The goal of all involved Christian parents is to “bring up your children in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Most have at least a vague understanding that this means loving their children earnestly, while at the same time disciplining them consistently, firmly and calmly and never reacting to them with anger.
We have seen in previous newsletters that parenting in this manner begins by the parent building a relationship with the child through the working of the gospel of the grace of God in the life of the parent. From this gospel foundation, the law of God is then properly applied according to the above standards, and, miracle of miracles, we all live happily ever after.
If you are a veteran parent you know this scenario is a pipe-dream. If you are a new parent just beginning the child-training task, with a lot of good, biblical information and great expectations, know for sure that it will not happen this way!
As I talk to parents at home school conventions around the country, most will readily admit that their consistency in meeting the above goal for training their children leaves much to be desired. In the heat of the moment, moments that happen much more often than a parent would like, his best-laid plans are often forgotten, and actions are taken and words are spoken that damage the relationship the parent so desperately wants to establish with his child. As this happens again and again the child’s teen-age years are suddenly reached and parent and child find themselves living in two different worlds, passing each other as ships in the night while living in the same house. All influence the parent may have had in his child’s life during his formative years is lost forever.
This tragedy is replayed again and again in Christian homes. How can a parent live in such a way that makes theoretical biblical child training a realistic, ongoing experience?
In answering this question, Colossians 2:6 is a foundational verse: “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” What does this mean?
I received Jesus Christ by faith alone; obedience to any law of God had nothing to do with my salvation. That happened when God opened my eyes and I saw my sin and my dire need for a savior. I knew in my heart for the first time (maybe not yet clearly in my head) that all my attempts to be acceptable to God by being “good enough” were futile because I was utterly dead in trespasses and sin. I was powerless to save myself. Then I saw, also with opened spiritual eyes, that Jesus Christ was that Savior, and by faith I knew that He had saved me specifically from God’s wrath and condemnation.
Now, according to the verse above, I am to go on living in exactly the same manner—by faith. A crisis experience becomes a continuous way of life. Walking by faith is reliving this experience on a daily basis—not by obeying God’s law, not by shaping up, not by performing certain disciplines, not by doing anything (because I did nothing in the beginning in order to be saved) but by simply continuing to believe I am still a sinner in need of a savior, and that Jesus’ blood is still applied daily to that sin. I start over again each morning, back at square one, just as I began as a brand new Christian. God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23) as I replay my initial salvation experience on my internal digital video recorder.
I need the mercy of God as much as I did when I was first saved. If I have eyes to see it, the thoughts and intents of my heart before God are still only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). Genuine righteousness before God is still always only imputed, never imparted intrinsically to become a part of my experience. Living by faith is still always trusting God alone to save me, eternally and experientially. It is never based on what I do, on my ability to be good by obedience.
Sanctification, then, is simply getting more and more accustomed, on a daily basis, to what God did when He saved me. Sanctification is really being justified moment by moment, not being saved by faith and then progressing in my Christian life by good works—by obeying God’s law. Correcting this fallacy was Paul’s objective in his letter to the Galatians.
Walking by faith as a parent involves beginning each day recognizing that I too am still a little child myself in God’s family--wide-eyed, innocent, trusting our Heavenly Father in simple faith:
“Daddy will take care of me; I don’t have to worry about what I will eat, or where I will live, what I’m going to wear, my wife’s continual complaints, my husband’s laziness and irresponsibility or my child’s rebellion. Daddy has it all under control, and He is ordering everything that enters my life. I can trust Him to lead me because He is my daddy and He loves me. Trusting Him means I believe He is teaching me right now, in His own time and in His own way, with or without my awareness, how He wants me to live, and He is giving me the will and the power to live that way.”
This daily experience is not like climbing a righteousness ladder to get closer to God, where the previous day’s faith and its resulting obedience get me a rung higher to form a platform for the next day’s climb. Theoretically, as I progress up the ladder I would reach a point where I wouldn’t need the grace and forgiveness of God nearly as much as I did the day I got saved, would I? At my age, after pursuing God as best I knew how for 50 years as a serious Christian, I surely would be almost to the top of the ladder, right next to God, wouldn’t I? No! Every day I begin again. I am saved totally by faith day by day and moment by moment, always simultaneously righteous saint and wicked sinner. This is walking, or living, by faith. As we walk this way more and more consistently we in turn become more and more able to parent effectively.
Next week we will look at two very important truths about which our experiential understanding is often very fuzzy and out of focus, hindering us in our walk of faith and hence in our ability to parent by the gospel.