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If you told your child to love God with all of his heart, what would he hear? How would he know what to do with your goal for him? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that your goal is for your child to become the living embodiment of Matthew 22:36-40. How are you training him to accomplish this goal practically?
There is an implication in my question about the role of God’s Word in their lives: knowing the Bible and living it out are different things. Let me put my point in perspective by sharing a normal counseling situation. Did you know it is rare for me to teach a counselee what the Bible says, as in providing them with Bible knowledge? The reason is that most of my counselees have been in church environments for years.
Most of my counseling is teaching folks how to apply what they already know about the Bible. This fact also applies to our Mastermind students. A need for Bible application is always the reason a person comes to me for help. They know that I’m a believer and that I will help them connect God’s Word to their lives practically.
If your goal is primarily to teach your children the Bible, there is a strong possibility they will be no better off than some of the adults you currently know who are struggling in their lives and relationships. Your parenting goal has to push beyond Bible knowledge. Winning a sword drill can bring instant gratification, but it won’t win the day in your child’s future if he cannot draw a solid line from the words of the Bible that he knows to the life he must live.
The overwhelming need in our church today is the Christian’s ability to practicalize the Bible into their everyday lives. This notion may sound odd in light of the number of Bible studies the average church provides. Our methodologies, philosophies, and practices must push beyond merely teaching what a text says. Christians need to learn how to apply the passage to their lives biblically.
This problem was one of Paul’s rebukes to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 8:1-2. He acknowledged that they had Bible knowledge. That familiarity with the Old Testament was not the issue for Paul. He directed his challenge and rebuke toward their inability—or lack of awareness—of applying the Bible into their lives. He said that stand-alone-Bible-knowledge could lead to arrogance.
Puffy knowledge will enlarge the ego, but it does not build up the lives of others. Paul seized the moment to point them in a better way, using the current “meat-eating crisis” as his opportunity. He wanted more than literate believers; Paul hoped to help them become mature ones. Wisdom is the ability to apply the knowledge of your Bible in practical ways that make sense, is livable, and builds up others. An excellent equation that presents the path to wisdom is knowledge plus application equals wisdom.
Many smart Bible people walk around today, impressing us with their expansive understanding of the Bible—in Greek and Hebrew. We also have many biblically illiterate believers who are subjectively applying a flawed hermeneutic. We need students of the Bible who know how to practically apply theologically precise Scripture to their lives and their culture. There is a biblical maturity beyond God’s Word, but it is not devoid of God’s Word.
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28).
The goal of Christian parents is for their children to be relationally mature believers. We want them to have a relationally mature life with Christ and others, which is another way of saying, “Love God and others” (Matthew 22:36-40). I am using the word mature with intention rather than saying love God and others.
Think about my tweaking of the two great commands. What are some of the most significant problems that you see in yourself and others? If you could choose one word to describe the relational breakdowns, wouldn’t immaturity be a good one? Here are a few examples of what immaturity looks like in relationships.
You could characterize immature people as critical, shy, stingy, discouraging, fearful, disappointed, and frustrated. Many other descriptors come to mind. The idea here is not an episode of any one of these characteristics but a pattern of them. All of us experience these things, but the mature person does not stay in these states.
Christ was a mature human being who fully lived out the two greatest commandments. Here are a few texts that point to our vital need to grow up into Christlikeness, or biblical maturity. As you read these verses, ask the Spirit to help you examine yourself as though you were looking into a mirror. How well do you reflect these passages on maturity in your life?
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature (1 Corinthians 14:20).
Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil Hebrews 5:12-14).
Part of Christian maturity is your ability to distinguish good from evil and live out the good things of God practically. Christ did this. He knew what good and evil were, and He knew how to live out the good in practical ways. Imagine being married to someone who knew the difference between good and evil and could implement good practices into the marriage relationship. Imagine if this spouse could train the children in righteousness, too (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
How are you training your children to be mature Christian adults? You have two decades to instill this worldview into them. While that is not a long time, it is way more time than what you need to disciple a person. Think about discipling someone for twenty years and how effective that could be. You meet with them once a week and work through stuff.
It is generous of God to give parents so much time to train their children in His ways. Thankfully, time is never an issue when it comes to discipling kids. We have plenty of it, which is different from the weekly meeting with a friend for twenty years. Parents get to live with their disciples. There are other inhibitors, however. Here are four of them.
The two most common inhibitors in parenting models are college and extra-curricular activities. There does not have to be anything inherently wrong with either of these two things. But too often, these parental aims hinder what a parent should be doing for their children.
Many parents have college-centered goals for their kids. It’s like the race from zero to eighteen is mostly about getting them into college. These parents focus primarily on subjective measures for cultural success, i.e., making a specific income, having the right vocation, or being successful.
God had already told us how to think about these things when He rebuked us for processing life like the world or, in this case, for having Gentile-centered thinking (Matthew 6:31-33). Christian maturity is not about seeking college but about seeking God. Going to school or not are vital questions, but they are secondary to loving God and others most of all. If your parenting weight is more on academics than discipleship, you’re making a regretful mistake.
Sports and other activities can easily dominate the pre-teen and teen years. Kids can be so busy and, thus, the parents are too busy. When the frenetic activity picks up, organized, well-paced Christian discipleship goes out the window. The Christian life is methodical, intentional, well-paced, and reflective.
A significant key in discipling children is slowing them down, not speeding them up. We have intentionally said “no” to many social activities—when our children were younger—because teaching our children how to become mature Christian adults was more crucial. I’m not speaking of a legalistic “this leads to that” strategy because it’s the grace of God that changes lives, not the best parenting practices.
But if you’re not careful, your pace of life will pick up like filling a garage full of stuff. After a while, you won’t have time to disciple your kids or park your car in the garage. Children rarely lack for social interactivity. Activities will come and go, and so will college. The thing that must remain is a deep affection for the Savior and the wisdom to practically live Him out in all their relationships, especially with their future spouses and children (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
If you laid out your child’s entire life on a yardstick, their childhood would be one-fifth—7 inches—of that yardstick. The rest of their life would be 28 inches. Let’s say your child lives until he is seventy-five years old. That is five fifteen-year segments. The first fifteen years is childhood (theoretically). The remaining sixty years is his adult life. That is one-fifth (child) versus four-fifths (adult)—or seven inches versus about 28 inches.
Your child has about fifteen years to learn how to become what he will be for the next sixty years. When do you want him to know how to be what he will be for those sixty years? Do you want to wait until he is fifteen, eighteen, or out of college to figure out how to become an adult? By then, he will have to learn in the school of hard knocks, which is peer-training, not parental instruction and guidance.
You have fifteen to twenty years to disciple him. To tighten the process more: the first ten years of a child’s life is the “cement stage” when you pour your discipling into him. The next ten years is the fruit of the first decade, where you try to bring shape to what’s growing. Most of the people I counsel are trying to figure out how to be adults while they are adults. They will tell you that their parents did not help them during their childhoods.
Most of my counselees went to church, focused on getting into college, and were in many activities. While these things can be useful, these adults come to me as counselees. Read that word again—counselees. They were struggling in their relationships with God and others. They were not prepared to live well with others, especially within a marriage covenant. They had Bible knowledge but not Bible application.