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Let these things be a long-term homework assignment for you and your spouse. If you both humbly process these things, it will change both of you for God’s fame and your benefit. The first and most crucial element of your game plan is to model the life you want to export to others. An excellent way to think about this is by answering the following questions:
One of the most common critiques from children, who do not walk in the faith of their parents, is how the “religion” of their parents was not a clear and consistent representation of Jesus. If you want to damage your family, the easiest way to do this is to live a dualistic life. It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how successful you are; it’s your authentic life, good or bad, that will have the most significant impact on your family’s lives.
If your spouse and children’s goal is to walk in holiness, you must lead them by a bright, pure, authentic, and practical example. Whether you are the husband or wife, or mother or father, you are a leader, and Christ is the picture that you lead your family in emulating.
Christ was Christ all the time. He was not just Christ when He was standing on a hillside teaching large crowds. He was always Christ, even in the lowliest of places in Israel. He was Christ before Herod, and He was Christ before the adulteress. You must be like Jesus in the workplace and the home.
You must be like Jesus at the grocery store and your church gatherings. There are no days off to not act like Jesus. You are a 24/7 Christian (Christ-follower) all the time. If you don’t get this first step right, it would be best not to attempt to go further until you change. Children respect truth, not liars or hypocrites. Be who you are, and don’t try to be something that you are not. If you’re a Christian, be one all the time—even in your failures.
Especially in your failures. Be honest, open, transparent, vulnerable, and accountable. Present to your family the life of Christ. Let them see what Jesus looks like through your example. Modeling the gospel must always precede teaching about the gospel. If you don’t model it well, the ones you hope will follow God will reject you and possibly reject Him.
If you are not married or do not have children, ask these questions to two or three of your trusted friends who love you and know you well enough to speak the truth to you.
Perhaps you think that Jesus never repented. If that is what you’re thinking, you are correct. Jesus never repented of anything because He never sinned, which is why the second most crucial thing that you can do personally and for your family is to repent every time you fail to represent Jesus the right way.
Repentance is the only way to continually and consistently be like Christ—trying to be like Jesus requires daily repentance.
If you do not regularly practice repentance, you cannot consistently model Jesus—the person that defines you. Repentance is an area where I failed miserably during the early years of our marriage. It was the first five years of our marriage when I never confessed any sin to my wife. It is a horrible thing to say, but it is true. Though I often sinned against her, God, and my children, owning, confessing, and trying to repent of those sins was not part of my lifestyle.
My lack of repentance skewed the message that I wanted my wife and family to hear and experience through me. I marginalized my sin—the things I did wrong, and it obscured the picture of Christ. While I would be quick to let them know where they had failed me through their misdeeds, I did not own my sins. I was a hypocrite.
One of the best things you can do for your spouse and children is model repentance before them. Show them how to be Christlike (He was sinless) by teaching them how to remove sin, as observed by your example of repentance.
If you are not married or do not have children, ask these questions to two or three of your trusted friends, those who love you and know you well enough to speak the truth to you.
If these things are accurate for you—modeling and repenting, the most helpful thing you can do now is do what Christ did: He was a servant, and He dedicated His entire life to serving others. We see this clearly in Mark 10:45—to serve rather than to be served. His purpose for coming to earth was to serve others (Philippians 2:3-11).
Your answer to those questions will demonstrate if you want to build your life, marriage, and family on the Person and work of Jesus Christ—on the gospel. This characteristic means a dad does not come home to chill out, as though that is of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3).
When he comes home from a long day at work, he is ready to serve his family because the dad knows that he was not placed on earth to be served but to serve. Dad, you could announce this the next time you arrive home from work. Open the door, step inside, and report to your family:
I want you all to know that I am not here for you to serve me. I did not drive from work only for you to serve me. I am here to serve you.
That is the attitude and behavior you want to convey to your spouse and family. Why? Because that was the attitude and practice of the Savior, and you are a Christ-follower. Jesus was “all in” on the “serving thing,” even if it cost Him His life (Luke 22:42). Let your family experience your servant’s heart. Let them see you model the Savior as you humbly seek to serve them in practical and specific ways.
Now that you’ve got your attitude and actions in line with the gospel–through modeling, repenting, and serving, it would be good to think about how you can export the life of Christ to others.
You want to think about motivating others to change into Christlikeness, the person you are transforming into by your attitude and behaviors. Being like Christ and helping others to be like Christ is one of the highest honors, goals, and privileges for any person.
I don’t know of a Christian dad or mom who would not want their children to be like Jesus. The real issue is how do you help a person become like Christ? So let me ask, “How do you help a person change their ways?” While there are many angles from which to come at this question, I believe the most efficient way to motivate a person to change is through encouragement. Paul said it this way:
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4).
Paul did not want us to “take for granted” (presume) the riches of God’s kindness, the riches of His forbearance, or the riches of His patience. He knew that it was these riches that led a person to change or repent. Paul is using a cluster of words, which implies an idea. You could add more words, like what you see in Galatians 5:22-23, to give you more examples of the kind of fruit that should be iterating from your life.
It was the kindness of God that led to your repentance. When you heard the gospel story, you began to think about God’s kindness, and shortly after that, you repented (Romans 5:8). Motivating through encouragement should become an often used tool of yours when helping family members to become more like Jesus.
This last element is last on purpose because too many times, spouses and parents prefer to teach their children how to be like Jesus rather than model the life of Jesus before them. Why not? It’s easier to send them to a Christian school, Sunday school, Bible study, or some other teaching environment than to give them a personal and transparent example.
This problem does not mean we should not teach. Teaching is essential, but education should always come from our authentic Christlike example. As you think about teaching, it would be good to consider the primary way that Jesus taught those whom He wanted to influence.
Jesus spent most of His time teaching in dialogue contexts rather than monologue contexts. The significance of this is essential. Your best and most valuable teaching time with your spouse and children should be in dialogue contexts rather than your monologue contexts.
As you read through the four gospels, take note of how many times Jesus taught through discussion (dialogue) and how many times He taught by monologue–unidirectional.
Living the Christ-life is costly. It’s time-consuming. You can’t shovel your spouse or other family members off to church and expect them to be like Jesus. It would be best if you lay down your life for them. Christ came to die, and He’s called us to do the same in an analogous way (Luke 9:23). I’m asking you to make a decision.
My appeal is for you both to humbly assess yourself and each other so you will know how to change individually and as a couple. There are many questions throughout this chapter. If both partners are humble, kind, teachable, vulnerable, and motivated, there is no reason for you not to change.
Because there are many questions here, it may be better to go on several dates over the next few weeks to give each of you adequate time to talk to God and each other. I guarantee that if you both will humbly interact with each other and with God, He will transform your lives and your marriage as you walk through these questions.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).