Psalm 103 mercifully proclaims that God does not treat us as our sins deserve. It is this truth that sets Christianity apart from every other religion. All paths, except the one leading to Christ, lead to some form of self-justification. This truth has important implications for parenting.
It is important that children not be treated as their sins deserve! At first glance, this seems obvious. But, we must ask, how do our children believe they are treated. Words like accountability, responsibility, and obedience can come to be equated with fair treatment. (These words are wonderful words in their proper place.) When children sin they should be held accountable. This sounds right, but is it? In Psalm 103, David is rejoicing and praising God that he is not treated as he deserves to be treated. Conversely, he would be miserable if he was treated as he deserved to be treated. Parents, there is a lesson here for you.
Discipline is not the same as fair, deserved treatment. Biblical discipline, in all of its forms, administered under the direction of the Holy Spirit in his word, is gracious, loving, and merciful. Biblical discipline is a sign of love, not equitable, fair treatment. Hebrews 12:7 says that we are to endure hardship as discipline because God is treating us as sons. The writer of Hebrews quotes Proverbs 3 in the twelfth chapter:
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in. Proverbs 3:11&12
So discipline has to do with love and delight, not primarily accountability and control. 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. The toddler should hear about the wonder and power of God. He should hear about how God is given his parents his word for his good. 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 justice and retribution. 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.
What voice do your toddlers hear? Is it the voice of fair treatment for sin or is it the voice of mercy given by a parent who is overwhelmed by the mind-blowing truth that God does not treat us as our sins deserve? Fair treatment fits with self-sufficiency. The formula is learned: I did what was wrong, I paid the price. This is the self-sufficient pride that leads to being lukewarm. (See previous posts) If discipline settles the score, then children are taught that Christ is not necessary. This is the pride that infected the church at Laodicea.
A blog post is not a book. Thus, it is not possible to anticipate all of your questions. But, you can comment and ask questions. This is an advantage of the blog. The fundamental truths behind this post can be found in Shepherding a Child’s Heart and Instructing a Child’s Heart. The blog provides an opportunity to interact with these truths.