We have been discussing how God changes parents from the inside out when they face their failures and, rather than trying harder to do better, repent and helplessly trust God to spontaneously and unconsciously change them. That is the meaning of Paul’s term he uses so often: “walking by faith.”
This faith relationship with God is what Martin Luther called “what is above you,” your relationship with your Daddy that is entirely His responsibility. He opens your eyes to show you your sin, and He gives you the desire to repent and turn from your wicked ways. He then even gives you the faith to believe He loves you, you are completely forgiven and Daddy is at work in your life to make you the parent you really want to be. Your relationship with Him—“what is above you”—is entirely His doing!
Once we experience the freedom of that faith relationship with our Father, we are ready to participate with Him in His great eternal purpose of ruling over His creation, His purpose for all His children. Luther called this assignment “what is beneath you”—all the responsibilities He has given you in that ruling task. The most obvious of these is parenting your children.
Without first experiencing that faith relationship with the God who is above us, it is impossible to rule well in our kingdom responsibilities here on the earth. If we are living with our Heavenly Father by performance based on the law, we will then unconsciously demand performance based on the law from those beneath us over whom we rule. We will “provoke our children to wrath” by being either harsh or lenient (both results of legal parental rule) rather than “bringing them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (the result of the parent living by repentance and faith)—Ephesians 6:4.
So, do I then ignore my child’s behavior, and say, “There, there--I love you so much, and you are so cute it doesn’t really matter whether you obey me or not, and I am sure everyone else here in the grocery store thinks you are just as cute as I do.”? Has that been your reaction as you have observed someone else’s undisciplined children in that ultimate showcase for parenting skills, the local supermarket?
As a young parent with two older sons, I was watching with unseeing eyes my beautiful, precocious, oozing-with-personality three-year-old daughter, pouting, snatching toys and willfully disobeying everything I was asking her to do. As I was enjoying her unique gifts and amazing intellectual development for one so young, I happened to wryly comment to a very good friend who was watching our children at play in her living room with me, “Well I guess I‘m going to have to start disciplining Ramah, (chuckle, chuckle). I remember her response very clearly, thirty-five years later, offered without the chuckles but very firmly with an exceedingly straight face—“Yes, you are!”
Those three words opened my blind eyes. What is the place for disciplining our children as we learn, as parents, to walk by repentance and faith rather than by the law, and how do we do it properly?
In the above examples, neither I nor the parent in the grocery store understood “above and beneath.” While “above you” (one’s relationship with God) is all of grace with no obedience to the law necessary whatsoever, responsibilities “beneath you,” including disciplining children, is based on the law of God. Rather than “I love my children too much to spank them” being the reason why parents don’t discipline their children for their rebellion against the parent’s will, the Bible says that those parents don’t love their children enough (Proverbs 13:24)! Hebrews 12:5-11 teaches that chastening, or scourging, is an expression of love, for us as well as for God.
Until we as parents experience a completely free relationship with the God who has done it all and proclaimed “It is finished,” we cannot fulfill successfully those responsibilities He has given us to care for His creation with love and firmness rather than leniency and harshness. Next week we will discuss a specific plan for how we can do so.