As a Christian leader, I have had to offer a lot of parenting advice. One of the most critical pieces of advice I give to parents is to keep the gospel central in their parenting. Paul tells us that “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” as Romans 1:16 states it.
As a parent, I am to help my kids understand the gospel in all of its implications. Teaching kids the gospel every day, in a multiplicity of ways, is an intricate part of seeing this happen. The Apostle Peter said it best, “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (I Peter 1:23).
Since the day Faith was born, I have sought to explain the gospel to her in many ways. While the explanations have been varied, the message remains the same. The gospel, simply put, is the amazing salvation message that God seeks to reconcile sinful man to a holy God through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
Since God’s essential goal is to reconcile sinful man to himself, I should align my parenting to reach that goal because I want Faith to come to Christ and accept him as savior and Lord.
Popular blogger Tim Challies offers some sage advice when he says, “Parents convinced that God’s power is latent in the gospel center their families around the gospel. They are convinced that it provokes new birth, that it will knit their children’s hearts to God, and motivate godly behavior.“
One of the temptations in Christian parenting, in contrast to the gospel, is to focus solely on having the child exhibit good behavior. Moral self-improvement, however, is the antithesis to the gospel.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, captured the parental trap of moralism quite well when he said, “Parents who raise their children with nothing more than Christian values should not be surprised when their children abandon those values.
“If the child or young person does not have a firm commitment to Christ and to the truth of the Christian faith, values will have no binding authority, and we should not expect that they would. Most of our neighbors have some commitment to Christian values, but what they desperately need is salvation from their sins. This does not come by Christian values, no matter how fervently held. Salvation comes only by the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
In my book “We Named Her Faith,” I sum up the moralistic answer to parenting like this: “Moralism does not remedy our fallen nature, however tempting it may seem. Instead, it reduces the gospel to nothing more than moral self-improvement. Seducing people to believe that we earn God’s approval by our good behavior teaches children that they must be good boys and girls to be acceptable.
“The focus of child-rearing for the moralist is to raise their children ‘right,’ whatever that term means. I believe that God has something better to offer parents who want to raise children who have a heart that follows after God.”
That something better is the gospel.
The other day, I was away teaching a class in Louisville, Kentucky, when I received a text from my wife, Monica. She said that something amazing just happened.
As soon as I was able to break away, I called her to hear the good news. She began the conversation by letting me know that earlier that evening Faith got stained so badly, that Monica had to give her a shower. Faith didn’t want to take time for that, because they were about to play together.
But Monica told her that even if she wanted to be with her, she couldn’t; the first step had to be cleaning herself up.
As Faith was trying to understand why, Monica explained that it is similar to what happens with our relationship with God. Even if he wants to be near us as our friend, the stain of our sin is so unbearable to his perfect nature that we have to be willing to be cleaned first. The good news is that God is willing to clean us up when we repent before him with the only thing that is powerful enough to take away all our sins: the blood of Jesus.
This 30-second statement would change Faith’s life for eternity. Once Faith got out of her shower and was wearing clean clothes she said, “Now I’m a new Faith.”
“In the same way, when God cleans up from our sins, we’re made a new creation,” said Monica. Then Faith said, “I want to ask God to clean me from my sins with the blood of Jesus.”
Faith got a very simple understanding of the gospel. But that was enough to urge her to ask God for forgiveness and invite Jesus to come live in her heart.
She actually didn’t want Monica to lead her in prayer but decided to pray herself. Monica was ecstatic that she could articulate a simple but powerful prayer, and while looking at Faith’s tears of joy, Monica recalled the verse from Isaiah 12:3 that she chose for 2019: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”
At that moment, two things happened. One, was the Holy Spirit revealed to Faith her sinful state and her need for a savior. After all, no one can understand the Gospel in a meaningful way, unless the Holy Spirit reveals it to us. The other is that God used Monica to share the gospel, for Romans 10:14 says “how can they believe in him of whom they have never heard?”
God is faithful and will continue to bring true joy to those who receive the gospel, as well as to those who share it.
Tim Orr of Columbus is an author and an adjunct faculty member in religious studies at IUPUC, where he has served for more than 10 years. His writing reflects his 20-plus years working with a variety of cultures. His website is TimOrr.net.