This post by Daniel Darling, over at the Gospel Coalition, is well-written and is a helpful reminder that our efforts as parents mean nothing without the work of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit’s work is not something we can control.
Daniel shares the story of his daughter’s third and fourth year of life and how she moved from being a compliant little girl to a defiant little terror. People’s opinions of their parenting shifted as they saw her behavior become increasingly sinful. Their congregation seemed to believe, based on passages like Proverbs 22:6, that if your children don’t turn out right, you must have really screwed up as a parent and deviated from God’s plan of discipline and instruction in the gospel…But as we’ve discussed on this blog before, this way of thinking is twisting a proverb and making it into an absolute promise–something it was never intended to be….
Listen to Darling’s thoughts as he urges us to reconsider this misunderstanding of biblical parenting…
If Proverbs 22:6 were a promise (and by extension) a command, you have serious theological problems. God often referred to himself as the “parent” of the nation of Israel (Ex. 4:22-23; Jer. 3:19). And yet, you don’t have to be a Bible scholar to observe that Israel was a most rebellious child. Was God, therefore, a bad parent? Was Jesus a bad “parent” because Judas, one of his disciples, rejected him?
This illustrates the folly of such a formula-driven application of Proverbs 22:6. It reduces the Scriptures to a sanctified formula, a more spiritual-sounding version of Dr. Phil. This man-centeredness eliminates the only agent for human change: the Holy Spirit.
We can discipline our children whenever they do wrong and remind them of their need for Christ; we can have them memorize hundreds of Bible verses; we can teach them hundreds of catechism questions; we can read the Bible with them every day; we can pray constantly with them; we can model repentance and faith; we can sometimes even get them to outwardly conform to our rules and to submit to the authorities in their life…But we can NOT give them spiritual life. The Holy Spirit is the only one who can take our efforts and soften the hearts of our children….
As Darling continues, he writes that “recognition of the Holy Spirit’s pre-eminent role in changing hearts reshapes our parenting priorities.” This is spot on…..Our hope for our children should not be in increasing our efforts at discipline or instruction (though many of us would serve our children well by doing so). Our hope should be in the Holy Spirit’s intervention and giving of new life….
How often do we pray for our child’s salvation? We’d be wise to frequent the throne of grace, begging the only One who can, to come and do His work in our children…
Father, please send your Spirit to the children of CCC, softening their hearts, giving them a love for your Son and a desire to live their lives in obedience to You.