[Today’s post is from Daniel Darling, Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.]
It’s hard to understate the passion of first-generation believers. These are believers who were converted to Christianity during their adulthood, many of whom were miraculously released from the chains of sin and the world and are now living with white-hot passion for Christ. For first-generation Christians, parenting is a top priority. They dream of raising a generation of children who will not endure the same temptations they encountered. They commit themselves to establishing a home where Christ is worshiped and the Bible is central to family life.
I know this because my parents were first-generation Christians. At the age of 17, my Jewish mother found her Messiah in Jesus Christ. My father was converted in his early twenties through the ministry of Billy Graham. When they married and began having children, they set down important markers: we would have quality Christian education, we would attend church faithfully, and the Bible would guide our home.
I’m deeply grateful for my parents’ passion for establishing a godly home. And so should every 2nd generation believer. We owe our heritage to their faithfulness. But there is a subtle temptation for those who intentionally raise their children in the Lord. It begins with good intentions, but can easily morph into a game of high-expectations that at some points begins to conflict with the gospel they love.
It goes like this. We have this idea that if we raise our kids according the Scriptures, they will avoid the struggles we endured as children. And in some ways, we are right. Bible wisdom, when applied, can steer your kids clear from obvious moral pitfalls, foolish choices, and sin patterns. And yet, if our expectations are so high that we think our children will never be tempted by sin and never struggle with a besetting sin issue or never wrestle with their faith, we are not only setting ourselves up for disappointment as parents. We are actually in conflict with the gospel message itself. You see, the Bible doesn’t tell us that our sin results from a bad environment, that our choices are merely the result of bad parental modeling or economic and social upheaval. Those may be catalysts, but the Scriptures remind us that we sin, because we are sinners.
Every child is born into the world with a spiritual defect. He’s a depraved sinner whose heart is set against God. He may grow up in the safest, most morally upright home. He may attend a Christian school or be homeschooled. He may attend church multiple times in the week. And yet, that little child is still a sinner at heart. Your application of God’s law in the home will instill good disciplines. But it won’t convert his heart. What he needs is regeneration, a supernatural intervention that only God through Christ can produce.
As parents, we should pray first for our child’s conversion. Why? Because once converted, they now have the Holy Spirit indwelling them and they are empowered to live the life God calls them to live.
Too often parents strive only for behavior modification, rigid application of the law. And when it doesn’t happen, we grow disappointed. We search for a better parenting model. We scan the bookstore shelves for another quick fix. The best parenting tool we have is the gospel. The gospel puts us on a parenting trajectory that rejects exalted and unreal expectations and instead applies the necessary tools of sanctification: daily repentance and forgiveness. We’ll reject the false idea that we can raise kids who will not struggle as we did and instead, we’ll introduce them to the lifesaving message they will need their whole lives: grace through faith in the finished work of Christ.
[Excerpted from Daniel Darling’s new book, Real: Owning Your Christian Life].