Prepare Your Children for Life and Eternity (Ephesians Sermon 43 of 54)
July 24, 2016 | Andrew Davis
Sanctification, Life in the Spirit, Glory of God, Evangelism, Holiness, Marriage and Parenting
Amen. Well, it's my joy to be back preaching with you again. I wasn't sure whether I could keep doing that or start doing it again. We'll find out, won't we? We'll find out whether I still know how to preach but thank you Tom for praying for me. It's kind of interesting for me to come back in the midst of a verse. Some of you may remember, we are right in the middle of Ephesians 6:4. So, this morning you're going to get Ephesians 6:4b. And it's been like two months since we had Ephesians 6:4a. It reminds me of a really powerful moment in Church history.
I did my doctoral dissertation on John Calvin, and for me, he's just one of the greatest examples of a verse by verse expository there's ever been in Church history, tremendous unfolder of the Word of God, but the city of Geneva wasn't ready to hear the word from Calvin, and they evicted him and William Ferrell, his co-worker in reform there. And they left, they had to leave, they were thrown out of the city for preaching the word. They were gone for a number of years. And finally, Geneva, the leaders knew they needed the ministry of the Word of God, and they wanted Calvin back, and they persuaded him to come back, and he came back, and as he began his first Sunday back preaching, he started right where he had been many, many years before that and resumed. And I think if you just know the big picture, you know what's being said there, it's like, “We could have had years of ministry of the Word so, but let's pick up where we were and start. “
Now, I've not had such a negative relationship at all. I've been working on an Isaiah commentary, and I was not evicted from this pulpit, but I'm glad to come back and, as it were, parachute into the middle of Ephesians 6:4 and talking about Christian parenting. But in doing so, I want to begin just by getting some perspective, to try to understand where we're at in Ephesians to understand how parenting, how Christian parenting fits into everything.
“Zoom” Back to Gain Perspective
Some time ago I heard about a children's book, richly illustrated. You can picture it in your mind's eye, and the book is called Zoom. It was conceived and written illustrated by Istvan Banyai. I don't know anything about the individual, but I think it’s a very clever concept. And the first page in the book starts out with this kind of interesting diagram of triangles, red triangles with dots all over them. As you turn the page, you zoom back and you find out that you're looking at the comb of a rooster. And you can see the rooster, and you can get a little bit more perspective. So we started looking at the details of a rooster's comb, and now we've stepped further back. And then the next page you zoom further back. And there are two children standing on a bench looking at the rooster in some kind of a cottage, I guess. You zoom further back, now you're out the door of the cottage and you can see the cottage, and in fact, the whole barnyard because you're up a little higher and there's a pickup truck and all that.
And so the next page, you zoom back a little bit further, and the whole scene it turns out, is just a brochure, I guess, for a set of toys, and you see someone holding the brochure, and it's a little bit jarring because there is this big hand grabbing the whole thing. And then the next page, you zoom back further and the person's in a magazine, and then you zoom back further and the magazine is on the lap of a sleeping teenage boy on the deck of a boat. I'm like “Where are we heading?” And then you zoom back further back and it turns out this whole thing is an advertisement for a cruise on the side of a bus in a city. And after a while you start getting bewildered. I have no idea where this journey is going to take us. Now I'm not going to keep going on this Zoom thing, you'll have to get the book and find out the rest. I'm not going to give you the plot spoiler. I've already kind of ruined the first few pages.
I think as you gain perspective on Christian truth, Biblical truth. The further back you step, the more you can see the big picture of what's going on in your life, and you can gain needed perspective. And I want to do that kind of context here. I want to take the Book of Ephesians right here at Ephesians 6:4b and kind of step back more and more to give eternal meaning to Christian parenting, to give you a sense of context of what you're doing as Christian parents. And this stepping back further and further will give an eternal perspective and a radically new view of a series of mundane encounters, and honestly, most of parenting is a series of very menial mundane encounters. And friends, brothers and sisters, we don't have much time. Our life is a mist, as you heard earlier. It's just here, we're here for a little while, and then it vanishes.
A Brief, Yet Urgent Time
In Job 7:6, Job said, "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle." So you can imagine just how a tapestry or how cloth is made and the weaver's got a spool of thread on the shuttle and he just shoots it across and it's gone, it's just gone. And I never really realized how quickly life goes until I had children. And then you start seeing them grow up and go through stages and you just blow through those stages so quickly. And you just don't have a lot of time when your children are young and their hearts are tender and they are eager to learn from you. You don't have much time. And then as they grow older, they're still in the home, but they're a little more set in their ways, and that's a different phase of parenting. And it just goes, it goes fast. And so, my desire is that you would make the most of the brief time that you have.
