“Children obey or else you’re in big trouble.”

Posted on March 11, 2014 · Posted in Gospel, Parenting

Is this what your children think is the reason for obedience: to stay out of trouble? If this is true then your children will not know the power of hope. You see, children are just like every other human, they require hope to thrive. Perhaps the greatest enemy of hope is trusting in performance. Trust in your own ability to perform is the great enemy of the gospel.

But aren’t we supposed to perform well? Aren’t we supposed to do our best? If children are to obey their parents, how can we not talk about performance?  These are exactly the right questions! However,  the answer may surprise you. To be distinctly biblical, obedience must be connected to hope, not to performance. Our performance is not where hope will be found.

For a Christian our hope is not in our performance, but in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Only Christ performed perfectly in every way. No human can ever match that standard. In comparison, we all fail miserably, horribly.

Too often, the message children receive about obedience is this: “Obey or face the consequences.”

This is not the theme of biblical obedience. Ephesians 6:1-3 is a wonderful passage to encourage children to obey. But, please look carefully at the words and the encouragement in the passage. Paul is not saying:

“Children obey or else you will be in big trouble.”

He is saying obey your parents in the strength of the Lord and you will be blessed. Wow, what a difference in perspective! The message of the gospel is good news. Jesus died for your sins. He suffered the consequences for your failure to perform. He paid the price of your disobedience so that you could live a life that is not motivated by performance but by true hope.

When your children fail or disobey, they need the hope that only the gospel can bring. Their own performance will not bring hope. If your children believe they can earn your approval by performing obediently you have misrepresented the gospel to them. Yes, the Bible commands you to discipline your children (Ephesians 6:4, etc.). However, you are not to discipline to make them better performers. You discipline to point them to their need of Christ.

Loving a selfish brother or sister is more than hard. We can’t do it, we can’t perform love in our own strength.  But we can love in our weakness. So can your children. You must tell them this truth of this gospel reality over and over again.  Jesus died so that your children can do what is impossible in their own strength. This is the hope of the gospel.

The gospel does not invite you to be saved so that you can perform in order to please God. It says that since your performance is unworthy, Jesus died for your sins and offers you the grace needed to bring honor to your heavenly father. That is hope!

This is the hope that your children need to thrive. Performance motivation robs your children of hope, because they can never be good enough to overcome their sin. Hope in Christ alone is true hope.

Jay Younts
Jay Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger. He is the author of Everyday Talk and other materials on parenting. He has been teaching and speaking on parenting issues for 30 years. Jay and his wife, Ruth, live in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. He serves as a ruling elder at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He and Ruth have five adult children.