The Apostle Paul writes that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).” But in saying this, Paul is not saying that the gospel is only the power for salvation. The gospel also empowers and impacts every area of our life. C.J. Mahaney writes in The Cross Centered Life, “The gospel isn’t one class among many that you will attend during your life as a Christian, the gospel is the whole building that all the classes take place in! Rightly approached, all the topics you will study and focus on as a believer will be offered to you ‘within the walls’ of the glorious gospel.” And that includes parenting.
“Concerning the task of parenting, the most overlooked, obvious source for help is the gospel.” (Pg 40).
What does the gospel have to do with parenting? The gospel plants parents firmly in eternity rather than the here-and-now. And if parents are to prepare their children for eternity, then the gospel is going to have to impact both the parents and the parenting process. William Farley unpacks this idea as seven implications of the gospel for parenting in Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting. In what follows, I will summarize these implications and end with a brief review of the book as a whole.
Before diving into the implications of the gospel, let us first pause and consider the gospel itself. The Apostle Paul summarizes the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “Christ died for our sins . . . was buried . . . was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” What Paul leaves unsaid in his summary is the reason for the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ: that God created man for His glory, man rebelled against His glory in sin, and as a result man has no hope of reconciling with God, unless God takes the initiative in reconciliation (or salvation). Therefore, the gospel includes the grand redemptive story found in the Scriptures from Genesis through Revelation.
“The gospel is the good news that Jesus died to save us from a terrible fate.” (Pg 52)
“The Gospel teaches Christian Parents to Fear God”
Today, many Christians are taught about a loving and gracious God who always seeks good for His people. While this is certainly true, there is also something missing: the fear of God. The Scriptures repeatedly exhort us to fear God; and not just as persons, but also as parents. Mary, the mother of Jesus, expresses this truth as she proclaims, “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation (Luke 1:50, emphasis added).”
“The cross of Christ is the greatest reason to fear God in the Bible.” (Pg. 66)
The fear of God has two impacts on parenting. First, the fear of God leads to a right understanding of the holiness of God. As parents understand this holiness they begin to pursue their own holiness through Christ. Second, the fear of God leads to the grace of God. Grace overcomes sin and leads us to holiness. Parents must both fear God and receive His grace in order to raise their children in the Lord.
“The Gospel Motivates Parents to Lead by Example”
The title of the second impact of the gospel on parenting might be a little misleading. The example Farley speaks of is the example of a solid, Biblical marriage (Ephesians 5:31-32). If marriage is a picture of the gospel, then marriage powerfully preaches the gospel to children (for both good and bad).
“Your children are watching, and it gives them great joy and security to see their parents loving each other.” (Pg. 113)
Three powerful actions parents can take to use their marriage as an example of the gospel are to grow in their relationship with God (both individually and together), pray together, and act in humility toward each other. Each of these steps communicates to children that the parents take the gospel seriously and so should they.
“The Gospel Centers Families in their Male Servant Leaders”
A gospel-centered family is a family where the father takes responsibility to lead. Throughout Scripture, God’s primary commands to raise up the next generation are directed at the fathers and modern research has discovered why: when fathers are active in the raising of children, children do better in almost every metric.
“When women lead, men withdraw from both church and home.” (Pg. 126)
This is not to say that men should lead in an overbearing and dictatorial manner, but the father must lead as a servant, following the example of Jesus. As fathers follow the lead of Jesus, they will teach, nurture, correct, and serve their family.
“The Gospel Teaches and Motivates Parents to Discipline Their Children”
Just as God disciplines His children, earthly parents are to discipline their children: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives (Hebrews 12:5-6).” The gospel teaches us that children are not naturally good, but are born with an evil heart. Christian parents recognize this and seek to discipline their children to Christ-likeness.
“The heart of the problem is a problem of the heart.” (Pg. 149)
Parents do this in two ways. First, parents constantly teach their children about the sin that resides inside of them and their need for grace. Second, parents constantly teach their children to acknowledge God’s authority over their lives and those whom He delegates authority (i.e. parents, government, church leaders, etc).
“The Gospel Motivates Parents to Teach Their Children”
The Apostle Paul instructs parents to “bring [children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).” Paul knew the gospel was meant to be preached or announced as good news (Romans 10:14-15) and therefore the primary call on Christian parents is to preach and teach the gospel in all things to their children.
“Christian parents discipline heart attitudes, not behaviors.” (Pg. 163)
As parents train their children in the gospel, they must use gospel tools: consistency, loving instruction, saturation in Scripture, breaking the sin-nature of the child, confession, restitution, and the proclamation of the gospel. As parents use each of these tools, the child will be continually redirected back to the justice and grace found in the gospel.
“The Gospel Motivates Parents to Lavish Their Children with Love and Affection”
While the sum total of the gospel is not love, the gospel is about love: God’s love for us (John 3:16). In the same way God loves, parents are called to love their children. God’s love is a sacrificial love: He gave up His one and only Son. Accordingly, parents must sacrifice their own comforts, desires, and dreams in order to raise up the next generation. In other words, the gospel calls parents to continually die to themselves.
“We must always love God more than our children.” (Pg. 197)
But the gospel also calls parents to lavish love upon their children through affection. Parents may show affection in a number of ways, but Farley offers four specific ways parents can show love through affection to their children: (1) focused attention, (2) eye contact, (3) appropriate physical touch, and (4) identifying the grace of God in their child’s life. As parents show affection toward their children, they drive their children back to the gospel
“The Gospel is the Solution for Inadequate Parents”
The message of the gospel is clear: you cannot do it yourself (Ephesians 2:8-9). Each of us need God’s grace to simply make it through the day. Parents need an extra dose of God’s grace as they engage in the task of parenting, because parents will fail daily. But the gospel reminds parents, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).” Gospel-centered parents do not rely on themselves, but rely on the grace of God through the gospel.
“The gospel frees us from the burden of perfection.” (Pg. 219)
Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley has become one of my top five books on parenting. The strength of this book is its combination of theological truth and practical application. While I do not necessarily agree with everything Farley writes, he did challenge me to rethink some assumptions and helped me to see aspects of parenting from a different perspective. I would highly recommend every Christian parent read this book.
All quotes come from Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting by William P. Farley (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2009).
All Scriptures: The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001 . Standard Bible Society: Wheaton
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