be. And let’s be real – in our own lives, transformation doesn’t happen that simply either.
What we actually need might be surprising to you—what we need is the Gospel. The Gospel actually has the power to transform our hearts, to change the trajectory of our families and marriages, to rescue and restore our kids. A better understanding and clearer view of the Gospel, and how it informs our parenting, will have a much larger impact on your parenting and your family than any book you can read!
What transformed me from a rebellious kid caught up in my own selfish desires and wrapped up into worldly things? It wasn’t the latest parenting strategy implemented by my parents or a simple change in our family routine. Even those these things can be great, it was the Gospel that brought real change in my life. When I understood I was a sinner in need of a Savior, that grace was given to me because Jesus gave his own life and spilled his blood to rescue me from sin, and that my identity was God’s adopted son, I experienced freedom and fulfillment in being a part of his family, and found that that is where hope came from. That’s when the trajectory of my life changed. As parents, there is no greater thing you can do for your children than to experience the Gospel together as a family.
One of the the beautiful things about what Jesus did for us in the Gospel is that it is an ongoing, life-long journey. Our salvation is not simply a one-time decision that has happened in the past and then the work of God is finished in our lives. We instead have to continuously rely on the Gospel to become more like Jesus every single day. Personally, I have to come back to what Christ did for us when I want to make a selfish decision. I have to remember that just as Christ laid down his own desires to give up his life for me, that is also my calling as a husband and dad. The Gospel encourages and teaches us to no longer live for ourselves but to live for the needs of others. It reminds me that when my family has offended me, I have to remember that Jesus forgave me when I was most undeserving, and I have to be willing to give others the same grace he has given me.
So… let’s think a little about how this ongoing, life-transforming gospel can impact our parenting.
Every moment is a Gospel moment, an opportunity to put the Gospel on display in our families, in our marriages, at work... and especially with our kids.
I have had moments in my parenting where I was talking to my kids, hoping the conversation would go really well, but instead they push back… and then I get upset and say something I didn’t mean to say, in a way I didn’t mean to say it. I’m sure you can relate. And how horrible does that feel, after the fact? How many of us would be willing to have a recording play back everything we have said to our kids in anger or hurt or frustration? My guess is none of us!
We, as parents, need help. Why? Because the Gospel tells us we are flawed, sinful people and our job is to parent flawed, sinful little human beings.
You may be wondering how this actually applies to daily parenting, and maybe this just seems very ethereal, super spiritual, and really hard to apply. So, let’s walk through some ways this applies particularly to raising kids. And later we are going to get even more practical.
I also want to recommend a resource. Much of what I am talking about is covered in a book by Paul David Tripp called Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. Be sure to check it out, and we even have copies available at Gateway!a
Alright, the first way this life-changing, ongoing Gospel applies to parenting is:
1. The Gospel helps us see our kids are not our own.
According to Paul Tripp, there are two ways to parent. We can parent as an Owner or an Ambassador.
Most of us probably live in the owner idea of parenting.
“These are my kids and they will do what I want.”
“Kids, you will do what I tell you to do.”
“I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it.”
“Children, do you know what I do for you every single day? Do you know the lengths me and your mom go to give you things?”
You might not use these phrases often, but I know you have thought them!
It is easy to think our job as parents is to get from our kids what we want from them or to make them into what we want them to be. It sounds pretty good, right? But this is where we begin to get dysfunctional as parents. Why? Because it makes parenting all about us.
My perspective, my wants and needs, my culture, my vision. It makes it all about me, me, me, me…
And, of course, nothing can make things go wrong quicker than when we make ourselves the center of all things! We know this doesn’t work, but more often than not we function as an owner of our children, trying to bend our children to our own will. And sometimes our anger towards them is—get this—more about our own personal comfort and expectations then it is about what God wants for our kids.
This type of owner parenting is exhausting. You are constantly frustrated and irritated because your children have not lived up to your expectations. And you (and I) blame your children for the unmet expectations. But, just maybe, we need to examine our expectations and see where they come from. I think we will find that they have more to do with our own wants and desires, and more about our own laws, than what God desires for our children and what he expects from them.
Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers do not provoke your children, but raise them up in the instruction of the Lord…” It doesn’t say, “Raise them up to do your bidding and to meet every expectation, healthy or unhealthy, that you place on them.”
Our children are not our own. They have been entrusted to us by God. They are his. This call to ambassadorial parenting changes the question. No longer is it about my choices and my comfort as a parent, but it is about what God wants for my children and who he has created them to be. It requires us to ask, “What is God’s purpose and plan for my children, and how can I as a parent lead them in that direction?”
The definition of an ambassador is someone who is a representative of someone else. In this case, you, the parent, represent God. Talk about a job description! Your job is to faithfully represent Christ and the Gospel to your kids. For me, that radically challenges the way I respond to my kids! An ambassador does not have a message of their own, but they simply speak the message given to them. An ambassador doesn’t deliver his own plan, but he follows the plan given to him and points others to it as well.
This is where good parenting begins, in surrender and in the humble recognition that I am not the author of my child’s story – God is. Everything I do is representational of the Gospel and with a desire to fulfill God’s desires (and not my own) in the lives of my children.
Questions to ponder:
- How do I, and how does my family, depend on Jesus daily? What are some ways I can talk about this with my family?
- What are some areas in my parenting that I try to be an “owner of” instead of an “ambassador for” my children?
- What areas of my parenting does my sinfulness get in the way of showing the love and grace of God to my children?