Raising the Next Generation 4

Child

We’ve seen God’s design for children, but what is His design for parenting our children? There are 4 key areas in which we must train our children. Here is the first of those.

Training the Conscience

Ephesians 6:4 speaks of the “discipline/training” and “instruction” of the Lord. Parents must train, discipline and instruct their children in the ways of the Lord. Along with teaching the mind, the child’s conscience must be trained. God has created every person with a conscience. Romans 2:14-15 says that even where God’s Law is not known, people have a sense of right and wrong. Your child has a conscience that will guide him when you are not there to direct him.

Like everything else our consciences are corrupted by sin so they need to be trained. The conscience bears witness to whatever standard it has been trained to. Your child’s conscience will only be a reliable guide if it has been trained to God’s standard. It accuses with guilt when the standard is violated, and it affirms with peace and gladness when the standard is followed. The conscience is our built-in warning system.

The conscience can be abused so that it does not function properly. A seared conscience results from ignoring its warnings so often that you no longer feel the guilt or affirmation (1 Timothy 4:2; Ephesians 4:19). A weak conscience is uninformed or misinformed about what is actually right and wrong. In this case you feel guilty when you actually are not (1 Corinthians 8:4-8). The solution to both problems is re-training the conscience to God’s standard and being sensitive to its warnings. This will result in a good conscience that is functioning properly according to the right standard (1 Timothy 1:5).

Parents must train and instruct their child’s conscience. Children must be instructed in what is right. Parents must be teaching God’s standards to their children, not just correcting when something wrong is done. Goodness is defined in terms of what is right, not in terms of what is wrong (Ephesians 4:28). For small children behaviour comes before understanding. As children grow older, they need to be instructed in the principles of God’s Word and not just the do’s and don’ts. Knowing what is right and wrong needs to more and more be accompanied with knowing WHY it is right or wrong.

Be sure your instructions are clear and are understood by your child. Keep eye contact when giving the instruction. Have the child repeat the instruction. Small children should be shown what to do. Do not give too many instructions at once – keep the child’s capacity in mind. If the instruction interrupts an activity they are currently engaged in, give them 5 minutes to finish up (when possible) to avoid exasperation.

We also want our children to be able to make good moral judgments on their own in various situations. They must be taught to consider the context of a situation. Running around the backyard at home is fine, but running around the church where old ladies are navigating could be dangerous. Your child needs to be taught how to apply the Scripture in life and how to live in the fear of the Lord by showing him how to respond to the various situations of life (Deuteronomy 6:2, 7-9). Help your children exercise their conscience by asking them what is required of them beforehand (on the way to church or school, etc.). Afterwards ask them how they think they did and discuss it. As they grow older ask them to explain the biblical reason for such behaviour being required.

Correction and discipline are also involved in the “training and instruction of the Lord.” Painful consequences reinforce the warning system of the conscience and strengthen it against sin (Proverbs 20:30). The painful consequences must be applied within a reasonable time frame – more immediately for younger children so they can make the connection (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Sometimes there are natural consequences that are painful (the child is told not to run around the pool but does and hurts her knee). No further discipline is necessarily needed, but you must verbally make the connection for the child so she learns from it.

In the training process appeal to the conscience of your child. This is not the same thing as a guilt trip which is harmful manipulation. You do not want your child acting out of guilt but out of a good conscience. It is also not the same thing as threatening a punishment. You want the child to act out of a love for what is right, not just out of the fear of punishment. Appeal to the conscience can be done by warning and encouragement; by asking the child to tell you what is right or wrong and why; by reminding the child of God’s presence with him as he goes out of your presence; and by directing the child’s motivation to pleasing God.

Positive discipline is training your child’s behaviour and attitudes with teaching and encouragement. Train them to put the toys away by making a game of it and doing it with them at first. Train them to respond to your call by sending them in the other room and waiting for you to call their name. Praise what your child does that is right and good by speaking of how it pleases God or reflects His character. Give God the thanks so your praise does not produce self-righteous pride. Use rewards very sparingly. They can too easily develop a materialistic motivation that works against pleasing God.

Training the conscience is crucial to preparing your child for the Gospel. A conscience that is responsive to God’s standards will help your child realise his sin and guilt before God, and therefore, his need for salvation. Make sure you do not threaten your child’s misbehaviour with the loss of your love (or giving him away, leaving him somewhere, etc.). That kind of fear actually denies the love of God in the Gospel and instils distrust rather than faith in the child.

When your child does violate the standard, it is crucial that he knows how to regain a clear conscience. Without this his conscience will become seared and his spirit crushed under guilt. Proverbs 20:30 says that the first thing we need to do is apply painful consequences. The child desperately needs this to cleanse his conscience. Guilt needs forgiveness. God grant’s us forgiveness through a genuinely repentant confession of sin (1 John 1:9). Teach the child that sin/disobedience harms your relationship with each other. You love them too much to allow that harm to remain. This is why you must discipline. Explain that forgiveness from the people sinned against is needed to remove that harm and restore the relationship. Instruct your child to ask for forgiveness and confess their sin to you and to God. “Mommy, will you please forgive me for being disrespectful?” Then leave him in his room to pray and ask God for forgiveness with confession as well. He may only come out once that is done.

We want to move our children to true repentance and this is a key expression of it. If the violation has affected others (the child’s disobedience to your instruction of not running in your friend’s house resulted in breaking the friend’s lamp), the child must also go to or phone your friend and ask them for their forgiveness as well. Another important expression of true repentance is restitution. When another person’s property is damaged, it must be replaced. A person’s property is representative of their labour and time. To damage someone’s property and not make restitution is a form of stealing. The child must be given extra labours to “pay” for what they broke. Depending on the child’s age, they may or may not be able to work off the full amount. Nevertheless, it is part of their discipline and training to learn the connection between labour, value and restitution.

Many Christian parents think they are raising their children in the grace of the Gospel when in fact they are perverting grace and the gospel. Somewhere along the line we’ve gotten the idea that grace and forgiveness mean lawlessness and irresponsibility. Being forgiving means you hold no one accountable, and grace means you let people get away with things. When these perversions of grace are applied to parenting, the child’s sinfulness will know no restraints – and parents will be bewildered at the consequences. This unfortunate situation gets repeated every time a parent gives an instruction and then leaves the child to obey or not; every time a parent allows responsibilities to go unfulfilled; every time a parent bails out the child from the consequences of their actions – instead of enforcing all these things.

It is a false compassion, a perversion of grace. We must recover the biblical concept of grace – which is set in the context of accountability to a righteous God for our sin. Where there is no law, there is no knowledge of sin, and where there is no knowledge of sin, there is no guilt, and where there is no guilt, there can be no real grace. Grace delivers us from condemnation, but it delivers to righteousness. Romans 5:21 & 6:14 – Grace reigns in righteousness because under grace sin has no more dominion. That is, grace doesn’t just get me off the hook for my sin, grace overcomes my sin so I live righteously. Raising the next generation in the gospel of grace means raising them to live righteously. It is a righteousness through faith in the person and work of Christ. But it is righteousness nonetheless.

The conscience must be trained in righteousness and cleansed by the gospel when violated. That way your children grow up with an internal mechanism to guide them in God’s ways even when you are not there to instruct them.