These series of mundane encounters that just seem like they're not significant, but they really are. I think about like a mother humming while giving her newborn just home from the hospital its first bath. Just that little moment there, or a father gathering three preschool kids on the couch for a family devotion and opening the Bible up like he does every evening, or a mother caring gently and lovingly for a sick child at 3:00 in the morning. There is not going to be an infinite number of times of doing that, at a certain number and pouring out love on that child, or a father driving his family to church week after week after week. Just habitually not forsaking the assembling of themselves together with other Christians. Or parents hugging their kids or talking to their kids or disciplining them when they sin. And in the matrix of an ordinary everyday life, these children grow up, and pretty soon they're gone. And we have to make the most of these days, the time that we have, and I just believe God's Word is sufficient. It's enough. What we have in the word of God is sufficient for us to do a good job as parents, as fathers and mothers.
The Context of Christian Parenting
Now, for us, I want to just zoom back further and further so we can see where we're at in Christian parenting. You heard what Tom read, the whole context here is of the father-child or the parent-child relationship is set in the larger context of Ephesians 6:1-4, "Children obey your parents in the Lord," as it says there. And you heard the text. And, "Fathers do not exasperate your children, but bring them up in the training instruction of the Lord." But these commands, if you zoom back a little bit further, you go back in Ephesians, are set in the context of the Christian family. And the most important human relationship in the Christian family is the husband-wife relationship. So it comes on the heels of wives being told to submit to their husbands as to the Lord and the husband loving his wife as Christ loved the Church. So the context of healthy Christian parenting is a strong, stable Christian marriage.
Then you zoom back even further and you find out that the Christian marriage is a subset of the Spirit-filled life. In Ephesians 5:18 we're commanded, "Do not get drunk on wine which leads to debauchery. Instead, be being filled with the Spirit." So there's this ongoing renewing and refreshing that the Spirit does, and the Spirit-filled life then is lived out in a number of significant ways. But the Christian family, the Christian marriage, and then parenting is a subset of that Spirit-filled life. Then if you zoom back even further, going back in Ephesians to Ephesians 4:1, we find out that the Spirit-filled life is a subset of what Paul calls, “living a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Just the entire pattern of our lives that we are to live up to the calling that we have received, and the Spirit is given to enable us to do that.
Then if you zoom back even further, we find out in the first three chapters of Ephesians that God is about some vast amazing glorious building project. He's building a dwelling, a spiritual temple. Reaching for an image from 1 Peter, “made out of living stones.” And this spiritual temple is rising in every generation and becoming a glorious dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit. And in that structure, that spiritual structure, we will spend all eternity in fellowship with God and with each other. And that gives an incredible context to Christian parenting.
Now we find out, zooming back further, that the building materials for this rising temple are quarried, they're excavated from Satan's dark kingdom. We were at one point, “dead in our transgressions and sins, we were enslaved to Satan in all kinds of lusts and evil desires. Just like the rest of the world, like everyone, we were by nature objects of wrath.” That's what we were. That's where the building materials come from this, and our children come into the world lost, they don't come into the world as believers, they come into the world unregenerate or not having yet been regenerated. And we ourselves the same.
But then we see so beautifully in Ephesians 2:4-5, "But God, because of His great love with which He loved us, God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved." So this awesome work of salvation through faith in Christ is the point of every moment of Christian parenting. That's the ultimate end of Christian parenting. The top priority for every Christian father and mother is the salvation of your children, that they will spend eternity in Heaven, not in Hell, that they will be in that eternal temple, that eternal dwelling with God, that they will be there. That's top priority. It's not the only priority, but it's absolutely top priority. To that end, we find out, zooming further back, in Ephesians 1:13, that everyone who was ever included in Christ is included in Christ when they “heard the word of truth, the Gospel of their salvation. Having believed, they were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” So the children have to hear the Gospel, and only by hearing and believing the Gospel will they be included in this vast glorious work that God is doing.
The Two-Fold Purpose of Christian Parenting
And once they've come to genuine faith in Christ, we must prepare them to do a pattern of good works that God has laid out before them even before they were born. There's a specific pattern of good works, unique to them different from yours, but unique to them, and in those good works they are called on to walk for the rest of their lives. Having come to faith in Christ, they can do good works. They can't do any as unbelievers. But as a believer in Christ, we are, all of us, “Christ's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance that we should walk in them.”
And so, therefore, Christian parenting has two great priorities or two-fold purpose: Evangelism and discipleship. That we would evangelize our children, bring them to a genuine faith in Jesus Christ, by the ministry of the Gospel. And then secondly, discipleship that we should teach them to obey everything that Christ has commanded, and get them ready to fulfill their unique purpose in God's redemptive plan. And you don't know exactly what that is, but it's exciting, it really is a thrill. And so you have to get them ready, you have to get them prepared.
Zoom back with me one final time to see the purpose of all of this. And what is the purpose of all this? Ephesians 1:4-6, "[God] chose us in Christ before the creation of the world that we should be holy and blameless in His sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will, " listen, "to the praise of His glorious grace." That's the final step in this step-back journey, this zoom-back journey. Christian parenting is done that your children might live eternally for the praise of God's glorious grace. That's the point of it all. Now, as our days are swifter than weaver's shuttles, it's a good image for me because I'm leaving behind a string of thread, and part of that are my children, and every day we're weaving a tapestry to some degree, threads of different colors, but there's this beautiful thing being woven in their lives. And the ultimate end of this, Ephesians 1:10, is that “all things in Heaven and earth would be unified or brought together under one head, even Christ” for the praise of His glory. That's the big picture for me.
