The phrase learning Christ appears only once in the New Testament. Paul uses this phrase when he contrasts the church and the world. In Ephesians 4:17-19, he describes what people naturally learn because of the desires of their hardened hearts that follow the world (Ephesians 2:1-3). Then, in Ephesians 4:20, he says that the Ephesians did not come learn Christ that way. In the context of verse 20, those who are alienated, separated from the life of God–in other words, the world–learn darkness, not Christ. Thus, sensitivity becomes impossible. That darkness produces futile thinking. Those who think and live like the world are dominated by darkness, futility and sensuality. So Paul says that this is not the way they learned Christ.
Let’s be clear. Paul says there are only two ways of living or thinking. One way is to follow the natural path of darkness that all men were born with (Ephesians 2:1-3). The other way is to learn Christ. This is the point that must not be missed. Paul wants the Ephesians to put off the dark ways of their birth and to put on the way of light, that is, the person of Christ. Man’s schemes and plans, no matter whether they appear to be noble and practical or licentious and foolish, are rooted in darkness. Without Christ, they are still pathways to futility and darkness. They are deceptive. They can never satisfy. For the person who is not a Christians, having a good marriage for the sake of having a good marriage leads to darkness and, ultimately, to sadness and bitterness, because Christ is not learned this way. For the non-Christian, having children who please him is a futile goal that leads to heartbreak, because Christ is not learned this way. Merely raising children to avoid things that are distasteful to parents is futile; it will only encourage sensuality to take deep root in their hearts. Your goals may seem noble. You may earnestly desire that your children will avoid the pitfalls of this world. You can structure your lifestyle in order to keep your children from evil things. But if that is all you have done, and you have not taught them Christ, you have taught them futility and darkness. Avoiding evil is not the same as learning Christ.
Likewise, when it comes to the sins of lust and desire, planning how to avoid them is not enough. When you find your teenagers engaging in pornography or others sins of desire, a response in terms of lost privileges and consequences, without learning Christ, is not enough. It will only lead to more enslavement for your children and more futility in parenting for you (Colossians 2:20-23).
Someone might be thinking – but I am not sure that my child knows Christ, so I have to rely on punishment and consequences. I understand your concern, but that thinking will also lead to more problems. What your children need is the gospel – they must learn Christ! That is the point. Severe consequences may yield a change in behavior, but darkness will still rule in the heart. You must bring the person of Christ to your parenting. Depending upon consequences and restrictions to keep your teenagers from the power of lust and sensuality will only encourage these sins (Colossians 2:23). Remember, sin is not logical. One who is enslaved by lust is like the person on the way of evil in Proverbs 4:19 – they do not know what makes them stumble. Christ alone must be the answer that you give them. This is scary for us as parents. We are uncomfortable leaving things in God’s hands this way. But as long as parents cling to rules and consequences as the means to control their children, they cannot offer Christ. I am not saying that you allow your children to view pornography, nor that you do nothing in response to their sin. Rather, I am saying that if you yourself are not gripped by the power of the gospel, and if you do not bring the person of Christ into this situation, you are not teaching Christ – unwittingly, you are teaching darkness. That is why the father in the last post responded the way that he did. He started with the cross. He realized that modifying his child’s behavior would not address the unquenchable fires of lust. This dad became vulnerable, trusted Christ to help him, and offered Christ to his son. By breaking through the barrier of defensiveness, this father positioned himself to explain why lust is so powerful and why learning Christ is the answer. He offered the way of light, not darkness. He offered Christ, not consequences.
Please let me know your thoughts about this series. These issues are plaguing many families. Learning Christ is the only way to turn from living like the world. The next post will be the last in the series unless you have additional thoughts or questions.