Last week, the verse that provided the structure for our lesson was 2 Tim 3:16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” We said that armed with Scripture alone, the Christian parent is fully-equipped to bring about spiritual maturity in the lives of his or her children. Then we went on to focus on “doctrine” (or “teaching”) and “reproof” (or “conviction”). We talked about teaching in the milieu or using teachable moments, and we discussed how to plow your children’s hearts with biblical conviction so as to bring about genuine repentance and lasting change rather than just behavior modification. This week, we are going to focus on the second two uses of the Word of God in 2 Tim 3:16: “correction” and “instruction in righteousness.”
What’s the difference between conviction and correction? Conviction is helping your child to see and feel bad about his sin. Correction is helping him to deal with it. In conviction, you diagnose the problem. In correction, you get out the scalpel and remove the tumor.
So you’ve convicted your child. He sees his sin in light of Scripture and he’s sorry that He offended God. Now what? You can’t just leave him there! So now what are you going to do? You’re going to use the Bible to show him what to do about his sin. There are two steps in this process: resolving past sin and preventing future sin. Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”
Step 1: Resolve past sin by confessing it and seeking forgiveness.
If your child is unsaved, he needs what we call “positional forgiveness.” He needs all of his sins–past, present, and future–to be wiped out and Christ’s righteousness to be imputed to him. Ephesians 1:9 says, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins….” That’s the kind of forgiveness he needs! And in order for that to happen, he must repent of his sins and believe in Jesus.
One of your jobs as a parent is to present that all-important decision to your children.
However, be careful not to present that decision before your child is ready. Children are very impressionable. It’s very easy to get a child to pray a prayer; the problem is that the prayer itself does not save! All of us could probably give an example of somebody we know who prayed a prayer as a child but is now living a godless life.
So how do I know if my child is ready? Here are some questions I’ve asked myself in order to make that determination when working with children over the years.
Does he understand the gospel? It makes no sense to encourage your child to pray to trust Christ if he doesn’t understand what that means. And yet parents and well-meaning Christian workers do this all the time. How can you determine whether or not your “child gets it”? (Ask open-ended questions.) If the child says, “I want to get saved,” ask him, “Why?” If he says, “So I can go to heaven,” ask, “Doesn’t everyone go to heaven? Why not?” See if he says anything about sin. And then if he does, ask him to define sin. Ask him about who Jesus is and about the meaning of His death on the cross. The substitutionary atonement is a big concept, but the child should at least have a basic grasp of the fact that Jesus died in his place. Ask him what it takes to be saved to see if he understands grace alone. If your child can’t give the right answers to these basic questions without prompting, you probably have more teaching to do.
Is he convicted? Perhaps the main way that people hollow out the doctrine of conversion with children is by failing to address repentance. Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Repentance is necessary for salvation. This is why conviction like we talked about last week is so important! How do you motivate a child to get saved without convicting him of sin? You teach him about heaven and hell and then say, “Do you want to go to heaven when you die?” No sane child is going to answer, “No, I want to go to hell!” So then you just have the child pray after you. But that is not biblical salvation because the child is not repentant. He might not even know why he ought to repent! If you get the sense that your child is not sorry for his sin, you probably have more convicting to do.
Has he demonstrated personal initiative? The Bible is clear that salvation is a personal decision. No one can make that decision for you. If a child gets saved because his mom or dad wants him to or because all of his friends are doing it, that isn’t genuine salvation. John 6:44 says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” So what you want to determine is this: “Is God drawing my child right now?” Sometimes at Ironwood, I’d be working with a child who raised his hand for salvation, and I’d get the impression he was losing interest. So I’d ask him, “Do want to go play?” Some people would probably think that’s a horrible thing to do. But my thought was, if God is drawing this kid, he’ll want to stay and talk. But if he was just trying to make me happy, I wanted to give him an “out.” With Anaya, once I was confident that she understood the gospel, I told her, “Whenever you want to make this decision, just let me or Mommy know.” And then I just left it at that and waited for her to approach us. If your child has not shown personal initiative to trust Christ, you probably have more praying to do.
Other Considerations Regarding Leading Your Children to the Lord
When it comes to actually praying, I’m not a fan of the “pray after me” approach. I struggled a lot with wondering if I said the right words. So I just have children pray in their own words. I’ve never had a child yet where this was a hang-up. As long as they understand the gospel, are convicted of sin, and really want to be saved, this shouldn’t be an issue. Plus, one of my favorite things in all the world is to hear a child ask God to save him in his or her own words.
Don’t tell your children they’re saved. I’ve either run into or heard about a lot of children who think they’re saved because Mom or Dad said so. But the reality is that Mom or Dad can’t possibly know that! The only ones who can know for sure if your child is saved are your child and God.
