The gospel and parenting: How do they go together?

Have you ever asked yourself what makes a good parent? What about, “What makes a Christian parent?”  How should the gospel shape and change your parenting? I mean, there are plenty of parents who don’t know Christ who we would think of as “good parents”. They show love to their children, they give them an education, they teach them manners, they play with them and explore their talents… but, should Christian parenting look any different? If your vision for parenting doesn’t require Christ, is it really Christian? People can tap into Christian principles in their parenting, but it still doesn’t quite make their parenting Christian. I’ve been thinking lately about how the gospel is supposed to shape my parenting and since Father’s Day is almost here, I thought I would share some of the journey with you.

I’ve just started reading an old booklet with Michanne by a pastor named J. C. Ryle. The booklet is called, ‘Duties of Parents’, and it was written in the 1800’s! I’m interested in reading it because I’ve heard good things about Ryle and I also wonder whether we have any cultural blind spots that affect our reading of the Scriptures as well as our thinking about parenting. Right from the beginning, he quotes from Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Ryle strongly challenged us to train up our children to walk with and know Jesus. It was actually quite confronting, but I can’t think of anything more important. I have no idea where Ryle goes next, but I hope he helps me apply the gospel to my parenting.

For example, how do I model the gospel to my two boys? For example, I believe I should correct Silas when he’s doing the wrong thing because that’s what love does (Hebrews 12:5-11). In fact, that’s one of the reasons God gave us the law, to correct and convict us (Romans 3:20). But the gospel shows us that God’s love for us is not dependent on our obedience to the law (Romans 5:8). So, I want to make sure my boys know that my love for them is not dependent on their obedience either. I want to make sure my boys know that when I correct them, it’s not because I like them better when they’re doing the right thing! Surely that would only create little, compliant legalists, or bitter, exhausted rebels! I want them to know that my discipline is an expression of my love for them, and that our relationship is based on grace. One of the reasons I am so safe in my relationship with God is because I know it is based on his unchanging, immovable love from eternity past to eternity future (Ephesians 1:4-5; 2:4-9).

My hunch is that the most powerful gospel lessons will come in how I respond to my children in their moments of rebellion. Oh, how I need the gospel to shape me and the Spirit to fill me so that I respond rightly in those moments. I’ve already failed in some. But, aside from those moments, I’m sure we can model the gospel in regular ways for our children as well. One pastor once shared how he asks his daughters before bed, “Why does Daddy love you?” They’re probably rolling their eyes by this point because they know what he’s going to say. But he says, “Is it because you’re pretty? Is it because you’ve been good today? Is it because you work hard at school? Why does Daddy love you?… Daddy loves you because you’re part of his family, and nothing will ever change that.” I think that’s beautiful. He’s modelling the gospel for them in his parenting whether they realise it or not.

Dads, I’m not sure if Father’s Day brings up joy, pain or regret for you. But please know that you have a Father in heaven whose love for you is not based on your performance as a parent or anything else. If your faith is in Jesus, you are part of his family (Romans 8:15-16), and nothing will ever separate you from His love (Romans 8:31-39). Your relationship with him is secure because it is based on his unshakable love for you, not your shaky love for him. And I think that just may be the very thing we need to dwell on if we want to parent well.

Grace and peace,