How to Connect the Gospel to Parental Discipline

How to Connect the Gospel to Parental Discipline

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Parental discipline is not just a behavioral interaction between a parent and a child. There are hearts in play, too—the heart of the parent and the child. If the parent does not connect the gospel to his heart, the discipline will not go well, and there is a high chance that it will leave a negative shaping influence on the child’s heart and life.

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The foundation of all discipline, whether it’s parental or any other relationship, is the gospel. In this article, I will share with you six gospel connections to parental discipline. As you read, it will be a superb time to examine how you’re doing with these gospel connections.

The talking points will make excellent conversations with your spouse, too. If you’re not married, perhaps you can find a competent Christian friend to talk about these concepts. Probably there are some areas for practical change. If your children are old enough, a family discussion could prove to be transformative.

If you’re like me, you have not perfectly corrected your children each time. Maybe they are at the age and maturity level to give you feedback. If they are old enough but you can’t have these discussions, then you have an indicator of the effect of your discipline, and you will want to take another track, correcting what might be wrong in you and your relationship with your children.

Six Gospel Connections

1–Connecting the Gospel to a Picture: Though parental discipline does not eradicate sin as the gospel does, it is a picture of the gospel and what it can do. The Father bore and burned His wrath on His Son to wholly and successfully take care of our sin problem. Parental discipline does not do this, but it does paint a picture of what the child must understand regarding the gospel.

Your child’s gospel need will not be a strange concept if you have administered discipline appropriately and adequately throughout their lives. A biblically disciplined child should be able to make the connection from the “temporary setting aside” of their sin—through parental discipline—to the permanent setting aside of sin because of the gospel.

2–Connecting the Gospel to a Debt: Parental discipline points the child to the need for a payment for their sin. If there were no discipline in the home, the child would have a skewed view of sin, which would mute the seriousness of their transgressions. Sin is a dangerous thing. Ultimately nothing points out the severity of sin like the cross of Christ, but parental discipline can be an excellent aid to illustrate the heinousness of rebellion.

A parent who does not discipline is unwittingly minimizing the necessity of the gospel and is setting their child up for future disappointment as they struggle with understanding and accepting the consequences of their actions. The parent that does not discipline mocks the gospel.

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3–Connecting the Gospel to Motivation: No parent should discipline out of sinful anger. When this happens, the discipline is more about the parent’s frustration with the child than the need for freedom from sin and respect for discipline.

Though discipline is punitive in that the child is receiving punishment, the primary goal of discipline is restoration. The burning of our sin on Christ is restorative for anyone who believes. It was the kindness of the Father that led to our repentance, not His meanness (Romans 2:4). There is no place for sinful anger in the parental discipline process.

4–Connecting the Gospel to Hope: I’ll never forget the first time I disciplined my son. Though it was before he learned to talk, his facial expression communicated confusion and bewilderment as to why his dad was disciplining him. Those early years of discipline have led to many in-depth conversations about sin and their ultimate need for salvation.

Nothing removes the distractions in a person’s life and points them directly to the cross—the ultimate pardon—as a discipline does. Early child discipline sets the tone in our home while providing a path that leads them to their most significant need, the gospel.

5–Connecting the Gospel to Instruction: The disciplining of children teaches them about the gospel. The actual physical discipline is quick and to the point. In contrast, our practice has been to center the bulk of the time during the discipline process around discussions about the gospel, e.g., power for change, the motive for change, encouragement, forgiveness, repentance, confession, transparency, and much more.

Sadly, due to some people’s harsh experiences, they define the word discipline and never use words like encouragement, grace, motivation, and kindness. Their interpretation of discipline comes from their experience, not the Bible. The Father loves those whom He disciplines. Too many children have not experienced the love of their parents through the disciplining process.

6–Connecting the Gospel to Eradication of Sin: Ultimately, children need the gospel. Discipline is more like a restorative peace treaty, but it does not thoroughly remove the hostilities that led to the reclaimed peace. And though there is a temporary shalom, sin remains, and it is only when the child comes to Christ that they will be able to live in soul-cleansing forgiveness and restoration.

