In 1997, I wrote my first book, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens. I felt God calling me to write more books, but I was equally as persuaded that Age of Opportunity would be my only one on the topic of parenting.
But for the past two decades, as I saw how people were using that book (and my brother Tedd’s book Shepherding a Child's Heart), I grew increasingly uncomfortable. Something was missing in the way these parents were interpreting and applying the strategies detailed in the pages of our books.
It took me a while to figure out what was off. Then it hit me: the missing piece was the gospel. It sounds obvious, almost cliché, but it’s more significant in our lives than we realize.
The Centrality of the Gospel in Everything
After I speak, I always have someone ask for an effective strategy for this, a guaranteed formula for that, or a proven approach to something else they're struggling with. I try to impart helpful guidance in the moments we have together, but what they (and I) really need is a big picture gospel worldview that can explain, guide, and motivate all the things that God is calling them to do.
Take parenting. If you're going not only to cope, but to thrive with vision and joy as a parent, you need more than seven steps to solving whatever. You need God's helicopter view of what he's called you to do. You need a big gospel parenting worldview that will not only make sense of your task, but will change the way you approach it.
The same applies to marriage. If you want a healthy relationship with your spouse, built on the foundation of unity, understanding and love, going to BuzzFeed to find the latest 14 ways to make date night more romantic won't be your best choice. I love surprising my wife with romantic acts, but Luella and I need the gospel of Jesus Christ to be central in our marriage, and we need the big-picture themes of Scripture to be our guide more than anything else.
Church growth strategies, discipleship curriculums, or evangelism training sessions don't work very well if the gospel isn't central. I'm in favor of all these things, but we need so much more than a 75-page binder for those participating in building the local church, making disciples, and witnessing to the lost. We need our hearts to be awe-struck by the glory of God, captivated by a love for our Savior, and broken by the lost and blind condition of the human race. Only then will strategies work.
Here's the bottom line: what's missing in all areas of our everyday life are the big grand perspectives and principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
These perspectives and principles are radical and counterintuitive. They're simply not natural for us, but they're essential to being what you're supposed to be and doing what you're supposed to do. When you live with what the gospel says about God, you, and your world, you not only approach life in brand-new ways, but you carry the burden of living in a very different way.
14 Gospel Principles For Parents
This may seem hypocritical, because I just told you not to rely on BuzzFeed's list of 14 ways to make date night more romantic, and now I'm going to list 14 gospel principles for parents.
But this list isn't comprised of strategies or techniques: these are 14 big-picture themes in Scripture that, when properly understood, can change the way you understand God’s call on you as a parent.
(For full disclosure, this list is the chapter-by-chapter index of my new book, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. I ended up writing another parenting book after all!)
Nothing is more important in your life than being one of God's tools to form a human soul. In a couple brief but profound paragraphs, Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 20-23 summarizes the value that God places on parenting.
God never calls you to a task without giving you what you need to do it. He never sends you without going with you. Ephesians 3:20-21 provides us with the single redemptive reality that makes parenting possible.
Your children need God's law, but you cannot ask the law to do what only grace can accomplish. Romans 7:7 tells us that we need the grace of wisdom that God's law alone can give, but the rest of the chapter reveals how only the Spirit can produce change.
Recognizing what you are unable to do is essential to good parenting. God has tasked parents with many things, but nowhere in his Word has he tasked you with the responsibility to create heart change.
If you are not resting as a parent in your identity in Christ, you will look for identity in your children. 2 Peter 1:3-9 warns about identity amnesia, and when applied to parenting, it means that if you're not getting your identity from God and the work of his Son, you will probably try to get it from your children.
You must be committed as a parent to long-view parenting because change is a process and not an event. Even the world's best teacher – Jesus - had a process mentality and because he did, he was willing to leave his work to unfinished people (see John 16:12–15).
Luke 15 is a tremendous help to parents, because, in vivid word pictures, it sheds light on the condition that is the reason for all you have to deal with in the thoughts, desires, choices, words, and actions of your children.
One of the foundational heart issues in the life of every child is authority. Teaching and modeling the protective beauty of authority is one of the foundations of good parenting. The famous Ephesians 6:1–4 parenting passage is a very helpful for this principle.
The foolishness inside your children is more dangerous to them than the temptation outside of them. Only God’s grace has the power to rescue fools. Psalm 53:1–3 reveals that your child has the heart of a fool and because he does, he is a danger to himself and desperately needs God’s arms of rescue that come through your parenting care.
Not all of the wrong your children do is a direct rebellion to authority; much of the wrong is the result of a lack of character. Romans 1:25 and 28–32 connects character issues to the most significant of all human functions—worship.
11. False Gods
You are parenting a worshiper, so it’s important to remember that what rules your child’s heart will control his behavior. This should be no surprise, considering how often the Bible warns us (see Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 11:6, 1 Samuel 12:21 and many more).
The goal of parenting is not control of behavior, but rather heart and life change. No matter how successfully you control their choices and behavior, your control cannot and will not free them from your kids from a deeper need – a clean heart (see Psalm 51).
It is only rest in God’s presence and grace that will make you a joyful and patient parent. This may surprise you, but I cannot think of any directive from the mouth of Jesus that is a more appropriate call to every Christian parent than the Great Commission (Mathew 28:18–20).
No parent gives mercy better than one who is convinced that he desperately needs it himself. Hebrews 4:14–16 gives us a model for a life-long mission of humbly, joyfully, and willingly giving mercy.
Why I Wrote Another Parenting Book
Many Christian mothers and fathers are exhausted, discouraged, and frustrated. It's time we consider a new and better way: the way of grace.
Parents, God will bless you with his presence, power, wisdom, and grace. He faithfully parents you, so that by his faithful grace you can faithfully parent your children. In every moment of parenting, the wise heavenly Father is working on everybody in the room.
That's why I wrote Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family.