Q&A – Why I Don’t Punish My Children

The two most frequent questions that I get from fellow parents concern the discipline of children. They are:

  1. Why do you believe discipline, including spanking, is necessary?
  2. Why have you personally never used the term “punish” or “punishment” in relation to the correction of your children?

Since both of these questions have been addressed in my books and counseling booklets I will simply restate what has already been said there.

In HELP! My Toddler Rules the House, in the chapter Are You Raising a Cain?, my wife and I have written the following.

The primary duty of Christian parents is to take a natural-born fool and cause him or her to be filled with the wisdom of God. Perhaps this statement startles you, but let us explain what we mean by it. Unselfishness in parenting means that we must lay aside our self-interest and love of convenience in order to do what is in the long-term best interests of our children—we must discipline them toward respectful obedience. This discipline is not an option for parents who are committed to raising their children to follow the Lord and become responsible members of society. If we choose to neglect the correction of our children, it may reveal two painful realities concerning our own hearts as parents.

We do not love our child, but rather we hate him or her. “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Proverbs 13:24). Neglect of discipline reveals that we love ourselves more than we love our children.

We esteem ourselves more than we esteem our child. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others [“others” includes our children]” (Philippians 2:3–4). Faithfulness in the parenting task is one of the obvious ways in which we look out for the long-term interests of our children above our own. [pp. 23-24]

In Counseling One Another, I develop a Theology of Discipline, which compares and contrasts “punishment” and “discipline.” The context of the following quote is that of the restorative goal of discipline in the discipleship process.

Punishment casts away, while discipline restores. Punishment is for subjects of wrath, while discipline is for children of God. Punishment requires payment for sin, while discipline corrects to protect and bless, because sin has already been paid for by Jesus. Punishment focuses on past sins, whereas discipline, while still dealing with sin, looks to the future blessing of obedience that follows true repentance. This is why punishment often provokes believers to wrath while biblical discipline works to produce sorrow leading to repentance.

Understanding the difference between judicial punishment and parental discipline is crucial to being effective in the discipleship process. God is our example. He never punishes His children. He does not give us tally marks for misconduct. Instead, He does the harder work of coming alongside offenders, confronting them in love, leading them to repentance and biblical confession, and restoring them to fellowship so that they may continue to be sanctified. The main reason why a punitive approach to sanctification does not work is because it fails to adequately address the issue of the heart—where true change begins. Most seriously, it risks undermining one’s comprehension of and confidence in the atonement of Christ, who took all our punishment on the cross. This is more than semantics! How discipline is handled in the discipleship process either affirms the theology of the cross or subtly replaces it with a performance-based approach to godliness that may feed a fear of man as the motivation for holiness rather than the infinitely superior drive of love for Christ: “and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor. 5:15). [p. 101]

How we differentiate between punishment and discipline is not only an important concept in our theology of God and His relationship to His children, but directly impacts our relationships with others–especially our children. Not only does it have a profound influence on how our children understand the gospel’s power to save them from God’s punishment, but also how that same gospel applies to their daily lives after conversion to Christ.

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