Also, Biblical assurance is not based on whether or not I prayed a prayer. It’s based on God and the changes He is making in my life. That’s why 1 John is all about basic Christian living. John says, “I wrote these things so that you would know that you have eternal life.” And how do you know if you have eternal life? Well, do you confess your sins? Do you love God or do you love the world? Do you love the brethren? Do you sin habitually or do you make a practice of doing right? These are the kinds of questions that are much more effective in determining where a child is on salvation. Not just, did he pray a prayer. If your child does not love God and people and doesn’t have any desire to do right, he probably isn’t saved! And you actually do him a grave disservice when you suggest that he is, saved, despite every indication to the contrary. God does not want me to feel secure in my salvation when I’m not walking with Him. Instead, He wants me to examine myself.
If your child is a believer, he needs what we call “relational forgiveness.”
Even though all of the believer’s sins are under the blood, God still wants us to confess our sins to Him in order to restore the relationship. I won’t spend much time here because we talked about it in our lesson on discipline. But your child needs to confess his sins to God and the person he sinned against. This would also be the point at which you walk your child through the process of making restitution, if necessary. If he stole a pack of gum from the store, he needs to go back and pay for it.
Step 2: Prevent Future Sin
Repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action. That means that in addition to helping our children confess their sin, we also need to help them forsake it. Priolo says, “Unwillingness to let go [of sin] precludes God’s blessing and short circuits the process of correction. It is naïve to expect God to step aside and allow someone to prosper toward his goal until he lets go of the sin to which he is clinging.”
Confession is the right place to start, but character change is not instantaneous. It takes time and effort. So how do you teach your children to forsake their sin?
Teach them self-denial. Self-denial is a trait that is almost lost or even criticized in our society. We live in a culture in which it is expected that I should be able to have whatever I want right now. That’s why everyone is in so much credit card debt. There are two types of situations in which a child must learn to say “no” to himself: 1) when his desires are blatantly sinful (he feels like hitting his sister) and 2) when his desires are inordinate (he wants to eat 10 cookies at the church potluck). Training our children at a very young age to be obedience-oriented rather than feeling-oriented is one of the best things we can do for them.
Help them practice radical amputation (Mat 5:29-30). The point of these verses is not that you should pluck out your eye. After all, that wouldn’t totally fix the problem because you can lust in your heart. The point is that at times, it is reasonable to take radical measures in order to avoid sin. In a perfect world, we would all be able to exercise self-denial and just say “no” to the chocolate cake in the fridge. But anyone who takes his diet seriously is going to get rid of that stuff! Why? Don’t you have enough self-control just to say “no”? This kind of question came up in regards to the “Billy Graham rule” that Mike Pence follows. Do you remember when that was a big deal in the news? The answer to that question, “Don’t you have enough self-control?” is, “No. I may think that I do, but my flesh is weak. And it’s not worth risking it. So I am going to set up some boundaries.”
I had a friend named from high school who was a really good wrestler. But at Ironwood one year, he got convicted that wrestling was an idol in his life. So he decided to quit for a year. His wrestling coach didn’t like that very much. But it was good for my friend's heart.
One suggestion that Priolo gives that I thought was helpful is that you try to let teens make their own decisions when it comes to radical amputation. It’s one thing to tell a 4-year-old, “No movies for a week”; it’s another thing to tell a 17-year-old, “You have to quit wrestling.” That decision is going to be much more effective if he makes it for himself. If you do find yourself in a situation where you feel like you need to set up some very strict boundaries or remove some kind of activity for the sake of your teen’s spiritual health, just make sure to teach through that process very carefully.
Help them understand their constitutional sins. When you are convicting and correcting your children, make sure to look for both specific sins and also sin patterns. When we are disciplining our children, we ought to be specific. Don’t just say, “You’re always selfish.” Give specific examples. “You ate three cookies and didn’t leave any for your siblings,” But also, make sure you connect those specific actions back to root issues. Some people refer to the root sins that each of us tend to struggle with the most “constitutional sins.” Do you know what your constitutional sins are? For some people, it might be lust. For others, it might be greed. One person might have an alcohol problem. Another might struggle with anger. My Achilles heel tends to be pride. And of course, most people struggle with several sins like this all mixed together. What happens when we neglect constitutional sins is that we end up playing “Whack a mole” in our Christian lives, and we don’t tend to make a lot of progress. However, if we recognize and specifically target the constitutional sins, oftentimes lots of other problems will take care of themselves. For instance, if I deal with my pride, it’s going to help me not be a people-pleaser, it’s going to help me be bolder and more loving with others, it’s going to help me not to overcommit myself, it’s going to help me not be self-conscious, it’s going to help me to be lighter and happier–there are all kinds of other problems it is going to fix. If your kid struggles with anger, he probably doesn’t communicate well. And he probably gets in trouble at school for being mean on the playground. So deal with those specific infractions, but then also help your child identify the root sins that you need to target the most.
