What Does Gospel-Centered Parenting Look Like?

By Ted Tripp

I feel like I’m raising little hypocrites.” Many parents fear that since they have taught their children appropriate ways of behaving their children will grow up as well behaved children who have no sense of need for grace.

The problem of hypocrisy is greatest in homes that emphasize behavior rather than the heart. If the focus of discipline and correction is behavioral change, you will miss the heart.  That approach makes the problem what I do, not what I am.

According to the Bible the problem we have is more profound than that. The problem is not what you and I or your children do that is wrong. The problem is not that we/they lie or envy, or disobey. The problem is that you and you children and I are liars, we are envious; we are disobedient.

Ask yourself this question. Is a man a thief because he steals, or does he steal because he is a thief? Is he a liar because he lies, or does he lie because he is a liar? The Bible’s answer is that he steals because he is a thief, he lies because he is a liar; he disobeys because he is disobedient. This is the testimony of the Bible. “Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies.” (Psalm 58:3).

Sometimes someone will ask, “What about addressing the behavior that is wrong and telling them to do better. Isn’t that part of being a good parent?”

The answer, of course, is that addressing the heart does not mean you don’t address behavior; it simply tells you how to address behavior. Since behavior is heart-driven, I have to speak to behavior in ways that focus on heart change and not simply behavior change.

This truth can help you keep the gospel central in correction and discipline. You must help your children see the hidden heart issues that lie behind the things they do that are wrong. You will have conversations like this.

“Honey, you know I am concerned that you have lied to me. Telling the truth is something that is very important in human relationships. If you cannot trust me and I cannot trust you we have no glue to hold our relationship together. Do you understand what I am saying?”

“Yes.” He says, nodding.

“But do you know what concerns me even more?”

“No.”

“My deepest concern for you is that you are just like me. We lie because it seems to us like telling a lie will go better than telling the truth. And we love ourselves more than we love God sometimes. That is why we tell lies.”

“That is why Jesus came. If our need was for someone to tell us what to do, God would have just sent a prophet. The problem we have is so great inside that just knowing what we ought to do is not enough. We need a Savior from our sin and we need someone who has power to deliver us.”

If you have a precocious child the conversation could take this direction.

“Do you ever tell a lie, Daddy?”

“Well, honey, there are many ways of lying. Sometimes we can tell a lie by making someone think something about us that is not true. So, yes, sometimes Daddy tells a lie.”

“Do you know what I need to do then?”

“What?”

“I need to confess my sin to God. God says he will forgive us. (1 John 1:9). I, also, have to ask forgiveness from whomever I lied to. And I need to think about who I was loving more than God when I lied, so I can confess that sin to.”

“You know something, honey? I need God everyday just as much as you do. I need his forgiveness. I need him to change me on the inside so I love him more than anything, and I need his power to love him and others more than I love me.”

Every opportunity to correct your child is an opportunity to confront him with his profound need of forgiveness and grace.  If you make the primary thing the behavior that is wrong, you will never get to the hope and power of the gospel.

And if your children learn how to jump through your hoops they will become little Pharisees, clean on the outside and dirty on the inside.

By Ted Tripp

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About Pastor Douglas Graham

Dr. Douglas Graham started MadeToFish in 2007. MadeToFish is about "Growing and helping others grow in the Gospel." Doug is the Pastor of Cedarville Nazarene Church. Our church website is: MadeToFish.com
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