Total Depravity and Parenting

Today’s post is by my friend Dan Darling. Dan is the senior pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church and author of numerous books. His latest, Real: Owning Your Christian Faith, will be released July 3, 2012.


A few year ago, I took my family on a tour of the Jelly Bean factory in nearby Kenosha Wisconsin. I was fascinated by how a single jelly bean is chemically engineered, created by machines, perfectly formed, stamped, inspected, and dropped into a bag with other perfectly formed candy creations.

I love assembly lines. They have revolutionized American production.

But they are lousy systems when it comes to raising godly children, because faith in the next generation cannot be mass produced. It must be hand-crafted, carefully formed, and breathed into life by the Holy Spirit.

Much Christian parenting assumes the assembly line approach. We wrongly interpret Proverbs 22:6 as a formula and parent with results-oriented angst.

Then we wonder why our systems are “not working.” Are we not being consistent enough in discipline? Should we use timeouts instead of corporal punishment? Perhaps we are in the wrong church?

We search for the perfect model. We are constantly “tweaking the system.”  But our kids are not balance sheets. They are human souls born completely depraved.

So what they need is not a better system, but the gospel. We shouldn’t be surprised when they sin, because sin is sown into the fabric of their fallen hearts.

A gospel approach to parenting has three liberating effects:

First, it relieves parents of the pressure to produce.

If heart change is solely a work of the Holy Spirit, then parents can only influence their children. We can’t actually change their hearts. That’s work only God can do. So we apply the Scriptures to our children, not because there is a guarantee of success, but as an act of obedience and faith. We become a partner with the Holy Spirit in the spiritual formation of our children.

Secondly, it prepares our children for a life of dependence and repentance.

Our kids don’t need a better chore chart, they need a Savior. They don’t need Dr. Phil’s ten tips for terrible two’s. They need the gospel. And the sooner they realize their desperation and need of grace, the sooner their hearts are open to the sanctifying work of the Spirit.

Third, we give our children space to wrestle, repent, and find God in a personal way.

Naturally parents want to iron any potential struggle in their children’s lives. But each soul, regardless of background and heritage, must wrestle with God in a personal way. Only parents who yield control of their children’s hearts to the Spirit will create the space in the home for honest conversations about God and faith.

Bottom line: Discipleship is not an assembly line. It cannot be mass-produced. Every single child enters the world with a sin defect and needs the gospel of Jesus to being the work of heart transformation.

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