What’s the difference between training and teaching? Priolo says the following:
It has been said that essence of teaching is causing another to know. It may similarly be said that the essence of training is causing another to do. Teaching gives knowledge. Training gives skill. Teaching fills the mind. Training shapes the habits. Teaching brings to the child that which he did not have before. Training enables a child to make use of that which is already his possession. We teach a child the meaning of words. We train a child in speaking and walking. We teach him the truths which we have learned for ourselves. We train him in habits of study, that he may be able to learn other truths for himself. Training and teaching must go together in the wise upbringing of any and every child. The one will fail of its own best end if it be not accompaned by the other.
Now, what are we training our kids for? (righteousness) We are helping them to develop habits and form godly character. I found this illustration by Priolo especially helpful.
The Gumnazo Principle [has to do with training] can be illustrated by the example of a blacksmith who is training an apprentice. Apprenticeships are not as popular today as they were during the early days of our nation when Benjamin Franklin, for example, served as an apprentice under his older brother. Then it was not uncommon for the apprentice to live with, be provided for, and be subject to the master craftsman. An apprenticeship was a thorough, intense training that usually lasted for seven years. Basically, it was training by practice, practice, and more practice, until the apprentice got it right. The master craftsman would first explain and demonstrate the equipment. Then he would likely allow the apprentice to observe him going through the entire process of making a horseshoe, from lighting the billows to shoeing the horse's hoof with the finished product, explaining each procedure in great detail. After a number of observations, the masterful craftsman would allow the apprentice to help with some of the procedure. Instructing him, the master would allow the apprentice to try the procedure. He would correct him on the spot should he make a mistake and require him to do it again until he got it right. The master may have stood behind his apprentice, holding or gripping his hands over the hands of the apprentice as they would hold the iron in the fire until it had just the right glow of red. Then, hand in hand, the master craftsman and the apprentice would quickly bring the iron to the anvil, and, and in hand, the master would demonstrate to the apprentice just where to hammer the iron and just how hard to strike it. Then he would put it back into the fire and so on until the horseshoe was complete. After a few exercises of this hands-on training, the master would be ready to allow the apprentice to try the procedure by himself. Still standing behind his student, he would observe the apprentice's work, noticing every detail of workmanship. Then as soon as a mistake was made, immediately he would say, "No, this way." Again, grasping the hand of the apprentice, he would show him precisely how to correct his mistake....
Imagine what it would have been like if the master craftsman had simply explained the procedure one time and when the apprentice made his first mistake, the master said, "Wrong!" No dinner for you tonight. You'd better improve tomorrow."
"That would be cruel, unmerciful, and a violation of education," you say.
Yet that is the way many Christian parents "discipline" their children.
Training has a lot to do with forming godly habits. Habit can powerful forces for good or evil, can’t they (2 Peter 2:14)? The false teachers in view have hearts that have been trained for greed. Greed becomes a reflex with them. They don’t even think about it anymore. What are some bad habits that your children have–things that they do without even thinking about it? What are some good habits that they could replace those with?
Habits are powerful because life is complicated. Think of the game of basketball, for example. First, you learn to dribble. And when you dribble, all you’re thinking about is dribbling. Then, you learn to shoot. That takes a lot of muscle coordination, too. Then you learn to pass. Then you learn to shoot a layup. Then you learn about offenses and about setting a screen off the ball and about what a pick and roll is, etc. At some point, if you still have to concentrate on dribbling like you did when you started, you’re toast! No, in order to get good at basketball, many of those skills have to become habits. So you don’t have to think about how to do the mechanics of a layup. You just see an opening, drive to the hoop, and lay the ball in it. The same applies to the Christian life. There are certain disciplines that you want to become habitual.
What are some positive habits that we want to teach our children? Here are some ideas.
- Church attendance
- Regular Bible reading and prayer
- Hard work
How do you help your children develop these habits? Well, you discipline bad behavior (that’s where the lesson from two weeks ago on spanking comes in), but then you teach them how to do it right and cheer them on when they do so. You help them do it right over and over again until the new habit is learned.
I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to teach it and I’ve learned a lot. I hope you have, too. And more importantly, I hope that you implement what you have learned. If you want to go back and review, the notes will be up on the website except the lesson on discipline. I decided not to put that one up, but if you email me, I will send you the notes. God bless.
More in Parenting
May 13, 2018Lesson 6: Communication, Part 1
April 29, 2018Lesson 4: Authority
April 22, 2018Lesson 3: Shaping Influences and Godward Orientation