Gospel Parenting, Part 2 (by Jeremy Vanatta)

Jeremy Vanatta is the pastor and an elder of Southside Baptist Church in Lebanon, TN.  He holds a PhD in New Testament from Mid-America BTS.  He blogs at The Threshing Floor, where this article originally appeared.


Beyond Behavior:  Dealing with the Heart

If the previous article, Foundations for Gospel Parenting, were not clear enough, this article intends to convince us further that parenting is impossible without the grace of God.  In parenting, we are not dealing with a dog or some other animal that can be trained through behavior modification or some other psychoanalytic method.  We are dealing with human hearts.

Corrupt Hearts
Every human being has a serious problem called sin.  Drawn from Scripture, Christians have referred to this as the doctrine of original sin, which says that all of humanity is born with the inherited sin-nature of Adam (Rom.5:12; 1 Cor. 15:22) that leaves us dead in our “trespasses and sins” (Eph.2:1; cf. Col.2:13).  This is the bad news that makes the good news so good.

Romans 5:12—“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

1 Corinthians 15:22—“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Ephesians 2:1-2a—“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked. . .”

Therefore, every child is born with a sin-nature (Ps. 51:5; 58:3), with sinful foolishness “bound up in” his heart (Pro. 22:15).  We know they are born this way because we see the evidence from the earliest days.  No one has to teach a baby to arch his back on the changing table or to bite others out of selfish anger.  While we can learn how to sin in more horrendous ways from others, we do not need others to teach us how to sin.  One of the earliest examples in the Bible is Cain’s murder of Abel (Gen. 4:8).  Who taught Cain to murder?  No one.  He learned it from his own sinful heart.

In the same way, every “fit” that our child throws is really the rebel cry of the sinner saying, “I want what I want right now!”  Sometimes we convince ourselves that it is only the “strong-willed” child that needs our greatest prayers and correction.  The fact is every child is strong-willed, some are just more obvious about it.  Every child has the same sin-nature.

Psalm 51:5—“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

Psalm 58:3-4—“The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.  4 They have venom like the venom of a serpent.”

Proverbs 22:15—“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.”

But lest we forget, we parents were born with that same sin-nature, and even after salvation, we still struggle with our sinful flesh (Rom. 7:13-25).  So we are not simply dealing with the sinful hearts of our children, but we are dealing with our own hearts too.  The only help we have is the new birth that only the gospel of Christ can bring.

Romans 7:18—“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

New Birth
Therefore, Christian parenting is not mainly about parents changing a child’s behavior but about God changing hearts, both the child’s and the parents’.  Our hearts need new birth, the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (Eze.36:22-32; Jn.3:1-8).

Ezekiel 36:25-27—“ ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rule.’ ”

One of the greatest dangers of parenting is to assume that your child is saved.  But we should never presume upon God, and we should never assume that because a child has “made a profession of faith” or that our child attends Sunday School and church that he is converted.

On the contrary, parents should preach the gospel continually to their children and be fruit inspectors looking for evidence of conversion.  Salvation is known by its fruit, not simply a decision that was made in the past.  Parents should watch for the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23 that will be produced in every believer.

Galatians 5:22-23—“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.”

But be careful of two things when inspecting children’s spiritual fruit:

1)  Do not confuse fruit for faith.   We are not saved by the fruit of the Spirit.  We are saved by faith in Christ alone.

2)  Do not expect a bumper-crop from young fruit trees.  The fruit of the Spirit is a progressive process for all believers that is life-long.  This process is called sanctification.

May the Lord grant us the grace required for dealing with corrupt hearts in our parenting.

Sola Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

____________________Posts in the Gospel Parenting series:

1.  Foundations of Gospel Parenting


  1. Dave Miller says

    I’m going set some parameters for discussion here. Let us discuss the POST (novel concept, eh?) and not the extraneous things that got raised on the previous post in this series.

    We already discussed whether the term “gospel parenting” was appropriate, and opinions were expressed. That need not be repeated here.

    If you wish to discuss other views that Jeremy holds, do so on other posts or at his blog. But here, we are going to discuss the topic of the post.

    Thanks to all.

    • Christiane says

      Matthew 18:10

      “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.
      For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of My Father in heaven.”

  2. Dave Miller says

    Your view of human nature comes out in how you raise kids.

    I appreciate Jeremy’s emphasis on seeing children’s spiritual needs and raising them in the light of that.

  3. volfan007 says

    Dave and Jeremy,

    If you’ll permit me, I’d like to put a hot link, here, of me preaching last Sunday morning. I’m preaching out of Romans 5, as I’m preaching thru the book of Romans. I realize that many in here have never heard me preach before, and some barely know me. I thought that some people, who have discussed things wth me for years on blogs, might be interested in this.

    So, Dave, if it’s okay….here’s the hot link.



  4. Doug Hibbard says

    I like your two numbered points at the end. We planted fruit trees in the yard here, and there’s no real crop yet. There are signs of hope for a crop.

    The one tree that set fruit early? It’s now dead. Had no roots.

    The tree that got the prettiest last year? No actual fruit, though it flowered and made quite a show.

    There’s some good things to think through from that. On parenting, I think one parallel lesson to learn is this: trees grow in root and fruit through fertilization and care, with small amounts of pruning. In applying that to parenting, I’d connect fertilization and care to the positive things we do as parents: teach and model the faith, connect our children to others who will help them grow. Pruning are those moments when we must respond to behavior that must be stopped–which must be done specifically and properly tailored to the situation.

    And it’s no substitute for growing the tree in the right direction in the first place.

    • Dwight McKissic says


      How can u get your ???? sign to work, and if mine work, this will be the first time. It usually appears as a series of question marks. Let’s see. I am getting ready to hit the submit button.

      • Doug Hibbard says

        Bro. Dwight–

        Since it came out as a question mark, I don’t even know what sign you’re after!

        Maybe the interface dislikes Texans?