3 Ways Our Children May Respond to Discipline that Overlooks the Gospel

3Responses020515We need to handle God’s Word with care as we discipline our children.

In our last post, we considered the need to give our children the hope of the gospel when we correct them. If we only take them to the Bible to show them how God says to live, we’ve missed our prime opportunity to tell them how they can live that way. They’re not going to obey God by trying harder or mustering up more self-discipline, and they’re not going to earn God’s favor by obeying Him.

Jesus has won God’s favor for us. In Him, God’s holy requirements are satisfied. If we’ve placed our faith in Him, we are one with Christ. The Father looks at us and sees His Son. He’s pleased with His Son, so He’s pleased with us. For the rest of our lives, He will work to make us more like that deat Son who loved us and died for us.

If we only tell our children what God requires, without telling them what God — in His great love — has already done to satisfy those requirements, our children may respond in one of three ways:

  • They may give up trying. They hear the “rules”. They see that they can’t possibly, in their own strength, obey them all. They’re never going to be perfect, so why even try? They may become sullen or discouraged, or they may openly rebel. This is the child who doesn’t seem to care, whose heart only seems to grow harder when you seek to discipline him, or who just becomes indifferent or withdrawn. Much of the rebellion in Christian households can be traced to correction that has been divorced from the hope of the gospel.
  • They may obey, but only in an attempt to earn our love and approval. They go through the motions. They work harder to do what we’re telling them they should do. They want to please us, but they’re not obeying out of a heart of love for God.

If they’re attempting to win our approval, we may be in for a surprise when the approval of their peers becomes more important than our approval. That’s when we will be scratching our heads in wonder as we watch older children suddenly turn away from the godly standards they appeared to embrace in their younger years.

  • They may obey in an attempt to earn God’s approval. They will work hard to obey God, and then believe that He owes them something for their obedience. These children don’t obey out of a heart of love and gratitude for what God has already done for them in Christ. Instead, they seek to save themselves through their own good works.

They become proud, judgmental, and self-righteous. They don’t need Jesus. They may be able to explain the facts of the gospel. They may profess faith in Jesus. But if they have never come face-to-face with their sin and utter inability to please God, they won’t see themselves for who they really are. And if they don’t see themselves, they won’t see their need for Jesus.

Jesus had things to say to people who put their confidence in their own works:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:27-28, ESV).

Many of these compliant, moral children, who look like they are doing so well, will live joyless, self-righteous lives, afraid to ever be open and honest with anyone. Others will eventually see the futility in their striving and suddenly turn away from the faith when they leave home. The whitewashed tomb will open and the dead men’s bones will suddenly appear.

The Bible is not a rule book. It’s a story of redemption and love. God takes what is broken and makes it new. While we take our children to the mirror of God’s Word, we need to also take them to the One who has already fixed what they see in that mirror.


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