And it's wonderful to know that for us as Christian parents, it's no accident that we are parents, we're not accidental parents. And it's not any accident that you're specifically parents to the kids you have. I know you may think that it's all an accident. I've actually heard, I'm not going to say much about this, that my kids were adopted. My kids were not adopted. Alright, I have a photographic record of every step of the journey. I watched them grow up. Adoption is a delightful thing, and many of you have adopted kids, but my kids, I watched them get born. And it's no accident that I have the specific kids I have. It's no accident that you have the specific kids you have. It says in Ephesians 1:11, "In Him, we're also chosen, having been predestined," listen to this, "according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will." Every detail has been figured out. So you have been given these children as a gift of God and they belong to God, not to you, ultimately. And that's the biblical context.
Parenting in this Era
Now let's talk about our own context. Let's talk about the era in which we live, what's going on in the world today in reference to Christian parenting, in reference to what we're facing. What is our context in our society, in our culture, in our nation? What's going on? Well, honestly, in one sense, what's happening right now is the same thing that's been happening in every generation. In every generation, our enemy, the devil, is like a roaring lion seeking to devour our children, spiritually. He's coming after our children as he does in every generation. He didn't take any generations off. He's coming hard after our children, and he wants to destroy them spiritually. Our children already are, to some degree, but will be increasingly under constant, daily assault from the world, the flesh and the devil and we have to protect them and get them ready and prepare them for that battle.
One leader in the SBC said this, we are losing our children. Research indicates that 70% of teens who are involved in a church youth group will stop attending church within two years of their high school graduation, 70%. So the world is relentlessly pulling our kids away from Christ, away from the Gospel, pulling them into worldliness and rebellion and unbelief. So Ephesians 6:4 speaks especially to fathers, because they have a primary role in training the parents, but also to mothers as I argued two sermons ago, and really to the entire church as we care about Christian parenting and care that it'd be richly blessed and ultimately the entire society.
Now, last time in Ephesians 6:4a, I talked about the negative or aspect or the prohibition in this verse. "Fathers, do not," there's something they should not do. “Do not provoke your children to anger [or wrath.]” We talked about the significance of that prohibition that it shows that God has authority over your children. He's limited your authority, He's limited over what you can do to your children, and you ought not, must not provoke them to wrath. And I gave a careful list of various things that parents can do to exasperate or provoke their children to wrath. Ultimately, the idea is that parents would in some sad, strange way actually be serving the devil to pull them away through discontent away from the Church and away from Christ, because of sins of bad parenting that they're doing.
So we listed things like hypocrisy, not living up to standards that you preach. Harsh parenting, being too disciplinarian. Lax parenting, not disciplining faithfully or biblically enough. Unreasonable expectations, inconsistency, lack of biblical input, just a lack of loving affection for children. There's a variety of things last time. Now this time, we're turning around and we're speaking more positively there, “Do not do this, but rather Christian fathers do this.” So that's what we're looking at right now.
Parenting “In the Lord”
Instead, he says, “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” or do your parenting in the Lord, that's what he's saying. All Christian parenting must be done in the Lord, the Lord being the Lord Jesus Christ. So Christian parenting is done in Christ. Or as a subset or part of our walk with Christ as Christians. It's done for the glory of Christ, it's done by people redeemed by the blood of Christ, father and mother, it's done by the living, indwelling power of the Spirit of Christ within the father and mother. That's what Christian that's how Christian parenting is done and it's done by the Word of Christ, theScripture, the Bible. We do Christian parenting, I'm preaching about Christian parenting. Now, every nation acknowledges the importance of pouring into and shaping the minds of children. Everyone is aware of that, everyone is aware of the importance of catching children young while they're moldable, malleable, shapeable.
Teach the Children While They Are Young
Some time ago, I heard a story about a man who lived out in a rural part a mountainous area, and this man, this elderly man was a wise Christian man, had a lot of kids, had a strong ministry. He also had an object of interest on his mantelpiece. It was a bottle with a full shiny red apple inside, with a cork in it. So there's this bottle. And the guests in his home would inevitably notice it and go over and pick it up and try to figure out how he got the apple in there. And they're looking for like the trap door at the bottom or some secret thing on the side, but it's just a simple glass bottle looking like any other glass bottle.
How in the world did you get that fully grown apple in there? He said, "Well I'll show you. And he brought them out to his little orchard he had outside the door. And on one particular tree, there were five or six glass bottles and blossoms growing up into the narrow neck of the bottle. That's how it's done. So if any of you have apple trees or pear trees and all that, you can do that and it's kind of exciting and you can amaze and mystify your friends, how in the world did that fully grown apple get inside that narrow neck of the bottle? But you just get it young, while it's still young, and the mind is tender of the child. Everyone all over the world knows that, and I'm going to say that for good or ill. People understand the importance of indoctrinating the next generation in their own worldview.
