I don’t want to ever hear Jesus say of my daughters what he said
about the religious people of his day, "You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.'" But it could happen.
It's a frightening possibility in my home just as it is in every Christian home. Even with the best intentions, we can raise kids who comply with our wishes for their behavior yet who have no heart for Jesus. We can mistake their compliance to our rules for conversion in their hearts.
At our own dinner table, I recall countless family devotionals when I asked my girls to apply the Bible lesson personally and heard, "I need to try harder and do more to be a good girl." And while that mindset may produce a peaceful family with compliant kids, it is nothing more than a Rockwell-esque picket-fenced—and hell-bent—home.
As a dad, I must pastor my daughters in total alignment with God’s perspective. And he always works from the inside out, which means I have to reverse my default view of looking at their lives from the outside in. In short, I can't be satisfied with just outward displays of obedience.
First the gospel, then good works
The only command addressed directly to children in the New Testament is to "obey your parents." (Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20) So as parents, we tell our kids that it pleases Jesus for them to obey us with the emphatic, "That’s why!"
And while this explanation
is true, it's also incomplete, which makes it dangerously deadly by itself. Our kids hear us and connect the dots like this: "Jesus loves kids who obey their parents, so if
I will obey my mom and dad, then
Jesus will love me."
"Faith (letting the gospel dwell in us and the Holy Spirit fill us) has to come before works (obeying your parents)."
If you back up a few verses, you'll find a non-negotiable prerequisite: Ephesians 5:18 exhorts us to "be filled with the Spirit," and Colossians 3:16 says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." (And these aren’t two different states, but two sides of the same coin.)
To be filled with the Spirit is a necessary condition that arises from what God has already done for us in Jesus, not what we do to try to move him. The condition is accomplished by God’s grace through the instrument of faith. Or, faith (letting the gospel dwell in us and the Holy Spirit fill us) has to come before works (obeying your parents) if we are truly going to please God.
Moreover, if we teach our kids to obey mom and dad apart from first trusting only in the person and work of Jesus, their best efforts to do so may make us happier but certainly not him. That is why Hebrews 11:6 warns, "without faith it is impossible to please him."
First practice it, then preach it
At this point, many dads become fatalistically passive as they wait for their children to believe. Behavioral modification when compared to biblical faith is always the path of least resistance. We do have the power to make a child do their chores. We don't have the power to make them give their lives to Christ.
However, there is something very powerful dads can do to help their children understand the gospel: They can practice it themselves. Dads are to love moms and raise kids in the Lord without discouraging them. (Ephesians 5:22-6:4, Colossians 3:18-21) Given my proclivity to blow it in these categories, I have multiple opportunities every day to say I am sorry to my wife, Kara, and my girls for my sin against them and to profess my faith in Jesus, who forgives me. We pray together that he will make me into the daddy he desires me to be.
As I am transformed by the gospel going deeper and the Holy Spirit gaining me more fully, they begin to catch on to what it means to be transformed and the obedience that comes out of that heart.
Stay tuned for a follow-up to this piece from Pastor Dave next week.
Dave Bruskas is the Albuquerque campus pastor.