If you asked me what the hardest part of parenting is I wouldn’t have to think twice. (Unless I’m in the middle of potty-training. Then I can’t think at all.) For me the hardest part is discipline. Discipline is exhausting and emotional. It calls upon every ounce of our love, patience, and diligence. But perhaps the most frustrating part of discipline is not knowing if our kids really understand it. The ultimate goal of discipline is to point our kids to the gospel. Do they get it? How can we help them make that connection? What reasons can we give our kids to obey? “Because I said so,” might be the easiest answer, but here are three reasons that point our kids to the gospel.
1. We Obey Because God is Holy
Discipline is the perfect opportunity to teach our kids about God’s character. We tell them we obey to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). But how exactly is obedience connected to the character of God? The Westminster Larger Catechism question and answer number three gives us the answer:
Q: What do the scriptures principally teach?
A: The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.
Our belief about God is directly connected to our duties to God. We know who God is through his law. Our kids must learn to obey as the first step toward knowing God. If we don’t teach them to obey we cannot teach them about God’s holiness, power, mercy, and love. His whole character is communicated to us through the righteousness he requires of his people. When we require our kids to obey we show that God is worthy of our obedience. We also show them how far short we all fall from that worthiness. That brings us to the second reason.
2. We Obey Because of What Jesus Did
Discipline points our kids to their need of a savior. This takes work because kids are naturally legalistic. They are wired to hyper-focus on themselves and their own good works. Earning God’s favor through their own merit makes more sense to them than receiving free grace.
The greatest joy of gospel-centered parenting is pointing our kids away from themselves to Christ. We don’t obey to earn God’s favor, but because it has already been earned for us by another. When our kids disobey we can say, “What you did was wrong. Do you know who never did anything wrong? Jesus! He lived a perfect life for us because he knew we could never do that. If we trust in him his perfect life takes the place of our sin. Now we obey to thank him for everything he has done for us.”
The Christian life can be summed up by the three sections of the Heidelberg Catechism: Guilt, grace, gratitude. We show our kids that the only response to what Jesus did is a life of thankful obedience.
3. We Obey to Receive Blessing
Repeatedly in scripture we see a connection between obedience and blessing. God told his people, “If you keep my commandments you will be blessed.” (Deuteronomy 11:28)
Exodus 20:12 says if children obey they will “live long in the land.”
Does this mean if we obey we will always have worldly wealth and success? We can see from examples such as Job and the martyrs in Hebrews 11 that that is not the case. So what blessings can we promise our children? I love the way my pastor, David Graves, puts it:
“As opposed to health and wealth, this promise is along pragmatic grounds. If you obey your parents, then you will learn the wisdom of how to make it through this fallen world with as few scrapes as possible. The child who habitually disobeys does not learn the necessity of hard work and the prudence of how not to be taken advantage of. It is not a promise of wealth, rather it is a promise of learning how to navigate.”
We can assure our kids that God’s laws provide protection and peace – sometimes in a physical way, sometimes only spiritual. Recently my six-year-old told me, “When I tell the truth I feel happy inside.” Obedience brings us joy because it keeps us in fellowship with our creator.
Worth the Effort
Discipline is not something we do to our children, but for them. When we teach them to obey we equip them to live lives full of blessing. It takes time to help their hearts understand what discipline is all about. In 1887 hymn writer John H. Sammis put it best when he wrote the beloved words:
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
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“I thought her best chapters were on how to discipline pointing to the grace of God instead of just disciplining to get desired behavior.” – Jane