So their own world philosophy, they want to impart on the next generation, they might raise them as they are perhaps as moral philosophers, or as atheists, or as Muslims of various patterns, or Nazis in the '1930s in Nazi Germany, strong emphasis by the government in raising the next generation of Nazis. Hitler boasted. He said, "You can fight me, but I already have your children." And it was true. Many of them turned in their parents to the Gestapo. Or communists, a whole generation of Chinese kids growing up with Mao's red book and being indoctrinated at a very early age. Everyone knows this, the importance of getting children early. So it is in our country, there are people with strong ideological bents and convictions that are not ours, that very much want to train the next generation to follow after their same pattern. But we Christians, we are seeking to do it in the Lord. By the pattern of the Lord's book, the Bible, for the glory of Christ. Now there are three keywords here: nourish, train, and admonish. Let's look at each of them in turn.
Key Words: Nourish, Train, Admonish
Key Word #1: Nourish
First “nourish,” or bring them up, rear them. The word nourish is kind of home base for this Greek word. Paul used it in Ephesians 5:29 when he was talking about the husband-wife relationship, the husband. Said, “the husband should love his wife as his own body. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds it, [same Greek word,] or nourishes it and cherishes it, just as Christ does the Church.” So there's a sense of feeding, there's a sense of nourishment, of feeding. So, the idea here in Christian parenting is fathers and mothers, you should feed your children as they grow up. Nourish them. Now obviously, for us, we know that the food of their lives is not just physical food, we know a good father is going to be a faithful provider for his family. “I was young, and now I am old. I've never seen the righteous begging bread, or their children begging bread, out in the streets, never.” So the idea is that a godly man will be faithful to provide physical food for his family. But this goes far beyond that.
I think I'm going to go to Matthew 4:4 where Jesus said, Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. So I think the nourishing from father to children, from mother to children here is a feeding of their growing souls on the word of God. They're going to grow up in the Scripture. And the ultimate and the ultimate food of their faith is Christ Himself. In John 6:35, Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life, he who comes to Me will never go hungry.” So we just want to feed our kids on Scripture, as it points ultimately to Christ, the food of their souls.
So just let's get real practical. Fathers, you just need to sit down with your kids every day, and open the Bible and read them the scripture and teach them. Every day. Fathers especially, mothers too, but fathers lead out here. And so, here we're talking as we have many times before about the daily devotion, the family altar, family devotions, and the importance of gathering the family around the word of God. It doesn't need to be complicated, doesn't need to be, it doesn't need to be in-depth. Actually as they're little, it ought not to be too long, don't go on and on. Remember what happened to poor Eutychus and how he fell asleep and fell out. I'm not saying Paul talked too long but maybe someone needed to look after poor Eutychus. Alright. Thank God, Paul raised him from the dead. But at any rate, we're not looking to go on and on and on. So the idea, especially when they're young, it's more times per week than minutes for time.
So just be consistent, and feed them the word and spend time in worship, get a little song you guys sing together and “sing psalms, hymns, spiritual songs” together as a family, and then spend time praying. Pray for each other, pray for missions, pray for anything that you're facing teach them to pray. Daily time. So you, fathers, as you're evaluating your performance right now, you're thinking about how you're doing. This may be an opportunity for you to repent, an opportunity for you to say, You know, it's been a good idea, I've known of it but we're not doing it and I need to lead my family better in doing this. But beyond the daily devotional time, there's so many things that fathers and mothers can and should be doing nourishing their children's souls with the Word of God.
Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:7 it said, “talk about the Law of Moses, talk about these things, the Laws of Moses. When you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down, when you get up.” I'm just using a how much more argument. We're in the New Covenant now. We've got better things to say, better promises it says in the Book of Hebrews. We've got a better story to tell. So let's talk about Christ and the Gospel, and the Word of God. When they sit at home and walk along the road, when they lie down, when they get up, just supersaturated, bring them up, nourish them in the Word.
Key Word #2: Nurture
Second word here is train or nurture. It's a very important word in the Greek. Paideia is the word, it's a word that the Ephesians would definitely have known about. Generally, the word had to do aristocratic families, high-born families, noble families. The father, especially toward the heir, he would hire well-known Greek philosophers or send his son, an heir to a school of key philosophers and he would be mentored and tutored. The word would be paideia, he would receive his paideia and his training to come up into his inheritance, so he could take his father's place. We are heirs of the Kingdom of God and we need to receive this paideia, this training, the children need it. As sons of the king, they need to be trained. Sons and daughters prepared for the full inheritance.
And this word paideia has a full range of meaning, everything to do with education. It's impartation of information, but it's also a training of morals. It involves discipline, involves some of the harder aspects of education but it involves generally education in all of its respects, shaping the mind of the child to think and the life, the heart to love what's right and to hate what's wrong.
