The goal of parenting is not to raise children who are good.
The goal of parenting is to raise children who know God.
We must be wary of any parenting philosophy that assumes, however implicitly, that we hold sovereign sway in our children’s lives—as if we could rear children so perfect they are not in need of God’s grace. This is heresy of the very worst sort.
Too many parenting approaches, even those offered by Christian authors, prove behavior-centered and discipline-driven. For those who have been redeemed solely by the substitutionary work of Christ, however, our approach must always be Christ-centered and gospel-driven. The difference is more than semantic; it is revolutionary.
What do we do when our children sin and disobey? If behavior-centered, we will insist on obedience and teach it as effectively as we can. But if we are Christ-centered, we will make the most of this opportunity by sharing the gospel fully—to show that Christ is the remedy for our sin, and not mere discipline. Obviously, parents who love their children will discipline them and will teach them to obey (Hebrews 12:7-8). But we will do more than this. We will love them enough to share the good news of God’s grace with them every time they sin. We will love them enough to ensure they do not become whitewashed tombs, perfectly obedient and painfully faithless, neither loving nor being loved by God.
Surely this is Paul’s point in his famous address to fathers: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Behavior-centered, discipline-driven parenting is palpably exasperating. We are called to a higher standard, to bring them up in the training (which surely includes, but is not limited to discipline) and instruction of the Lord. We are to teach them all that we know of God and his goodness. Do they learn about him only from the rod we apply to them? That would be a perversely distorted picture. Or do they learn it from our worship, prayer, humility, confession of sin—especially when we sin against them—seeking forgiveness, sharing the gospel once more? Do they see the cross stamped upon our lives, or only the law? Could we say to them, “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:14)—and trust that they would immediately think of the gospel, taught and lived by their parents? Or would we shudder to think of the picture we have painted of him?
The goal of parenting is to ensure our children know God as fully as possible when they leave our temporary care. What has your parenting style preached to your children?