5 Principles That Encourage Heart Change

My previous post on Parenting focused on how the gospel shapes our principles in parenting, in light of the fact that the Bible doesn't actually say much about parenting specifically.

In this post I am going to focus on 5 more principles that we can glean from the gospel that speak to our responsibilities as parents.

1. The gospel produces humility

"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others (including your children) more significant than yourselves." –Philippians 2:3

The cross confronts and destroys our pride, and facilitates our humility. At the cross we are forgiven, accepted, and renewed, but we are also broken, and made to see our sin and our failure that Christ died for. The most dangerous temptation for a parent is pride. Because pride hides itself - it is blind to its own existence. The more proud you are, the less proud you feel, and vice versa. Pride blinds ourselves to our sin- but even though we may be blind to our sin, our children are not. Proud parents are able to see their children’s sins but not their own.

Tragically, because our children are proud also, they will only see our sin, and not see their own. Pride makes us uncorrectable. Children will ignore our words and heed our example if we are proud. We must realize that when we are weak, God is strong. Never admitting fault means that we never need Christ. Never confessing our sins before our children will inherently cause them to hide their sins.

But when we are weak, when we confess our sins, our children get to see the glorious power of God’s grace. Confession shows we are sincere, that God is good and forgiving, and that the cross is absolutely essential. The thing that undercuts all of the insecurity and all of the frustration with our own failures as parents is when we realize that our children don’t need perfect examples they need humble examples.

2. The gospel teaches us about forgiveness
The gospel allows us to forgive, for we have been forgiven. If we hold grudges against our children or anyone else in our lives, our children will see by our example that forgiveness is merely theoretical. “Forgive others as Christ has forgiven you”. The model of Christ’s forgiveness is our model- it doesn’t overlook the seriousness of sin, nor the need for that sin to be paid for, but allows compassionate, God-centered reconciliation.

Nothing could be more confusing for our children than to have them hear over and over again about forgiveness while at church, but to never experience forgiveness in their home.
I never understood forgiveness because I was self-righteous. In 7th grade I finally began to understand forgiveness because I got suspended for sending swear words in messages over the computer system. And I remember thinking that I’ve so utterly failed my parents that I could never be forgiven.

When my mom came upstairs and sat down on my bed- she said “Matt I love you” and I said “mom I’m so sorry”, and she said “I forgive you”, and my entire self-righteous paradigm came crashing down.

As people who’ve received forgiveness, we ought to hold out forgiveness with an open hand. Jesus says: “if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:4)

And we may say, “what if it’s seven times (or 77 times) before 8am? But we’re no different, and God forgives us with more fullness and mercy than we could ever forgive our children. Furthermore, what better opportunity to point them to the forgiveness of God than when they’re asking us for forgiveness?

3. The gospel gives us empathy for our children.
It can be easy at times to be so flabbergasted by the sinfulness of our children, that we forget that at our core our children are more like us than unlike us. We can come to them from a place of empathy, because not only do they need the gospel, forgiveness, and transformation, but I need the gospel, forgiveness, and transformation also. What we should want for our children is not compliance or external obedience, what we ought to want for our children is for them to experience the same grace that we have experienced.

The cross is the place where both the parent and the child are rescued. Parenting is not parents who have their act together trying to tell children how to get their act together, but it’s parents who fail and struggle, but with hope, reaching out to children who fail and struggle, offering the same hope.

Let’s say little Billy is selfish and doesn’t want to share his toy with his sister? You could respond by saying, “how could you be so selfish?” Or you could respond saying, “I get that. I am selfish too. I am just like you. Let’s run to the cross together!” We ought not be shocked at our children’s sins!

“Why would you do that?” Well we know! It’s because you’re my child

Paul Tripp says that all of parenting is a gracious rescue. And we have the distinct pleasure of being an instrument that God may use to rescue our children from their sin.

4. The gospel focuses on heart transformation, not behavior modification.
Behavior modification is a fixation on changing behavior rather than the heart, and is the world’s solution to parenting. Behavior modification doesn’t change the heart- even if external behaviors change, what really happens is they become smarter sinners.

They become very good at hiding their sin, they become good at finding loopholes in the rules, they become good at avoidance and sneakiness. That is until they are old enough to simply give up on their “parent’s values” and make culturally acceptable but spiritually devastating decisions for themselves.

We can get caught up into this too- we can be so worried that our kids are going to go crazy, become hippies, drink, and smoke, and get pregnant or get someone pregnant that being a Pharisee is just as bad. When we focus on behavior modification- the mere conformity of external behaviors for the sake of rule following- we are in danger of teaching our kids to clean the outside of the cup but not the inside.

The reality is that we have absolutely no ability to change our children. Now that can sound hopeless, but it fundamentally changes our dynamic with our children. We could change their behavior through the threat of severe punishment, or coercion, but true heart transformation only comes from God.

We must embrace our inability in order to be used as an instrument by God. Therefore we come to our children from a place of authority, yes, but also from a place of appeal. We are appealing them to consider their sin and consider their need for a Savior. We are pointing them to the cross and their need for rescue.

Paul Tripp gives an example that happens day in and day out:

"Billy is walking down the hallway and his sister happens to be in his sovereign space and so he pushes her against the wall. She starts crying. Mom walks in the room and she says, “say you’re sorry”. He’s not. He says, “sorry”. She says, “say it like you mean it”. He doesn’t. He says, “sooorrry”. She says, “at least say a sentence!” He says, “I’m sorry”. Then she says, “Jesus is so happy when you say you’re sorry.” Mom turns, and the minute she turns around Billy does this to his sister (sticks his tongue out at her). Now, Jesus isn’t happy about anything in that encounter. But let’s think about what Billy has learned. He’s learned that mom is easily satisfied, so jump through her hoops quickly, because she’ll leave. Second, if you’re going to do violence to a sibling, it’s best to do it when mother isn’t near. How is that Christian, or parenting?"

That’s not trusting God for anything. It’s preaching a false gospel- that he can do anything to please God. He can do nothing to gain God’s acceptance. And he’s just learning to be a much smarter sinner.

We ought to aim for the heart with every parental encounter. We ought to ask heart-probing questions- not being simply content with our children understanding they have done something wrong, but asking questions that will help expose the attitude of the heart that was the underlying reason for the sinful behavior.

We ought to be talking with our children about idolatry- the human heart’s tendency to dethrone God and enthrone things in His place. We ought to be constantly guiding our children to both see their need for a Savior, and to see the free offer of salvation in Christ

5. Lastly, the gospel helps to give us an Eternal Perspective in parenting
Our children will live forever. That thought should stagger us and place us in a place of perspective. Just take a moment and consider that reality. Your children, or your future children, are going to live forever. This is game changing. Your role in the life of these little ones can change their trajectory for eternity.

We have a weighty and eternal responsibility as parents, and it ought to drive us to prayer and faithfulness with regard to what God has called us to.

Though the Bible doesn't say much about parenting, there are so many principles from the gospel that show us what godly parenting looks like.