Do you discipline your children? How do you do it? When it comes to corrective care, how does your child experience it? Just as important, what is your motive behind your discipline? Anytime you’re talking about parental discipline, you want to make sure you are beginning at the right place, which is with the Lord. The Bible says, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:6).
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The three big words in this verse are Father, discipline, and love. The parent represents God the Father and disciplines the child out of a heart of love. Did you know when you experience the Lord’s discipline, you are also experiencing His love? Because God is love, there is no other way to experience Him or His discipline (1 John 4:8).
Did you see that? God is love, and when He disciplines us, we experience who He is, which is love. Our children receive the same from us: they experience what we are. If we are motivated and controlled by love, love is what our children will receive.
Because our goal is to imitate Him in all ways, we have the perfect model to follow when it comes to parental discipline (Ephesians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 4:9). Who would want to pursue another example? Who would want to discipline another way? We have the privilege of leading our children the way God leads us.
Though God “hurts us on purpose,” when He does discipline us, we know He wants only the best for us. This vital point is where you want to think about your corrective care. Discipline from a heart of love is always for the other person’s good. Think back to your disciplining of your children.
- Was it redemptive?
- Were they better off after you corrected them?
- Does your discipline cultivate respect from them?
- Were they helped, changed, and appreciative of your care?
The Father’s discipline of us is not the first time He has dealt with us. God has had a long and loving relational history with us, which is vital when it comes to disciplinary actions. If love is not part of the relationship history, the inevitable discipline that will happen will be confusing and frustrating. Note the Father’s preexisting relational history with us.
- He predetermined His love for us (Ephesians 1:4-5).
- He loved us enough to give His Son as a ransom (John 3:16).
- His Son gave His life for us, though we did not deserve it (Romans 5:8).
- His Spirit comes to bring daily comfort and guidance (John 16:13).
Do you see how you experienced His love many times before you experienced His discipline? The Lord was “putting money in the bank” long before He took any out. That’s why His “withdrawals” do not hurt as bad as they could. A loving Father would never bankrupt his children.
Suppose you go to your local bank to make a withdrawal. Upon arriving at the bank, you discover you have no money in the bank. They tell you that you have overdrawn your account. You’re broke. Now, what if we turn this illustration around?
Suppose you have been steadily putting money in your local bank every week of your adult life. And you go to the bank to make a withdrawal. You know you can do this because you’ve been making regular deposits.
Perhaps it’s not your desire to make withdrawals, but you know that you can. And when there is a debt that needs paying, you must make the withdrawal. Even though the withdrawal stings a little, it does not bankrupt your account. Your active weekly deposits have made it possible to take money out of the bank.
Parenting with Structure and Support
Diagnosing Your Home
By imitating the Father, your children will not be discouraged when the inevitable time comes to make a withdrawal. You will not leave them bankrupt. Your regular deposits of love will keep them from defeat, hopelessness, and potential anger.
Now let’s put the illustration to the real test as you align it to your parenting model. Here are a few questions to quickly assess how well you have been investing in your children’s lives.
- What do you do more to your children: correct them or encourage them?
- Based on your regular communication with your children, are they more aware of what they do wrong, or are they more aware that you’re “for them” (Romans 8:31)?
- From your children’s perspective (as well as your spouse), are you characterized as a discourager or an encourager?
Parental Discipline Begins with the Parent
Depending on how you answer these personal questions, your method, process, and philosophy of parental discipline may already be off the tracks. Parental discipline begins with the heart and the behavior of the parent. Before you deal with the heart of your child, your heart needs God’s governing care.
Follow the analogy: God is our parent. His heart is right, of course, which is a prerequisite before He deals with our hearts. We know that God is love (1 John 4:8). How about you? How is your heart? Are you characterized as a loving person to your children (Galatians 5:22)?
For the Lord disciplines the one the Lord loves (Hebrews 12:6).
The simple phrase in Hebrews puts twice as much emphasis on the Lord than it does on the person He is disciplining. Notice the order: the Lord’s love for the one He is disciplining is a prerequisite to the discipline that He measures out to us. He loves us before He is disciplining us. Our love for others must always precede our correction of others.
- Do you love your child? Think carefully about this question, and rather than answering from your subjective perspective, perhaps you can ask your child if you love them.
- When you think about your child, do loving thoughts come to your mind first? Or are you typically annoyed by your child’s attitude and actions?
- How aware is your child of your love for them?
