Biblical Child Discipline in an Age of Therapeutic Goo (7)

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As with all checking accounts, it is important make deposits in the checking account of parental authority before attempting to write checks out of that account . . . with an authoritative flourish in the signature. Like all checking accounts, there needs to be money in there. It is not reasonable to argue that you can’t be out of money because you still have some checks left. 

The Text

“Train up a child in the way he should go: And when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

Summary of the Text

There is debate over whether this verse is given to us as a general proverb, or as hard-and-fast promise to parents that if children are brought up right they will never stray, or if the verse is talking about finding the right vocation for your child, and not talking about spiritual condition at all.

It is not my purpose to settle that question, at least when it comes to this passage. The truth I want us to take from this passage, whatever it is talking about, is the general truth that it is easier to bend the sapling than it is to bend the full-grown oak. And when you bend the sapling, the results of what you have done are lasting results.

Whatever the course you set for the child, that course will remain with him. Child discipline matters, in other words. What you do with your growing family is not a random roll of the dice.

Standing on the Promises

Allowing for various interpretations of Proverbs 22:6 does not mean that we are backing away from what we have previously taught about how Christian parents are invited to trust the Lord for the salvation of their kids. This is just a quick reminder—and for those who want to do a deep dive, there is the book Standing on the Promises. The first thing is that none of this is by works. We believe the promises of grace by faith alone, and this of course results in parental works. It is not driven by parental works. Christian parents are to teach their children to honor their parents (Eph. 6), and this is a command with a promise attached to it. Christian elders are supposed to imitated by the saints (Heb. 13:7, 17), and it is possible (and required) for Christian leaders to manage their homes in such a way as that their children are not lost or reprobate (1 Tim. 3:4-5; Tit. 1:6).

“Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9).

Three Basic Principles

A garden of yes: Remember the pattern that God established in the garden. He gave our first parents a world full of yes, and with one prohibited tree in the whole world. There was only one no in the garden of yes. Too many Christian parents function with a garden of no, and the occasional and very intermittent yes in the middle of all the negativity.

With this, you are establishing a place of joy, peace and fellowship. When the fellowship is broken (as it is by sin), children who are accustomed to the harmony of ordinary life are eager to get back into the fellowship they have lost. But if ordinary time in the home is a time of dull chronic pain, punctuated by the occasional dramatic “scene,” causing acute pain, then this is not what you want. Your highest parental priority should be your defense of a climate of fellowship—which is only possible in and through Christ.  

Ascent to maturity: if you are applying the principle of our text, you bend the sapling when it is a sapling, and you don’t try to bend a trunk that is a foot in diameter. To change the illustration, you put training wheels on your child’s first bike. You don’t put training wheels on their mountain bike because “now they might really get hurt.”

Too many parents are indulgent when sin is little and sometimes even cute. But this is the time when you should be establishing your authority, storing that authority up when you will be needing to “write checks” on it. Do not indulge your little ones, and then panic when they move into secondary school with a decade of “little or no discipline” under their belt. Now they can wreck a car and kill somebody. Now they can get into dank porn. Now they can get pregnant, or get someone pregnant. Now they can seriously damage their prospects for life, and so the temptation is to rush in and put training wheels on their mountain bike.  

Child Rearing by Grace: We are saved by grace through faith, and not of works lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:8-9). But while we are not saved by good works, we are most certainly saved to good works. This is the meaning of the next verse. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Trusting God for your kids is not a matter of “pedaling harder.” Compare it to the promises of God concerning answered prayer. We are given a number of astonishing promises. But we know they are not vending machine promises, if for no other reason than the Lord’s prayer for deliverance in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39). At the same time, the promises must mean something. “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matt. 21:22). “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7). This is a place where we are invited to step into a place of trust, and when God enables us to do so, we can look to Him expectantly. It is same with your children.  

Christ All the Way Through

The very best thing you can do for your children in the Lord is to be an “all-in” Christian. How does He call us to live? And remember that everything He demands from us, He is willing to pour Himself out in order to provide us with it. He writes those promissory notes in His own blood, remember. The second-best thing you can do for your children in the Lord is to be an “all-in” husband, or an “all-in” wife. These are the good works you are called to. These are the good works that invite you into the way of peace.      

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