Parent, how hard would it be for you to have a son who always did what you asked him to? Even as a teenager he would have a reputation as a fine, moral young man. He would be respectful to you, his parents. He would make wise use of his time. Everyone would compliment you on your obedient son. They would wish their children were just as obedient. How hard would it be? Are you starting to fantasize about how great this would be and how much easier your life would be?
There is a danger here. Do you see it?
Yes, a son or daughter who always obeyed would appear to be ideal. In Matthew 19 we read about a young man who was exactly like that. However, when he encountered the living Christ, he turned away. This young man had always made the safe move. Obedience was good because it made his life easier. He loved the good consequences rather than the good God.
This young man began the conversation with Christ by asking what he could do to obtain eternal life. The young man had perhaps reasoned that heaven is far more desirable than hell, so he wanted to know how to obtain heaven. Jesus addressed the heart of his concerns. Jesus said, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
The young man was most likely thrilled with Jesus’ answer. He had been a child and a young man who had been outwardly obedient. He answered with a telling confidence. He had kept them all.
He, and probably his parents, had made the law ordinary. They thought keeping the law was achievable. This young man had figured out what big sins should be avoided. He thought himself to be quite holy; however, in God’s eyes he was quite ordinary. In his misplaced confidence he offered a challenging appeal to Christ. “What else do I lack?”
Christ’s response ended his self-confidence and exposed his focus on consequences rather than on true obedience. Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor and come and follow Him. If loving God had been the true reason for his obedience, then Christ’s words would have brought him great joy. He could have gained the daily presence and companionship of Christ! Instead, he grieved because he had too much to lose. The consequences were unacceptable. This young man was quite ordinary after all.
He left Jesus, grieving as he went. He had followed the form of faith but not the reality of faith. Loving God was not his reason for keeping the commandments.
Do not wish for your children to be like the “ideal” described above. No one is that good. Everyone sins and fails. Compared to the “ideal” life with children who struggle to obey will be a challenge. But it is a challenge worth embracing! Hold out for your children the goal of a heart that loves Christ more than the pleasures of this life. Teach them to love God more than good consequences.