That's what we're talking about here. So it means an education. Fundamentally fathers are ultimately responsible for the education of their children. Now, this is more radical today than it may seem. And we have to be careful to not cede, not give up our role as Christian parents, to other forces to educate our children. Government can be a usurper in this role. Government schools can take a role sometimes high-handedly over the children that Christians need to be aware of and say, “This is not biblically true.”
I was reading one document by the government agency of the US Federal Government and this document said it was "inviting families to be equal partners with them in the education of their children." I'm like, "How generous of them. How sweet." I mean, it just melted my heart that they were willing to invite me to be an equal partner with them in the education of my kids. I added for now, for now.
I don't know if they're still going to be making that gracious invitation in 20 years. We've seen some rather shocking behavior from the federal government about some controversial issues in which funding was threatened to be removed from schools that didn't see it the president's way or the government's way, and you lose your funding. So, that's a scary harbinger for the future on what it's going to be like in government schools.
Now we understand many families are unable to homeschool their kids they're unable to do that. We understand there are some Christian moms that are struggling, they don't have a husband, a father to their kids. And they're battling just to make it, and we understand that the government school is all that they have and it gets their kids ready with mathematics and other things, etcetera, but there's stuff lacking, and that's where the church can step up. It can be a father to the fatherless. We can be involved. We also know that many of our brothers and sisters are actively involved in public education, they're seeking to be salt and light in a very dark place, and we support that, and we're glad for it.
But I'm more troubled by parents that send their kids to school, the government schools, as missionaries. At young ages, sending them to be salt and light themselves surrounded by so much darkness. Just understand what's going to happen. They'll be there six hours a day, five days a week, totally indoctrinated not just by the curriculum, but by the other kids and the comments that are made. And if you're going to do that, you will need to work doubly and triply hard in the evenings and the weekends to counteract any false teaching they may have had, or false influences. Sometimes they might not even tell. It could be mockery or shame or ridicule in the cafeteria and they're made to feel ashamed about a biblical view, and they'll never tell you about it, but you as fathers are responsible to ferret it out.
Many Christians feel it's just better to homeschool and many more and more are homeschooling. I think there's going to be some more creative hybrids of co-ops and other things in the future where we can step up and educate those that there's no way for those parents to do homeschooling, but the Church can do the full education of those children. It's going to be an interesting road, a steep uphill battle.
Al Mohler, at Together for the Gospel this year, spoke of a Christian family he knew who was sending their kids to school, a government school, as witnesses and missionaries. But one day, at dinner father was just talking about homosexuality is a sin, and his teenage son spoke up and said, "Dad. That's hate speech, you need to stop doing that." Well, that's obviously a difficult moment. Those are the kind of things that we're facing. For me, overall, if you were to ask me why we personally have chosen to homeschool our kids, the biggest danger for us, for me, I'll just speak for myself. The biggest danger is secularism. The idea that God is irrelevant to mathematics, God is irrelevant to science, God is irrelevant to literature, God is irrelevant to American history, God is irrelevant to European history. I disagree from the core of my being, God is relevant to everything in the universe He made by the word of His power. It's His universe, He's relevant to everything.
So, if some of my students didn't like math, I won't say much more about it, but just didn't like it, I would say Math reflects the character of God, God is an orderly being. He counts a lot of things, He's a counter. It didn't win the day, but I tried. Tried, alright? But I want to teach every subject that way with God at the center. You don't get to do that in the government school. Actually, it's illegal. So I worry about that.
So, we're responsible to raise our kids to raise them up. And I love Luke 2:52, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” That's a great parenting verse. Growing up in wisdom like the Book of Proverbs, rubber meets the road. How to handle your speech patterns, and what to do with your money, and what to do with your friendships and what to do concerning sexual purity and relationships, and all of these things. But it all starts with Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” And so, I want to teach wisdom, I want to see my kids growing in that kind of wisdom. And it also says in stature, there's this physical maturing that goes on. Good parenting, you want to see your kids growing bigger and stronger and more able. So that means, just physical health, physical fitness. Also sports maybe some dexterity skills like musical instruments, different things. You want to see them grow in their physical stature, and in favor with God, that's just religion, piety, the patterns of religion, of prayer and Bible intake, and church involvement. And favor with God. And then in favor with men, that's that socializing aspect, where good manners, how to eat it at the dinner table, and how to hold the door for somebody or see somebody who's weak and you help them, you love your neighbor as yourself. That's a great pattern. So that's word number two training or nurture. And the third word is admonish.
Key Word #3: Admonish
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The word, admonish or admonition is rather negative, it has to do with correcting someone in reference to sin. An admonishment is a warning in reference to sin. And I think of it in terms of the rebuke, the verbal aspect of correcting, a warning, because sin is dangerous. And so, godly parenting involves those kinds of admonishments. I need to warn you about dangers you're going to face in life. I want to warn you. I love what Paul said to the Ephesian elders, he said in Acts 20:31. “So, be on your guard. Remember that for three years, I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Well, I'm just going to say, how much more than does a father do that and a mother do that with their children? It's a dangerous world. And I want you to be ready, I want you to be prepared to fight the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Now, one of the hard aspects of parenting is that there is a Christian parenting, in particular, there is a mysterious and difficult complex blending of Old Covenant and New Covenant style persuasions. Basically, your children are going to be born under the Law, it says in Galatians, and you're going to need blessings and curses for simple acts of obedience or disobedience. One happens, and you're just going to discipline them. So there's going to be an Old Covenant field of Christian parenting, but always over that is the New Covenant of grace and mercy and forgiveness when they have come to faith in Christ, and their sins are forgiven, and they know they're not justified by works but by faith in Christ alone. And so we have to blend those two together.
