This article is part of an effort to support our One Million Bibles Initiative, which is focused on providing Bibles to parents, children, and families in need throughout the Global South.
If I were to ask you what is the best, most practical, most helpful parenting passage in all the Bible, what would you answer? Most biblically literate Christian parents would answer, “Ephesians 6:1–4.” That is a wonderfully helpful passage, but I want to take you to one that is even more fundamental. I think my choice will surprise you. And I think I know why.
You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but I will: Your Bible is not arranged by topic. I know that frustrates some of you. You kind of wish it were arranged by topic, with little tabs on the end of the page that would direct you to your topic of need or interest. Well, the Bible isn’t arranged that way. It’s not arranged as it is because God made a massive editorial error. The Bible is arranged the way it’s arranged because of wise divine intention. Your Bible is essentially a grand redemptive story. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that your Bible is a carefully theologically annotated story. It’s a redemptive story with God’s essential explanatory notes. This means you can’t approach your Bible topically and get the best that it has to offer you, because the Bible wasn’t designed to operate that way. For example, if all you do to understand parenting is go to the passages that have that word in them or seem to address that topic, you will miss the majority of the information the Bible has for you as a parent. Rather, your Bible works this way: to the degree that every passage tells you something about God, something about yourself, something about the disaster of sin, something about life in this fallen world, something about what God has called you to, and something about the operation of grace, to that degree every passage tells you about every area of your life. That’s how your Bible works.
So I want to take you to a passage that almost is never mentioned in the context of parenting, but has in it everything you need to know and understand in order to experience the rest and courage of heart that fuels good, godly, perseverant parenting.
I want to take you to one of the final, and surely the best known, of Jesus’s commands to his disciples. This passage is popularly known as the Great Commission, and because of that has been most often applied to the formal evangelistic mission of the church. But I am deeply persuaded that its call is much wider than that and because it is, it offers real hope and help to every Christian parent. It captures with clarity what God has called you to and what he has promised you as you take on this hugely important and life-long task. As we near the end of this book, I thought it would be helpful to consider its implications and encouragements.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18–20)
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A Christian Parent’s Call
I cannot think of any directive from the mouth of Jesus that is a more appropriate call to every Christian parent than this one. If someone were to ask you what the ultimate job of a parent is, what would you answer? Well, the answer is here. Your job is to do everything within your power, as an instrument in the hands of the Redeemer who has employed you, to woo, encourage, call, and train your children to willingly and joyfully live as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is more important than how they do in school, or how positively they contribute to the reputation of your family, or how well they set themselves up for a future career, or how well they do in sports and the arts, or how well they are liked by adults and peers.
These things aren’t unimportant, but we must not let them rise to the importance of this one thing. Your children must come to learn early that their lives don’t belong to them. They must understand early that they have been given life and breath for the purpose of serving the glory of another. They must learn that they do not have the right to follow their own rules or write their own laws. They must surrender to the fact that their lives are meant to be shaped, not by what they want, but by what God has chosen. They need to know early that they are worshipers whose capacity to worship is meant to be owned by the One who created them with this capacity.
Here’s the core mission of parents: to raise up children who approach everything in their lives as the disciples of Jesus. Now, let’s be honest here; this way of living is not natural for anyone. It’s natural for our children (and us) to live as if they are the owners of their own lives. So they don’t just need to learn that this is not true, but they need to admit their need of the grace of divine rescue, forgiveness, and empowerment. If you are going to raise willing disciples of Jesus, you need to patiently communicate the story of his amazing grace to your children again and again. You see, God’s law has no power to turn your children into disciples, but his grace does. Are you working to be used of God to make disciples of your children?
Here’s the core mission of parents: to raise up children who approach everything in their lives as the disciples of Jesus.
This leads us to the second part of the call of Jesus. As a parent you are called to teach your children to observe everything that Jesus has commanded. It is awesome to think that God’s will extends to every single area of your children’s lives. He has a plan for their thoughts, their desires, their choices, their words, their decisions, their relationships, what they do with their bodies, what they do with their money, what they do with their worship, how they invest their time, how they conduct themselves in relationships, how they relate to authority, their relationship to the church, the way they steward their physical possessions, and what they allow to occupy their minds and capture their hearts.
Our children must learn to look at life through the lens of the will and plan of their Creator. What we are talking about is helping them to develop a comprehensive biblical worldview that is a way of looking at life that is distinctively God-centered and biblically driven. Not only is this not natural, but it is also important to remember that your children will be bombarded by the seductive and attractive voices of many other competing worldviews. They will be hit again and again with other ways of thinking about who they are and the purpose of life. They will be challenged by those who don’t believe in God and who will tend to mock the faith of those who do.
A Deeper Goal
It’s not enough to tell your children what to do and what not to do. This passage calls every parent to a deeper goal. You must teach your children how to think about everything in a way that is pointedly God-centered. Now, if our children are ever going to think about themselves and life this way, they need to be willing to submit to the wisdom of someone greater. Let’s again admit that this is not only not natural for our children, it’s not natural for us. It’s natural for our children to think that they are right and that they know what’s best. It’s natural for our children to resist recognizing and surrendering to a greater wisdom.
So once more, we are confronted with the fact that as parents, we have no power to turn our children into the thinking and living disciples of Jesus Christ. They will become his disciples only as they are rescued by his grace. As parents, we are called every day to faithfully participate in what is impossible for us to produce. And if sadly we fall into thinking that we have the power to produce it, we will invariably end up doing bad things. This is precisely where the promises of this passage are so encouraging. Perhaps you’re thinking, “How can I get up every morning to do what is impossible to do and not end up exhausted and discouraged?” The rest of the passage answers that question.
Our passage makes it very clear that Jesus would not ever call you to this huge parenting task without also blessing you with his mind-blowing promises as well. If you understand and embrace his promises, then you can give yourself to participate in what is impossible for you to produce and not have discouraging or even paralyzing anxiety in your heart. In fact, good, loving, faithful, grace-driven parents only ever grow in the soil of a heart at rest. Jesus’s promises are not so much promises, but reminders of the unshakable identity of every one of his children. The two promises here are meant to remind you of what the great heavenly Father has become for you by grace. These promises define for you not only who God is, but who you are as his child.
You see, your rest as a parent will never be found in the success of what you are doing or the success of what your children are doing, because there will always be some degree of struggle, weakness, and failure there. No, rest in found in the One who sent you and in what he wills always to do for each of the ones he sends to represent him.
This article is adapted from Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David Tripp.
Paul David Tripp draws six agenda-setting observations from Psalm 51 for our work as a parents.
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