God’s love for me overrides the discipline that I receive from Him, which has to be key to how we think about the Lord’s corrective care. And this perspective must describe what corrective care looks like in your home. The parental discipline I receive from the Lord hurts, is painful, stings, and is a momentary reflective pause in our relationship. Though I am temporarily discouraged, I am never defeated.
It is His incredible love that seeps into the wounds that He makes. His affection for me always precedes and replaces His discipline. There is no way this could happen if I were unsure where our relationship stood.
It Takes Effort
What I have described to you is how we think about parental discipline in our home, particularly when we have disciplined our children. While the discipline was quick, precise, substantive, and to the point, we wanted them to know that we had unarguable affection for them.
And after they walked out of the room after receiving our discipline, we wanted them to know that there was no more condemnation (Romans 8:1). We wanted the punishment “left in the room” with the “rod of correction.” Once the discipline was over, we let them know that it was finished, over and done.
We dealt with it. There had been confession, repentance, and discipline administered. The Lord does not ignore or overlook discipline, and we wanted to be like Him. Our Father loves us, and we wanted them to know that we loved them too.
- What kind of home do your children live in on a daily basis? Hopefully, it is filled with warmth and encouragement.
- Are you a sin-centered home or a gospel-centered home? Sin should be small and the gospel is huge.
- What drives your home: negativity, nagging, criticism, condemnation, shame, guilt, and displeasure? Or, encouragement, love, affection, gratitude, affirmation, warmth, and approval?
A good rule-of-thumb regarding discipline is for each look you take at sin, you should take ten looks at the gospel. Translated into your home, it means grace, mercy, and love should be ten times more the common practices, rather than negativity, criticalness, or anger.
Become a Child to Help a Child
What if my heart is not like what you describe? What if I don’t feel that way about God? I realize many people struggle with their relationship with their heavenly Father. In such cases, the gospel is not centralized in their hearts and, thus, their command center is under siege by something else.
They are not daily and personally encouraged by the works of God on their behalf. Because of this gospel malfunction of the heart, it is hard for them to help others—especially their children.
I had a man tell me recently that he does not see God loving him all the time. Another lady told me she had no idea how God viewed her. If you are not sure how God sees you or if you are uncertain of the Father’s complete pleasure in you as a person, you will have a difficult time disciplining your children biblically.
If you are a Christian, God views you as being in His Son. He is pleased with you because you are trusting in the works of Jesus (the gospel) rather than your own. Read my article, The Danger of Trying to Please God.
If this gospel truth is not the animating, driving, and motivating center of your life, you must find a new starting point regarding how you parent. This means you must become a biblical child of your heavenly Father before you can help your child to become a biblical one.
If you are not aware of God’s incredible love for you, there is a strong chance your children will not be confidently aware of your love for them. You can’t effectively teach what does not actively affect you.
This kind of parent will more than likely raise a legalist—a performer, a person who craves the approval of others based on their performance. It is not unusual for children to relate to their parents the way the parents relate to their heavenly Father.
Is Love Given or Earned?
Back to the original question: how do you do discipline? Does discipline flow out of a heart of love for the one you’re disciplining? Or does discipline flow out of a heart of anger (or something else) for the one you’re disciplining? These are two distinctly gospel-centered, heart-probing questions.
If you discipline out of anger, you may know what the gospel is, but the gospel does not control you. The gospel will not be effective in your discipline until you are affected by the gospel.
Imagine God spanking us out of sinful anger. Ouch. It would defeat us beyond belief. We would stop believing in Him after a while. If we had to earn His love, we would eventually be exhausted and exasperated.
- Does your child know you love him?
- Have you created a culture in your home where he knows you love him by grace and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9)?
If your child has to work or perform for your affection, you can count on your kid growing weary of trying to please you. He will give up on you once he figures out how and when to do it.
It will begin with quiet disrespect. As the child grows older, his disrespect and disregard of you will be more blatant. He will “give you the finger” in his heart, and later on, he will be bolder. The behavior you hoped to correct will be a full-blown rebellion.
My appeal to the struggling parent is to seek people who will speak into your life. There is nothing to be ashamed of here because we’re all rookies. We’ve all blown it. We all need help. We only get one shot at this parenting thing, and that window of opportunity is tighter than you may realize.
Minimally, allow the gospel to humble you enough to seek counsel. Get help today. You can begin my prayerfully and reflectively talking over these questions in this article with a trusted friend. My book, Change Me, is an excellent resource on how to change. Get it today!The Santa Claus Question: What Do I Tell My Children? Are You Generous? Understanding a Theology of Gift-Giving »