As Christian fathers, we can say, like Joshua does. As for me and my house, we're going to do X. So we don't practice religious freedom in our home, our kids are not free in that area, and there's going to be disciplines in others, but we want to bring them into the New Covenant, a transformation by the Spirit that only God can do where they love the Law of God, they love Christ and they're following. That's the mystery. Now, when they sin, like in the Old Covenant, we're going to discipline them. There's going to be the rod of various types, both physical and metaphorical. We believe in that, think it's biblical. It says in Hebrews 12:6: "The Lord disciplines those he loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son." But as the children grow older, there's going to be more and more counseling, more and more words spoken. More and more entreaties and persuasion and reasoning that happens as it should.
The Word Fully Equips Parents
Well, obviously there's a lot more we can say about Christian parenting but this is what the verse says. “Do not exasperate your children, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Ultimate goal, saturating them with the Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:15, “How from infancy, you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Top priority is saturating them with the Gospel, but then the Word of God takes them beyond their conversion. All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Sounds like parenting to me, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. They're ready for their career to provide for families to raise their children themselves, they're ready, also, for any good works they would do in the church with their spiritual gifts, they're just made ready. And the Word of God can do that.
The Goal: Marks of Regeneration
Now, with the remaining time that I have, I want to talk about marks of regeneration. How can you know that your child is born again? What are we praying toward, what do we want to see? They come in illiterate and un-lingual, or whatever that word is, from the hospital. Cute except at 3:00 in the morning, not so cute, but they're cute. And then they start growing, and you've got this incredible dimmer switch going on, from darkness to full light of day. And this dimmer switch just keeps getting brighter and brighter. If we're talking about spiritual things, hopefully, that's what we want to see, but how do we know, how can we tell if our children are born again? Now, this list of marks of regeneration, which I've given you in your bulletin, are good for adults too. You want to see these things in adults. If you don't see these things in yourself, you're not born again.
Signs of True Regeneration
But in terms of applying it to the children, first we want to see in our children love for God and for Christ, a heart attraction toward God, they love God and Christ. How do you know? Well, you can never know what their heart is, but you see their actions and you hear their words. And the Bible says, "Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks," so they're going to speak words of love toward God and toward Christ.
Secondly, love for other Christians, 1 John, is big on this. We love the brothers and sisters in Christ, so we want to see in our children are developing love for the Church, and for other Christians, and they love Christian fellowship. They love being with other boys and girls who love Jesus. They love being with older people in the church who love Jesus, they just enjoy fellowship, they enjoy church.
Thirdly, growth and obedience to God. They are obeying the Law, not to earn their forgiveness, but because the Word of God is right and they want to see this pattern of obedience. They're obeying God and His commandments. They love God. This is love for God, that we obey His commands. And so, there's a sense of love for the commands of God.
And fourthly, love for God's Word, they delight in God's Word. So, practically, you're going to come in and you're going to see your kids, you come in the door, in their bedroom and you find them reading the Bible, just because they want to. And when you have family devotions, they're eager, they're leaning in, their faces are lit up, they ask questions, they answer questions, they're into it. Not detached, not distant, not bored, but they're into it. They love God's Word, and so they read it.
Fifthly, there's a sense of conviction of and the hatred for personal sin. They feel that they are sinners. And not only horizontally like they're grieving over getting caught and having to do the punishments, that's normal. But there is a vertical aspect in which they are grieved at hurting Jesus for their sins. They're sad about that. And it bothers them to sin against such a loving God, and they see the sin in their lives as the problem between them and God, and they know that.
Sixthly, they are able to actually refuse some temptations. They're starting to fight sin. They're starting to fight temptations, and to kill them and put them to death. They're able to overcome patterns of laziness, or sassiness, or disobedience, and they're starting to grow in those areas. And along with that, seventh, sacrificial good works, they're able to find ways to serve other people. You're seeing those patterns of good works in your kid's lives. And number eight, they're able to explain the Gospel.
We can sit down, and they can talk to you, and they can tell you, God, man, Christ, response. That God created the world and gave us laws by which we are to live. Secondly, we are as humans created in the image of God for a relationship with God but we've sinned and we've broken God's laws. And that thirdly, God sent Jesus into the world. Son of God, Son of Man, lived a sinless life, died on the cross in our place, so that we might receive a gift of righteousness. And that He was raised from the dead, and that we believe that the death and the resurrection of Jesus is enough to forgive our sins. And that we don't have to do any good works, but simply by faith in Christ, we can have the gift of forgiveness and eternal life. Then you'd be able to explain that. Now, I know it's going to be children language, but it's just like the dimmer switch. It goes brighter and brighter, and they get sharper and sharper in their understanding and they're able to explain it. And then finally, internal conviction that they actually are God's children. They have a sense, they just know that they're born again. They have a joy from that and a sense of hope. So, there's a lot of things more I could say about that.
