Not too long ago, I was shopping at the grocery store. An eager three year old started to go down a different aisle than where her mother was headed. The mother spoke to her child in a calm but icy voice. She said something like this, “I knew it was a mistake to bring you shopping. If you don’t come here right now, I’ll never take you shopping again.” The little girl sadly turned back to her mother with her head down. She was being treated as her mother thought she deserved. Mom seemed pleased that her power play worked. Often this tactic does not work, but for this little girl, earning her mom’s approval was all that mattered.
For her part, Mom had no idea of the devastating impact of her words and attitude upon her child. This little girl was living for the approval of her mother. As she grows older, she will likely seek to win the approval of other people. Her security will be connected to making other people like her. Mom may have thought that she was teaching her child to obey. In reality, she was teaching her daughter to become a slave to the desires of other people.
How do you treat your children when they sin? Do you treat them as you think they deserve to be treated? Do you unwittingly force them to earn your approval?
Living for the approval of others means that God’s truth cannot be the reference point in a person’s life. Psalm 103 teaches us that God does not treat us as our sins deserve. The gospel means that no one can “earn” God’s approval, except Christ. So, living for the approval of others only drives people away from the saving grace of God offered in the gospel.
Mother and child alike are in constant need of the mercy and grace of God. Shame and condescension will not make Christ attractive to your children. Help your children to see that true obedience is a response to the goodness of God. God’s favor cannot be earned by obedience. A child who embraces this truth will not be driven to live for the approval of people. Rather she will find joy and acceptance in living for the honor of her Savior.