We are deep in the trenches, training many young children to obey us and to obey the Lord. It takes a lot of time and effort, and I often find myself resorting to the same rebukes out of laziness and exhaustion. I get tired of saying the same things, and they grow weary of hearing me.
As I was thinking through the many ways God motivates us to obedience, I was struck by how often my admonishment to the children is something like “because God said so.” Maybe not in those exact words, but that’s the general thought.
I won’t say we haven’t taught them other reasons for obedience, but it’s definitely my default answer as to why they should obey. It’s fast, easy, and doesn’t require me to think very hard or know scripture very well. For me, it’s almost always sinful laziness. I don’t want to take the time to give them the gospel—to use the opportunity to teach them about their sin, the punishment they deserve, and the Savior that took it in their place— when that is what they need most.
Children must absolutely understand God’s authority and know that his word alone is enough reason to obey, but just as I am encouraged to pursue the Lord more wholeheartedly and joyfully when I understand the why, they will also be encouraged to obedience when given more specific reasons.
I do not want to raise pharisaical children that obey outwardly, but whose hearts are dead. They need a more complete picture of God—his love and his justice, his mercy and his judgment, his sovereignty and his grace.
Yes, God is the boss. I want my children to get that. But I don’t want them to become discouraged or bogged down thinking that God cares more about the rules than their hearts. I don’t want them to follow rules because I demand it. I want them to fight their sin with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. I want them to know and understand the character of God—his heart for them—so that they obey with pure motivations.
So, why should our children obey?
God encourages us to obey for our good (Deu.t 12:28), so that we can be assured of our salvation (2 Pet. 1:10), to show our love for God (1 John 4:11), because God created us for good works (Eph. 2:10), because sin is foolish (Matt 7:26-27), for the good of others (Matt. 5:13), and hundreds of other reasons he provides in scripture to stir up our hearts to fight sin.
We need to learn and know these things in order to encourage and motivate our children to do good. I’m talking to myself here…I need to know these things. We can change their behavior, but we can’t change their hearts—only the word of God can change hearts. But we do have the responsibility to encourage and equip or children to fight sin, by giving them a sound understanding of God’s word and his character.
“God can stir you up to love and good deeds with warnings and promises, with love and fear, with positive and negative examples. He can remind you of who you are, who you were, and who you are becoming. God can appeal to your good, the good of others, or his own glory….the sooner we explore and apply those reasons, the more equipped we’ll be to fight sin, the more eager to make every effort to be more Christlike, and the more ready to say with the apostle John, ‘his commandments are not burdensome’. (John 5:3)”
Let’s teach our children to be eager to fight sin, by reminding them of some of the stirring reasons God gives us for obedience.
For a longer list of reasons I pray will excite your heart to obedience you can listen to this sermon, or read chapter 4 of “A Hole in Our Holiness.”