It seems like parenting is all that I blog about anymore. I recently wrote an article on parenting that led to a conversation with some close friends. One of the questions brought up had to do with our children’s individualism, and allowing them to express it via choice. For example, if I tell my child to go play outside, and they respond by going downstairs to play instead, is this disobedience worthy of correction, or is it merely an expression of their individualism? Our answer to this question is closely connected to another question, namely, what is the basis for parental authority?
Where does parental authority come from? Is it simply there because we are the parents, because we pay for the roof over their heads, or because we are bigger and stronger than they are? From a Christian perspective absolutely not. Christians believe that parental authority rests entirely on God’s authority, which has been delegated to us on His behalf. God basically looks at us and says, "Here, you're in charge, make sure your family listens to what I said." This is why parental instructions carry so much weight. When I tell my child to go play outside and they disobey by choosing to do something else, they have not merely expressed their individualism, they’ve essentially told God that He’s not the boss and they don’t have to listen to Him. This is because parent’s instructions carry the authority of God Himself with them.
Ephesians 6:1 says, “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” Likewise, Colossians 3:20 says, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” This is why every single parental command is so important. When I issue a command to my child, so long as it is not a command to sin, it carries God’s divine kingly seal upon it. This is why a child’s obedience to every parental command is so significant – it’s not my authority that makes the command important, it’s the divine kingly seal upon it that makes it significant. This means that when our children disobey even little commands, they are essentially ripping up a kingly sealed letter from God Himself, and saying, “no thanks, I've got a better idea.” Obviously, this is a big problem, with significant consequences.
While our children certainly bear guilt for disregarding God’s authority when they disobey us, the bulk of the guilt resides on the parent who flippantly enforces their God given authority. As parents we have been tasked to be God's representatives to our children, and to treat our delegated authority from Him with respect and total seriousness. This is why we need to carefully consider what commands we give to our children, since once we issue a command we are called by God to enforce it and not ignore when our children disobey it. If we are flippant about this for the sake of allowing our child to express their individualism, we show that we do not take God’s authority seriously, nor the rebellious nature of our children's hearts that so desperately need to wave the white flag of defeat and submit to God.
It was with this in mind that a close Christian friend wisely advised me to not issue pointless parental commands to my children. For example, if my three-year-old daughter is coloring and I pointlessly command her to drop the orange crayon immediately (her favorite color, which has the result of everything she colors being orange) and use blue (my favorite color), then I’ve been irresponsible with my God given parental authority, as well as possibly provoked her to wrath since there is no good reason to command this. Regardless, she is called by God to obey, and so I must be careful to not issue pointless commands. Still, if a parental command is heard, understood, and disobeyed, I am called by God to correct my child’s rebellious behavior. If I don’t, I am guilty of treating God's authority with disrespect.
As parents we are going to fail at this often and probably even daily, and so are our children. But it is not our shared failure as parents that should bring us comfort, but Christ’s shared victory that comes through the Gospel. As parents we will be tempted in one of two equal and opposite heresies: legalism (moralism) or lawlessness (antinomianism). If we are not careful we can easily end up making our children's behavior about performance and making us look good as parents. On the opposite end, we can easily end up shirking our responsibility to be an authority figure and resort to compromise or outright neglect. This is why we desperately need the Gospel to continually pierce our hearts. When I fail to enforce God’s authority I need the Gospel. When my children fail to obey God’s authority they need the Gospel. The Gospel is essential to every aspect of our lives, and without it we have no hope of raising our children how God intends us to.