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.
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.”
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,
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