Article by Jake LeFave
In Colossians 3:21, the Apostle Paul writes:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what my responsibility is to my children. As the father of four young boys, right now I am responsible for providing clothing, shelter, and food. I am responsible for providing a safe, loving, and affectionate home. I am responsible for their protection, and their safeguarding. But none of these things are at the top of my list when it comes to the responsibility I have to these boys. What is? I am responsible for ensuring they know that there is a way out from under the crushing weight of the law. That there is a light and easy yoke in Christ (Matthew 11:28-30). Let me explain.
We send our boys to a Christian school (if you don’t, that’s great as well) and often the conversation with other parents turns to the question of, “So why did you send your kids to this school?” Some parents talk about how they want their kids to know and love Jesus, but for the majority of others, the answer sounds like, “I want them to grow up with good morals”, or, “I want them to be a good person”, or, “I want them to be kind, nice, and an upstanding citizen.” At first glance, this seems harmless. What parent doesn’t want their child to be guided by a clear and refined moral compass? What parent doesn’t want their child to be nice? Or kind? Or contribute in some meaningful way to society? But every time I hear this answer, my heart sinks a bit, because I’m reminded of my own story.
I grew up with a lot of morals. My parents were good people, with good jobs, who raised us kids to follow in their footsteps. We were raised within a clear moral framework, and for that I am eternally grateful. But I knew nothing, or very little, of the gospel. I can remember one time being caught drinking at a party by another youth kid. He told our youth pastor, and while I don’t recall the whole conversation, the takeaway from that conversation was that drinking was illegal, so I shouldn’t do it. Of course, that is true. God commands us to obey the authorities and laws of our land. (Romans 13:1-7) Yet, by prescribing only the law, my youth pastor missed a real opportunity to speak the hope of the gospel. This isn’t to slander my youth pastor, he was a good guy, but here he failed to preach the gospel to a troubled teen. See, the reason I was at the party was to escape the crushing weight of moralism. And the way our world escapes moralism is by either (a) pretending morals don’t exist, or (b) finding a community willing to live by a different moral code. In short, I was looking for freedom. I was looking for a way out from under the boulder that was the moralism of my youth.
Why do I say all of this? I say this because one of the ways we parents provoke (or, as the NIV says “embitter”) our children is by giving them law, and no gospel. My heart aches, not only for my own kids when I’ve failed to point them to the hope we have in Christ, but for the hundreds of kids we know whose parents “just want them to be a good person.” I don’t want my boys to be “good men”, I want them to be “godly men.” I want them to be repentant men. Men who, in the words of Tim Keller, see that “the gospel means you are far worse than you think you are, but also far more loved than you can ever imagine.”
The law has a use. In fact, without the law, we wouldn’t see our need for Jesus. But the law must not be the last word in our parenting. So, the next time you’re disciplining your son or your daughter, be sure to end with the gospel. Remind them that the power to change is not by trying harder or doing better, but only by putting again our trust in Jesus. Jesus who cleanses us from sin. Jesus who is praying for us now. Jesus who will one day welcome us into his kingdom, not on the basis of our morality, but on the basis of his good work. Lead your kids to Jesus, and remind them of the truth of God’s word, like what we find in 1 John 1:8-9:
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
May the Lord make us a community of parents who are quick to speak the gospel to our children. Let us be those who refuse to place on their tiny shoulders the crushing weight of moralism.