A Word About Child Baptism
I want to finish my sermon today by a few words about child baptism. This is a very interesting and passionate topic for many, many in the church and our own church has been through a long journey on this. We've been thinking about child baptism for a long time. Now, I want to begin by saying I'm not talking about infant baptism, I hope you know that. We Baptists don't believe in infant baptism. I was raised Roman Catholic. I was baptized, I don't remember it at all as an infant. And many churches after the Reformation, did not thoroughly break with some of those aspects, etcetera, that the Roman Catholic Church and Greek orthodox did. And many others have followed the same paedobaptist approach, baptizing infants, Methodists, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians but we Baptists are what we call, credobaptists. We will only baptize people who give a credible profession of faith in Christ.
So, we believe in water baptism's command as part of the Great Commission. We don't think you have to be water baptized to go to Heaven. If you should come to a genuine, saving faith in Christ and later that afternoon or the next day, get in a tragic accident and die, you're not going to be at any disadvantage. You don't have to be water baptized to be saved, but you have to be water baptized to be obedient. And somewhere in there, everyone who is born again, as they have opportunity should be water baptized and should not refuse water baptism.
Is the Child Ready for Baptism?
Now, we need, as we come to the question of child baptism to realize the particular difficulties of the issue, and the difficulty comes from standing on the outside looking in, to try to discern what's actually happening in the heart of a child. How do we know? Now, especially if they're growing in a good, godly, Christian home, they're going to be super saturated with the Gospel from childhood, infancy. They're going to learn the language of the Gospel, they're going to speak it, they're going to be set as they should be. This is what fathers and mothers should be doing. Children learn language by parading back expressions they don't even understand. Somewhere along the line after that, they learn what the expression means, and come to a sharper understanding.
Like when a child says to me, that Jesus died to save our sins. Well, my little meticulous engineering mind says, "That's not true. Our sins were doing just fine. They didn't need any saving. He died to save us from our sins, and from the condemnation that comes," Now, you're saying, "Are you being too precise?" It's like, that's not the issue. The issue is, what does the child understand? And so, it's right for them to learn phrases and parrot them back, and then come into a fuller understanding across the years. That's right. That's what child education is all about. That's what our church wants to see happen in our Sunday School Program, Bible For Life. We want to see it happening in every Christian home but the problem is standing from the outside in, we don't know what's generally going on. Now, let's talk about the Sinner's Prayer. The standard, Baptist approach and decades before and recently, I would say this way, is that you would basically lead your child to pray as soon as possible, a Sinner's Prayer, "Jesus forgive me for my sins. Thank you, you died on the cross, etcetera." And then, relatively soon after that, to bring them for water baptism, and then teach them, "Once saved, always saved."
That combination has been devastating to many Baptist churches. You end up with lots of baptized church members who never come to church and who thinks they're saved. That's a problem, but I want toddlers and 5-year-olds and 7-year-olds to learn the Sinner's Prayer because they're going to sin. And I want them to be brought to Jesus when they sin. I'm not going to say, "Well, we get to Jesus by and by." I want them to know right away that sinners should go to Jesus when they sin. So, they're going to be praying, "Jesus forgive me. I'm sorry. Will you please accept me?" Etcetera.
Where does water baptism fit into that? When does that happen? I would say, every Baptist family waits at some point. It’s not as soon as they pray their first Sinner's Prayer, they're going to be water baptized. Everyone waits. Question is, how long? We also know that children, biblically, are immature in their thinking. It's not an insult, it's just true. “When I was a child, I thought like a child, talked like a child, reason for it like a child. When I became a man and put childish ways behind me.” Also, 1 Corinthians 14:20, Paul says, "Brothers, stop thinking like children." He's not trying to insult children, he's saying, "Grow up and be mature in the way you think" So, children think immaturely. There's no harm in it.
We believe, the elders believe, that children can come to a genuine faith in Christ, at a very early age. A genuine faith in Christ. Can I say that again? Because it just keeps coming up again, and again. As we struggle on to child baptism, I just keep hearing this. I want to say again, "We believe, with all of our hearts that children, boys and girls, can come to a genuine saving faith in Christ at a very early age." But I'm going to add this statement, "It's just very hard to tell for sure from the outside looking in." It's real. God knows it. He knows that He sent the Holy Spirit into that child, He knows it, but we don't know. What we've got are their words and their actions looking on the outside. So, when we come to that dimmer switch, as we're cranking that dimmer switch and it's getting brighter, and brighter, somewhere in there, they should be water baptized. Somewhere in there. When should that be?
