Childish or Sinful, The Gospel or Irritation

In the last post we considered a scenario posed by one of our readers. The point of consideration was this:  why would a child perceive his parent’s concern over falling in the mud as anger? Let’s start with the child’s perspective. Falling in the mud can be unsettling. The child might be concerned about dirty clothes or an interruption in play time. While there are some children who will delight in such a “catastrophe,” most will not be pleased to be covered in mud. Furthermore, the child might equate falling in the mud with the unpleasant consequence of being disciplined for sinful behavior. The child’s reasoning might run something like this:  “Mommy is unhappy with me when I do bad things. This (falling in the mud) is a bad thing.  Mommy will be angry with me for falling in the mud.” While this may not be Mom’s reasoning at all, it may be how her child perceives her reactions. So, what are the biblical perspectives that can help us deal this situation?

Let’s look first at how God says we should deal with our children’s sin. Ephesians 6:4 directs that children are not to be provoked to anger. Have you ever provoked your child to anger? What kind of attitude do you convey to your children when discipline is called for? Remember, when children sin, that sin is primarily against God. God has placed children in your home so that  they would be confronted and disciplined in a way that leads to the gospel message. In this light, being able to recognize your children’s sin is a great blessing. Yes, you read correctly—a great blessing. If you view your children’s sin only as an interruption, an irritation, or as a continuing exercise in frustration, you will miss opportunities to display the beauty of the gospel to them. Sin is always upsetting and displeasing. However,  when your children sin, it is also an opportunity to confront them with the grace of God. When addressing sin in your children, the theme of gospel grace must not be neglected. If all you are doing in discipline is correcting behavior, then the core component of the gospel is not the first thought you will have. The gospel is not necessary if your aim is to have a child who will obey quickly and have a clean room. The gospel is essential if you are to lead your children towards Christ and redemption for their rebellious hearts.

From this perspective, human anger must not be a part of your discipline. If it is, you make discipline about satisfying your requirements. God then serves you, existing  (in your mind) to support your agenda and standards—rather than you following his directions. When this role reversal happens, you have attempted to make God subordinate to your will. Your authority will ultimately be weakened. James 1:19-20 drives the point home:  man’s anger will not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Discipline that is based on the gospel is motivated first of all by love for God and not by irritation at bad behavior. Gospel-based discipline is implemented by a combination of pleasant words (Proverbs 16:20-24) and the loving use of the rod (Proverbs 22:15; 13:24). Parents too often will substitute harsh, stern words for this gospel-based combination because it is easier and less time consuming. But the result of this quick fix of scolding, angry words is the sinful provoking of your children to anger, the very thing that Paul commands you not to do.

So, dealing with sin in your children should not focus on your anger and displeasure. Rather, after discipline is accomplished, the relationship with your child should be one of closeness and love. Your child should know comfort and restoration as a result of discipline. This should be true whether the discipline is preventative or remedial. If this is the case, then your children will not interpret your discipline as an exercise in frustration with them. If they know your comfort in discipline, that will impact other areas of your relationship.

In the next post we will look at how to handle behavior that is primarily childish (rather than rebellious) with an attitude that encourages children. Please let me know your thoughts.

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