Today my two boys got into a little sibling rivalry. After the crying, arguing, accusations of guilt, and vehement assertions of innocence I began my fatherly duty trying to broker peace in my house.
As parents, we shouldn’t just dole out discipline and leave it at that. There must be time for sorting out the spiritual details of the fracas. This wasn’t just having my boys tell each other they are sorry and ask for each other’s forgiveness (that is what I used to do).
Instead I had to clear the rubble away from the spiritual foundation so that my sons could build on it (1 Cor. 3:10). My boys know the gospel, but don’t yet comprehend the importance of living it out daily. The gospel is more of a concept to them, the big picture of salvation as a ticket to heaven, but it has not become a daily reality to them as sinners guilty of treason before God in continual need of grace, forgiveness, and redemptive sanctification.
Jesus Christ—The Foundation
Christ and His Word are the foundation on which my sons are to build their lives. But they will build on the foundation according to what I tell them about the gospel. In other words, if I do not grasp the significance of the foundation, then I will teach them to build incorrectly, which will cause their lives to have disastrous results due to a faulty foundation (Mt. 7:21-27).
Blueprint: The Gospel for Effective Parenting
To build a structure you need a blueprint to guide you if you want lasting results. Before you start building you have to be able to read or understand the plans. Otherwise you will labor in vain. This is where understanding the gospel is vitally important.
When I ask people to describe the gospel they typically quote John 3:16. This verse is not the complete view of the gospel. The message according to this verse emphasizes Jesus and the Father’s love for us, but in it there’s no indication that we have sinned against God.
As sinners we despise God’s authority over us (Ps. 2:1-3). If I were to tell my boys to treat each other with loving kindness because Jesus loves them and gave Himself up for them, that would not be a sufficient motivation for them to change because they wouldn’t see their hateful actions as rebellion against Christ their professed King. They need to connect the dots of their own sinfulness toward each other as a choice to dishonor and disobey their Creator (1 Jn. 4:21). They must grasp the significance of their own sinfulness in light of God’s law to be holy (Rom. 7:7-10), to love their God and their neighbor (Mt. 22:37-40). This produces true conviction in their consciences with a desire to repent (Rom. 7:24) and change (Rom. 12:1-2).
Danger: Bewitching Ahead (Gal. 3:1)
We must also remember the gospel as a reality in our own lives, and not just treat it as a concept. To forget about the gospel means we act as if we have arrived as a Christian, indicating the gospel has become more conceptual than real. When this happens we begin to affirm what Paul talks about inGalatians 2:18-19, relying on the flesh to justify or sanctify ourselves before Christ.
Then as parents we teach our kids to follow the law rather than the Savior. For example, to make my boys admit they sinned, to ask for one another’s forgiveness, to shake hands and instruct them to act like Christian young men is so much easier (it’s the law!) than to point them back to the gospel that saves and sanctifies (Gal. 3:2-3). When I follow the law I can get back to a fake peace quickly (really it is a truce masquerading as peace). What makes the law so bewitching is that we can do it outwardly, giving a false sense of success and pleasing God. This is dangerous for my sons—they could become little hypocrites (Mt. 15:7-9).
A false sense of assurance (Mt. 25:31-32, 41-46) and self-righteousness comes when we only teach them to put off the old man (arguing and fighting because you can’t get what you want) and to put on the new man (in order to make ME as the parent happy by all of us pretending to love and honor Christ). The Pharisees kept the law perfectly! Rather, true and lasting change must begin with the renewing of our minds (we are all guilty sinners who are justified by grace through faith and who must now grow in sanctification for the rest of our lives here on earth). This is the basis for living out the gospel daily. This is what is real (Eph. 4:1-3, 2 Pet. 3:18)!
Self-Diagnostics (Gal. 6:3-4a)
What is needed for my boys is to rewind past the fracas and onto the gospel. The gospel reveals their and my need to live according to the reality of the gospel, that we are sinners who struggle daily against the flesh, and who are growing in the Spirit as imitators of Christ. Just rewinding back to their fight will most likely conjure up angry feelings toward the other and encourage justifying themselves by asserting their own innocence. This likely leads to faking peace. To remind them of the gospel and the profession they made to trust Christ for salvation and their commitment to allow the Spirit to transform them into Christlikeness requires that they examine themselves (both their beliefs and actions). This is my objective as their father (Eph. 6:4). They know the gospel and what God requires of them. If they repent, good. Then we work on how to change. If they protest or feign repentance, then more instruction and discipline is needed. We work until there is true peace, both before God and with one another.
We must trust that God will bring about the conversion and transformation of our children and loved ones. But they will miss it if we preach to them a different gospel, one of law-keeping. It is the work of the gospel of Christ Jesus that will lead them into the truth that will make a lasting change in them. Keep your hand to the plow, teaching and admonishing, and don’t look back. This is the reality of the gospel.