Now, some Christian parents are readier at an earlier age to see their children baptized than others. Some may become even emotional or indignant if the elders want to wait a little longer as a matter of policy. Sadly, some in some churches on this issue have left because they've disagreed so vigorously over this with the leadership of the church. And that's sad. I don't think anyone should ever leave a church over child baptism, ever. My personal conviction. Others are more peaceful about it, understanding the elders' desire to see all children water baptized at some point, and are just seeking to be wise. We have a feeling we're going to err somewhere. We're going to err on this side or that side. because we don't know exactly when they're generally born again. So, there's going to be danger. If we have very little filtering and just instantly baptize kids as soon as they make some profession of faith in Christ, you're going to have the problem that I described earlier.
A lot of times the kids don't even remember their baptism at all. It's too young. There's going to be a downward spiral, if you go from twelve, accept baptism at twelve then goes to eleven then ten, nine, eight, seven, six and it just keeps going lower. Some state conventions have baptismal statistics, Southern Baptist churches, from zero to five years. Five years old or younger? Hard for me to accept that. So, there's going to be danger in that side, but then the other side, there's going to be a danger if you wait too long. The kids aren't going to want to be baptized. They get older and older, going through the youth group. They don't get baptized, they're not interested in it at that point, they haven't really been encouraged. There can be a bit of a works thing happening in the family where, "We'll wait to see how many good works you can do, and then we'll know whether you're born again," that can be dangerous. So, there's danger all around.
FBC’s Stance on Child Baptism
Now, let's talk, finally, about the FBC elders' approach in policy, and what we're trying to do. Until a few years ago, the feel in the church here, I guess, was to just not bring kids around for baptism at all. And now, I think there were cases from time to time, but in general, people just didn't bring kids for baptism. We didn't have any overt policy, but handled more shepherding, that there tended to be a waiting. From my personal development, Mark Dever has been a big influence on me at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, they basically exhort kids to be out of the family, out of the home, on their own, like in college to be water baptized. That's far to one side of this equation. I don't hold those convictions, but what we found was in the general field of, don't bring the kids for baptism, then none of the youth were getting baptized. Kids were going right straight through until they were 18 and never really being challenged with water baptism. We didn't feel comfortable with that. We want to make a change.
We were concerned about the downward spiral, so we wanted to set a guideline. So, the elder is, about two years ago, I think, said that, "We wouldn't consider water baptism for children under the age of twelve." Where did the number twelve come from? I don't know. Jesus was twelve when He was in the temple. I don't really know. And therein lies the problem, there was no biblical support for the standard. Now, we weren't claiming there was a Biblical support for the standard, but it became a lightning rod of controversy. When actually, we're trying to encourage youth baptism. It's ironic the way that thing goes. The elders, recently have pulled the twelve off the table. We don't see Biblical support for that. So, what's left? You know what's left? The marks of regeneration. That's what's left. So, I taught them carefully to you today. I can say more, but I'm running out of time, almost out of time.
I want you parents, to train your kids toward those marks of regeneration, saturate them. In this case, unlike the SAT or other standardized exams, we want you to teach to the test, say, "Alright kids, this is it." Where's my bulletin? Alright. This is what we're looking for in you. Please do these things, they're all in the Bible. And then you're going to teach toward them, and train toward them, and get them ready to articulate God, man, Christ, response and get them ready. And when they're able to come, and sit with an elder, and give a credible defense of their faith in Christ and they'll be ready for water baptism. We're not going to say an age. We think it's not likely to be much before 12. There could be exceptions but my feeling is, there's no rush here, there's no rush to wait. We're not discouraging anyone, we're encouraging kids to come to faith in Christ. We want parents to saturate their kids with these things and teach them about water baptism. Tell them that we want them to be water baptized when they're ready, we want them to the members of the church. And then Kevin's done some great work with our youth ministry, in really urging youth to be baptized, and we've seen more, and more youth baptisms recently, which we think is really fantastic. If on some point you might think differently, the elders are happy to talk to you about it. We basically don't have an age below which. But it would have to be a really rare kid and the circumstances, just for us, it's hard for us to see a child baptism. We're really pointing more towards youth baptism. We want to see young people baptized.
Another issue with children is that they can't count the cost, it's hard for them to know what it's going to cost to be a Christian, but teenagers have no problem with that, they know very well, it's going to be costly to be a Christian. I think that's pretty vital. We also want to see the kids fully understand symbolism, that they understand the symbolism of water baptism, and how it symbolizes what's happened in their heart, inside. So anyway, like I said, the elders are happy to talk to any of you folks on these things. You bring your kids and we'll talk to them, but parent and prepare them toward the marks of regeneration.
Close with me if you would in prayer. Father, thank you for the time that we've had to look at parenting it's just so much we can talk about. I Thank you, oh, Lord, for the grace that you've given us in Christ. And I ask, oh, Lord that you'd strengthen each of us, who are Christian parents to be faithful, to prepare our kids for eternity and for life. Life in this world and for eternal life beyond. Lord, give us strength in this high calling. Help us to be faithful in Jesus' name. Amen.