The big idea for the parent is to know this truth. Thus, you discipline your child with hope in view; you know that you’re setting the stage for them to seek and grasp the gospel. If you don’t keep faith in your heart as you correct your child, you won’t export the hope of the gospel to them.

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An Adaptable Guide to Discipline

All children are not the same, and neither are all sins. For example, if you have a more insecure child, you want to tread carefully with your discipline. You may crush their spirit. There will be some sins that you want to overlook because you can’t “nickel and dime” your children to death. Then you have different ages; how you engage a toddler is different from your interactions with a teen.

There are no one-size-fits-all parenting guides. The complexities of the personalities and the children’s behaviors vary so much that your greatest need is Spirit-dependence. It is biblical to depend on the Lord to provide the wisdom in the moment of crisis in your home. If your first call to action is not prayer, you will not do discipline well.

With these things in mind, here are a few adaptable tips that may serve you as you think about disciplining your children. Don’t make these “the way.” Your family is different. So are your children. These are merely ideas; the Spirit of God and godly counsel from those who know you will serve you more effectively.

Ten Practical Tips

  1. Attempt to find out what happened. Ask more questions than making statements.
  2. See if you can get them to identify what they did wrong. This process may be humourous when the children are younger, but they will be more articulate as teenagers.
  3. Don’t just focus on the behavior as much, but become intentional and instructive about identifying ruling heart motives. You will do more talking about their heart motives when they are younger, but as they get older, they will be able to locate the heart issues and tell you what’s wrong.
  4. Once they are clear on what they did, you may want to discipline them. (I do not recommend ever hitting, pinching, or another physical contact with your body. E.g., you want your children to “know your hands” in warm ways, not disciplinarian tools.)
  5. Spend time with them post-discipline. The younger children should get your hugs and kisses while you remind them of your affection for them. Older children need your affection, too.
  6. Part of your communication is letting them know that it’s over; you’re not going to keep bringing it up. Think gospel here: God does not “rub our faces” in our past sins.
  7. Ask them how you can lead and serve them better. Parents are not perfect. As your child matures and as you create this environment of grace in the home, they will feel the freedom to answer your questions honestly.
  8. Work on your blind spots. Part of your desire through discipline is to see them change into disciple-makers. Let them practice disciple-making on you. Your children should be invaluable and practical helpers in the hands of the Lord to help you mature into a better person.
  9. Always keep the gospel in view. Let them know why Christ came—to take away the sin of the world. Then you encourage them as you see them putting aside that old manner of life (Ephesians 4:22), and picking up Christ, who is pure righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24).
  10. Laugh a lot. If your children are more aware of your heaviness, seriousness, or unhappiness than they are of your joy, you’re doing it wrong. You must get help today. You submit yourself to the discipline of the Lord (and others) so you can be a more effective minister of the gospel to your children.

Call to Action

There is a lot to think about here. I don’t recommend that you move on to the next article unless you tie the next one to this one. If you need this instruction, then make this article the centerpiece of your training. As you connect with other resources on this site, fold those into what you’re learning here.

Your relationship with your children is of utmost importance. Perhaps taking a season of reflection for change is what you need. These questions will aid you during that process. Read them carefully, practically, and prayerfully. Your children will love you for it. You’re welcome to watch my “video call to action.”

  1. Which are you more aware of when you discipline your children: their sin or the gospel? If you’re more aware of their sin, you won’t discipline them with the hope of the gospel in view. And your children will experience the adverse effects of what you’re attempting to do.
  2. Which are you more aware of when you discipline your children: your sin or their sin? If you believe the log is in their eye when you discipline them, you will not do it with humility or grace. What you did to Jesus is far worse than whatever it was that your child did at that moment.
  3. Which are your children more aware of when they think of you: your dissatisfaction with them or your affection for them? God does not think of you in dissatisfying ways, even though there is a mountain of sin that could swallow what love He has for you.
  4. What are some of the ways the gospel motivates you to discipline your children? Will you talk to someone about how the gospel informs and trains you in this most vital area in your family?
  5. What specific ways do you need to change after reading this article? Perhaps you need to get with someone and talk about it while working through a concrete and practical plan to change.

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