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.
Foundations of Gospel Parenting
Parenting is among the most challenging tasks in the world, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the weight of responsibility. In hopes of encouraging parents or parents-to-be, I want to write a series of articles on Gospel Parenting beginning with the Foundations for Gospel Parenting.
1. Keeping eternity in mind: Christian parenting is a high calling, not of primarily preparing our children for this life but the life to come. Therefore, the goal of Christian parenting is to prepare our children for eternity. And the stakes are high because eternal judgment is a real danger of preparing our children only for this life.
2. Grace-required: The only hope for our children is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, our children don’t need a better earthly life than dad and mom have had. They don’t need simple morality, which can be just as damning as outright sin. Our children need moral perfection, even as God says, “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev.11:44). The problem is that children cannot make themselves holy, and parents cannot make their children holy. Therefore, our children need new life that only the gospel can bring. So at this point, we all need a reality check—parenting is not easy, in fact it is humanly impossible because of sin.
Channels of Grace
1. Gospel power: The first means of grace in parenting is the gospel itself. The word gospel means “good news,” and it is that. It is the best news on the planet. But to have good news means there must be an opposite. The opposite is the bad news that we have rebelled against our King who created us and who demands punishment for our sin. Sin is no laughing matter, whether done by an adult or by a child. Because we cannot atone for our own sin, God sent Jesus to live the life that we could not live and die the death that we deserve, and every person that turns from self-reliance to Christ-reliance receives the gift of eternal life.
2. Godly marriages: A second means of grace in parenting is found in Ephesians 5:27-33, where God instructs wives to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord and for husbands to love their wives even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Our marriages will either be a living and walking example of the gospel, pointing our children to the cross, or our marriages will be a living and walking example of selfishness, leading our children away from the cross. The foundation of gospel-centered parenting is gospel-centered marriages.
3. Father-focused homes: A third means of grace in parenting is the establishment of the father as the head of the household. Whether we like it or not, our God is a patriarchal God. God is Father to us. In the same way, God has determined that the family be led by the father. The trend in America, however, is just the opposite. We place excessive emphasis on the mother in our homes, or even worse the children. The statistics that reveal this as a problem are overwhelming.
When it comes to spiritual leadership in the home, men sin in one of two ways: domination or abdication. Most people scoff at the biblical teaching of the wife submitting to her husband as a license for the husband to dominate his wife, often in a mental and physical way, but this is the furthest thing from the truth. The Bible’s teaching is actually very liberating for women. Further, domination of women among genuine Christian men is very rare.
The greater temptation is that of abdication of male leadership in the home, characterized as a husband’s direct or indirect refusal of leadership. For the best parenting results, the husband must take responsibility for his God-ordained role as head of the home. This leaves no room for pride or feelings of superiority. Rather, husbands should approach this task with fear, trembling, humility and love.
4. Loving discipline: A fourth means of grace is loving discipline. This is the most familiar tool of parenting for most of us. When we think of raising children in the ways of God, we think of discipline, especially spankings. Many Christians administer spankings, but many of those who do must confess that that they do not always administer them in a biblical way (something we’ll examine in a future article).
5. Scripture and prayer: If the previous four means of grace are going to advance our parenting, then they must be saturated with two final gifts from God, Scripture and prayer. Without divine guidance as found in God’s Word through fervent prayer, parents can have no assurance that their children will grow up to love God as their Sovereign Lord. It is through Scripture and prayer that the Holy Spirit opens eyes and ears to the gospel.
Soli Deo Gloria,