Parents are often asked what they would like to leave their children. The answers often include the children having a better life than their parents. Unfortunately though, the focus behind that statement is geared more toward what their children have physically. Too many times, parenting efforts are too focused on the earthly pursuits of our children. Mothers and fathers will spend many hours a week working feverishly on secular academics, athletics, and other pursuits. While there is nothing that is wrong with parents pushing their children in these pursuits, we need to be sure that those efforts are not done at the expense of spiritual pursuits. First and foremost in the minds of Christian parents should be a desire for their children to succeed spiritually in this life.
I have been blessed in the last month to baptize both of my children into Christ. I told my son yesterday as we were driving home that I did not care what he did as a profession in his life as long as he remained a faithful Christian. Whether he is President or a ditch-digger does not matter in the eternal scheme of things. Only his being a faithful Christian matters. I told him that my greatest desire for him was that some day we would be in Heaven together for all eternity with Jesus Christ.
As we think about what we are going to leave our children, I want us to consider basic attitudes that our children need in their lives in order to be lead to true and lasting faith. We as Christian parents need to work and plan to instill these foundational attitudes within our children.
The first foundational attitude is a respect for authority. At the heart of Christianity is a respect and honor for the sovereign authority of God as creator and ruler of the universe. Our society has failed for decades to teach respect for parents, elders, and government. Beginning in the 1960s, television has fed our children a steady diet of programming that shows adults and parents as idiots who do nothing worthy of respect. Parents have also failed through a lack of discipline and a failure to be authority figures in their children’s lives. As a result, generations have grown up with little to no respect for authority.
Christians must understand that respect for authority begins at home with the parent-child relationship. Parents should be the first authority that children know in their lives. It should be a loving authority, yet an authority that must be yielded to by the child. Such authority is what we see from God. God’s authority is absolute, yet it is exercised in love and a desire for us to reach the full potential for which we were placed upon this earth.
One expression of authority is discipline. Romans 13:1-4 states that Christians should subject themselves to government. Paul then explains two reasons why we should do this. First, government is given its authority from God (vs. 1). Second, government bears the sword of discipline (vs. 4). Since the 1960s, Dr. Spock and a plethora of useless parenting books and philosophies have led to the discipline of children becoming more and more a thing of the past. We can now see the fruits of this neglect in a generation that does not believe that they should be punished for anything because they have no respect for authority or law. They view themselves as victims if they are punished because they should be able to do whatever they want. The belief that I can do whatever I want is a belief born from a lack of subjection to authority.
When a person understands and respects higher authority, they know that they cannot do whatever they want; instead they must adhere to the higher authority and its will for them. Parents instill this in their children at a young age through discipline and continue to build and expand it throughout their children’s lives. Hebrews 12:4-11 illustrates that to be godly parents we must discipline our children. Verse 11 states that a child will not like the discipline at the time, but it will bear the fruit of peace and righteousness in the future. It is able to lead them to righteousness because it will teach them respect for authority (vs. 9), which will lead them to respect the ultimate authority that is from God.
The second foundational attitude is taking responsibility for our actions. Having worked with parents through youth groups and driving a school bus, I have found that the biggest enablers of bad behavior in children are often their parents. Parents, in an effort to not be embarrassed by their children’s actions, will deny that their children would do such things. As a result, the child sees this and learns that they do not have to be responsible for the things they do because Mom and Dad do not show such responsibility. When I was about six years old, I said something in Bible class that was not true. That afternoon my parents took me to the home of my Bible class teacher and made me apologize. I am certain that it was embarrassing for my father, who was the preacher, that his son had told a lie. It was more important though, that I learned to take responsibility for what I did and that I corrected it. I will not defend my children when they are wrong because I want my children to do right.
Taking responsibility in life is core to Christianity. We must confess our sins if we are to receive forgiveness. Confession is taking responsibility for what we have done. If I am unable to admit my wrong, I cannot be forgiven of it and I will have a very difficult time changing that behavior in my life. Too many people today blame everyone but themselves for their sinful behavior. Such people do not change because they believe that their sins are someone else’s fault, and therefore, those people are the ones who need to change. Such blame did not work in the Garden of Eden and it will not work on the Judgment Day (Genesis 3:14-19; 2 Corinthians 5:10). If we want our children to be faithful, they must learn to be responsible for every action of their lives.
The third foundational attitude is an understanding of the temporary nature of this life and this world. 1 John 2:15-17 teaches us that we are not to love this world or the things of this world. Why? They are passing away. Peter tells us that the creation along with the earth and all its works will be destroyed with intense heat on the Judgment Day of Christ (2 Peter 3:10). Jesus stated it was a waste of time to lay up treasures on this earth because they will not last; instead He called on us to lay up eternal treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).
As a Christian parent, you may be reading this and saying that I already teach my children about the Judgment Day and the end of this world. I do not doubt that. I wonder though, do you live that before your children? Does your work and the pursuit of having more things upon this earth interfere with your spiritual life and the church? Are your pursuits more spiritually focused or earthly focused? Your children will see these things in you and most likely follow in your steps within their own lives. The lack of a spiritual attitude today has led to the greed and materialism that we see in the church. Parents demonstrate it with their lives being so focused on work. They teach it to their children by obsessing on their children excelling in school, sports, and other activities, yet they have fail to make sure that their children excel in Bible study or church activities.
Our children learn what is most important by what we focus on in their lives. What is your focus? Are they the passing things of this world or the eternal blessings of God in the church? What will we leave our children? If we leave them a respect for authority, we leave them the key to looking to God. If we leave them responsible for their lives, we leave them the ability to change their lives. If we leave a desire for eternal things, we strengthen their love for God who can save them and weaken the hold that this doomed world has on them. May God help us to be parents that are not focused on what we leave our children tomorrow but what we leave them for eternity.
By Nathan Adams
This article first appeared in Think magazine. To learn more or to subscribe, click here.