Parenthood in the Local Church: Part 1, The Gospel
My husband makes fun of me because I hate instruction manuals. “Just let me figure it out; I learn better that way!” I insist. Besides the fact I may ruin (have ruined?) a project before I even begin, he tells me that I miss out on so much by not reading the manual and thus not understanding the maker’s intentions for and capabilities of a device.
Well, as much as I dig my feet in and detest taking time to read an instruction manual, I think he’s right. And I think the same applies to our parenting. Many of us want to jump right to the practical, “How do I do this?” or “How do I get results?” But we have to start with our manual: God’s word and a right understanding of the gospel.
Why is this important? First, because the gospel is the answer to our children’s (and our) most important problem: How can we be made right with God? And second, because the gospel is not just something that is necessary for conversion and then moved on from. The gospel should shape, infuse and influence our entire lives as Christians, including our parenting.
Let’s look at this in the book of Colossians.
First, Colossians 1:5-6 tells us that the gospel, which has come to the church at Colossae, is bearing fruit and increasing. We see here “is bearing fruit” is in the present progressive verb form. This means the fruit bearing is not a one-time-and-done deal, but rather it is ongoing and active. If the gospel is producing this ongoing bearing of fruit, then it must be something that is not needed once, but continually.
Next, what is this “fruit” Paul is talking about? Is it simply the fruit of conversion? That the number of converts is continuing to increase? Perhaps in part, but I think it is also more. If we scan down to verse 10, we see that word “fruit” again. And what is it doing? It is bearing in every good work. Not just producing the good work of conversion, but active in every good work. And the good works are not the works of new converts, but the works of those who are already believers. In fact, the whole context of the letter of Colossians is to the “saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae” (v. 1). The letter of Colossians is for the believers’ encouragement and growth, that they (and we) might “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (v. 10). Additionally, we can see this definition of “fruit” in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” These fruits are things that grow and increase in the life of the believer. And according to Colossians 1:6, it is the gospel that bears them.
Last, we see further in Colossians 1:23, Paul says we are reconciled to God if we do not shift from the hope of the gospel. Again, born-again believers are to hold fast to the hope of the gospel. Not once for conversion, but always.
The gospel is for salvation (Romans 1:16), but the gospel is not only for salvation. It is also for our sanctification. It is for our whole lives.
And it changes everything.
Which means it changes our parenting. The gospel is relevant to and necessary for every aspect of our parenting. If affects how we discipline and correct them, how we help them through difficult friendships, how we teach them who they are, how we talk to them about hard topics like sex and abortion, and so much more.
What is the gospel, and how do I share it with my children?
Plainly put, the gospel means “good news.” In Tim Keller’s book Shaped by the Gospel, he states, “The gospel is ‘heraldic proclamation” before it is anything else...The gospel is preeminently a report about the work of Christ on our behalf - salvation accomplished for us.” The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ came into this world to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).
Sounds simple enough, but that doesn’t necessarily make communicating it easy.
In my earlier parenting days, I would ask my children this question, “What is the gospel?” They would either say, “The good news!” or, “Jesus died on the cross!” Now, that’s not a bad starting point, but the fact that they couldn’t explain what the good news actually was, or that they isolated Jesus’ death on the cross from the rest of the gospel, was troubling. How do I help them understand and communicate the entirety of the gospel in a clear way?
Again, Keller’s book was helpful, along with our Gospel Changes Everything series. The gospel can be communicated through Scripture’s larger metanarrative: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Glory. I simply started to share these categories with my children.
Their answer to the question “What is the gospel?” then became: “Creation, fall, redemption, glory.”
That is certainly a more complete picture. My job then was to help them understand and expound on each of these categories. This can be done as simply or as intricately as is appropriate for their age and understanding.
Here is an example of our conversations now:
Me: What is the gospel?
Them: Creation, fall, redemption, glory!
Me: What is creation?
Them: God created the world, and he created it good.
Me: What is the fall?
Them: Adam and Eve rebelled and sinned against God. Since the fall, all men have been born into this sin, and because of it, we are separated from God and deserve eternal punishment.
Me: What is redemption?
Them: God sent his son, Jesus, to live a perfect life, to die the death we deserved, taking on our sins and giving us his righteousness. Jesus rose from the grave and conquered sin and death.
Me: What is glory?
Them: Jesus ascended into heaven. He now lives and is seated at the right hand of God interceding for his people. One day he will return to reclaim his bride and make all things new.
This is the gospel in narrative form. It is not about them primarily, it is about Jesus Christ. But, it absolutely applies to them. In order for them to understand how, some follow up questions must be asked:
Me: Are you a sinner?
Them: Yes, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
Me: What must you do to be saved?
Them: Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
The beauty of the gospel is that it can be communicated this concisely. And yet, because God is infinite and eternal, it can be studied without exhaustion for a lifetime.
Having these categories in mind, our children (and we as well) can start to see all things through the lens of the gospel and apply it to every area of life. We’ll take a further look at how this works out in our parenting as this series continues.
More in The Well Blog
September 2, 2019Christian Hedonism in Church History
August 28, 2019Parenthood in the Local Church: Part 5, Discipline
August 19, 2019Parenthood in the Local Church: Part 4, Catechism