Biblical discipline is about mercy, not fairness.

Posted on · Posted in Gospel, Parenting

Biblical discipline has to do with love and delight, not primarily accountability and control. Biblical discipline is not about fairness, it is about mercy. Biblical discipline is not about treating children as they deserve. Which of you would ask God treat you as your sins deserve?

Stay with me here! I am not advocating laissez faire parenting or child centered discipline. What I am doing is calling us back to the biblical truth that should be the cornerstone of our parenting as well as our faith. We have hope only because God does not treat us as our sins deserve. This is the gospel message of the cross. This liberating message often gets lost in the language of parenting.

For example, let’s look at raising young children and toddlers. In Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp rightly points out that establishing authority is the fundamental task given to parents in years 0-5. Tedd also teaches that parental authority is derived authority. Parental authority is not earned, but is given by God. It is essential that this truth be passed on to young children. Following Hebrews 12 and Proverbs 3, parental authority is to be administered with loving discipline. Discipline is not justice. Discipline is not retribution. Justice and retribution have to do with judgment and hell, not parenting.

When a young child is disciplined and trained, he is to hear pleasant words and loving direction accompanying that discipline. Each child should hear about the wonder and power of God. He should also hear that his parents are acting under God’s authority and direction. When frustration, anger, or lack of patience creeps into the parental voice, so do the concepts of fairness, justice and retribution. 

What voice do your children hear? Is it the voice of fair treatment for sin? Fair treatment fits with self-sufficiency. This is the formula for fairness: I did what was wrong, I paid the price. This can lead to self-sufficient pride.  Your children must hear discipline administered with voice of mercy.  This is the discipline given by a parent who is overwhelmed by the mind-blowing truth that God does not treat us as our sins deserve?

There is only one payment for justice, one act that can serve as retribution for our sin. Only the sinless life of Jesus Christ offered in sacrifice on the cross can address the issues of justice and retribution. Don’t offer fairness to your children. Offer them the mercy of the gospel. 

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Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.