Why Every Parent Should Embrace Their Inability

Recognize Powerlessness

If you are going to be what God has designed you to be as a parent and do what he’s called you to do, you must confess one essential thing. This confession has the power to change much about the way you act and react toward your children.

It is vital that you believe and admit that you have no power whatsoever to change your child.

If any human being possessed the power to create lasting change in any other human being, Jesus would not have had to come! The incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus stand as clear historical evidence that human power for change does not exist. The reason God went to such an extreme and elaborate extent in controlling the events of history so that at just the right time his Son would come and do for us what we could not do ourselves, is because there was no other way.

Bring in a Third Party

Parenting is not about exercising power for change in your children. Parenting is about your humble faithfulness in being willing to participate in God’s work of change for the sake of your children. Parents, here’s what you need to understand: God has given you authority for the work of change, but has not granted you the power to make that change happen.

But we buy into the delusion of thinking again and again that that power is ours. We think that if we speak just a little bit louder, or stand a little bit closer, or make the threat a little bit scarier, or the punishment a little more severe, then our children will change. And because the change doesn’t happen, we tend to bring it on even stronger.

Oh, sure, you can scare or reward your children into temporary change. You can temporarily buy them off or scare them off. You can exercise temporary control over a child’s behavior, but what needs to change in order for that change to last and bear fruit is something inside the child.

Inside change always precedes lasting outside change.

Let me say it this way: the behavior of your children is symptomatic of what is going on inside your children. Inside change always precedes lasting outside change. In parenting, what you are dealing with is way deeper than the need for behavioral change. What you’re always dealing with is the need for heart change, and we simply have no power at all to change another person’s heart.

The Origin of Demands, Aggression, and Threats

Now here’s the point: if as a parent you think that you have power that you don’t have, you will do things that you should not do and you will fail to do things that are vital to do. When you think your job is to change your child and you’ve been given the power to do it, your parenting will tend to be demanding, aggressive, threatening, and focused on rules and punishments.

In this kind of parenting you are working to make your children into something rather than working to help them to see something and seek something. In this form of parenting, it is all about you and your children, rather than you being an agent of what only God can do in your children. Your hope is that you will exercise the right power, at the right time, and in the right way so change in your children will result. That process is profoundly different than working to be a useful tool in the hands of a God of glorious transforming grace, who alone is your hope and the hope of your children.

The Bottom Line for Every Parent

Here’s the bottom line for every parent: the change that has to happen in each of your children, you can’t create. In fact, nowhere in his Word has God tasked you with the responsibility to create it. Good parenting is about becoming okay with the fact that you are powerless to change your child. In fact, good parenting is about celebrating the fact that God has never and will never put the burden of change on you.

Because changing your children is a burden that we could never bear, God bore that burden for us by sending his Son to be the author of lasting personal change. The burden that caused his death liberates us parents and gives new life to our children. Now that’s good news! So our job is simple; it’s not to create change, but to be humble and willing instruments of change in the hands of the one and only author of change.

This means that you and I have to be willing to let go of those old, human-power parenting habits. We have to stop with the loud voices, the escalating threats, the subtle name calling, words of condemnation, ever-worsening punishments, telling our children how much more righteous we are than they, the silent treatment, and withholding affection when they’ve upset us.


Paul David Tripp

This book sets forth fourteen practical and gospel-centered principles that help parents view their role through the lens of God’s grace, radically changing how they interact with their children.

Don’t get me wrong here. Your children do need you to exercise authority, but not as the creator of change. They need you to exercise authority as the representative of the author of all lasting change. This means that you quit trying to exercise whatever power is available to you to get your children to change and begin to think as a representative. Representing the God who gives us grace for change means looking for daily opportunities to communicate that grace, helping our children to see how they need that grace, and modeling that grace in the way that we speak and act toward our children.

Be the Agent, not Author, of Change

Now in case you’re wondering, I’m not talking about forsaking your authority as a parent. I’m not talking about letting your children do whatever they want to do. I’m not talking about parenting that has no correction or discipline. I’m not talking about ignoring the wrong things that your children do or ever calling wrong right.

What I’m talking about is the exercise of parenting authority that submits to the essential power of transforming grace. This kind of authority abandons hope in human power and gladly places its hope in the awesome power of God. His power alone is the hope of every parent and every child whether they know it or not.

You don’t get up every morning and shoulder again the burden of your children’s change; rather, you get up and surrender everything that you will do and say that day to the God of change who has sent you to be his representative.

This is article is adapted from Parenting: The 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David Tripp.

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