The Bible Speaks of Children in Two Categories
This isn’t news to many of us, but the most important things to remember are the easiest things to forget.
Failing to view our children as natural-born sinners leads to some of the dumbest approaches to parenting you’ve ever heard. And if we’re honest, we’re all guilty of them on occasion. We often think that if we let our kids do that or don’t let our kids do this, we’ll ruin them. The truth is that kids come into the world already “lost and ruined by the fall.”
How we view our children determines how we disciple our children.
2. Children come into the world as gifts and image-bearers.
Psalm 127:3 invites us to treasure children as a gift. Children don’t seem like a treasure when their soiled diaper gives us whiplash or when they try to flush Dora down the toilet. But never forget that children are a gift from God.
Genesis 1:27 reminds us that children are created in God’s image. Regardless of age, handicap, or ethnicity, all human life is intrinsically valuable because it’s made in God’s image. Depraved beings are still infinitely valuable beings. To quote the great theologian Dr. Seuss, “A person’s a person no matter how small!” To quote C. S. Lewis, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”
Parents must view their children as gifts from God made in his image.
Two Applications of These Two Categories
Think of how these categories should be worked out in your home. Here are two examples from ours.
1. Random Moments
“Guess what, Katherine?”
“Did you know you’re special to mom and dad? Do you know why? Because God gave you to mommy and daddy as a gift to care for and love! Do you know why else you are special?”
“Because you are made in God’s image and that makes you very valuable.”
In this way, we’re trying to teach our kids to locate their significance outside of themselves, in the God who made them and sent his Son to take away sins.
2. Teachable Moments
“Carson, do you know why you were fussing in the store?”
“Did you think you needed that toy to make you happy?”
“Guess what the Bible calls that, buddy?”
“The Bible calls that covetousness. Covetousness is when we love something more than God. When you were fussing in the store, you were saying that you needed that toy more than God. And you know why you said that?”
“Because you have a sinful heart that loves things more than God. We need to call out to God and ask him to have mercy on your sinful heart.”
In this we way, we want to show them the horror of their sinful condition and the hope and mercy of the all-satisfying God.
The Danger of Ignoring These Two Categories
In ignoring such biblical categories, we veer off into things like:
- moralistic behaviorism (do the right things);
- Christianized determinism (give them the right things—friends, music, places, catechism, education, etc.); or
- grace-based libertarianism (let them do anything).
The problem with all of these is that none has much need for a bloody cross or an empty tomb.
Ignorance of the biblical categories also leads to two other dangerous areas.
1. Psychological Parenting
It’s popular to encourage parents to discern their child’s inner needs. The way one person puts it is that children have driving needs for things like security, significance, and strength.
The problem with such approaches is that they don’t take the problem seriously enough. Even given such psychological needs, every such desire is twisted as a result of the fall. The need for security will be selfishly pursued, the need for significance will be arrogantly demanded, and the need for strength will be sinfully abused.
2. Crisis-Point Parenting
In this approach parents try to get kids to make significant milestone-decisions.
- Get Them Saved
This is certainly our hope as parents. The problem is that we can’t guarantee the conversion of our children. Salvation occurs through God-ordained means, but it’s still a sovereign work of God.
Even childhood professions of faith need to be tested and evaluated over time, just like with any adult. We should encourage our children to trust Jesus and turn from sin. But only time will tell if a child is truly converted, and that means that our job doesn’t end with a profession of faith.
- Get Them Surrendered
Recognizing that the task doesn’t end with a profession of faith, parents hope the youth group will take them to camp where they will say “No!” to sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, and “Yes!” to full-time Christian service.
The real danger with both approaches is that they treat the cross like the yearly flu shot. So long as you’ve had your gospel flu shot (prayed the prayer and been to camp), you really don’t need the gospel all that much.
Remember: How we view our children determines how we disciple our children.
Whether or not your children ever profess Christ, whether or not they ever get better grades than Theo, our kids always need the same message: the hope of the gospel. That is their greatest need. And that’s what we’ll address in the next article.
Click here and listen to Brad’s full message on intentional parenting.