With the growing emphasis on wanting children to be “gospel-centered,” there seems to be some confusion about the role of God’s law, rules in general, and obedience. Some would even argue that we shouldn’t emphasize obedience in children lest they fall into a salvation by works mentality—that ugly enemy, legalism. But in doing so, are we inadvertently reaping a generation that is increasingly unconcerned about obedience and holiness in the Christian life?
Here is a really helpful article by Owen Strachan, “Is it Anti-gospel to Teach Kids Self-control Before Conversion?” Consider carefully to his words to parents and the church in general:
…we should not make the mistake of thinking that obedience–even pre-conversion obedience–is antithetical to the gospel. It most surely is not. It seems to me that we are to follow the flow of Scripture in training our children. They learn the need to obey, the requirements of God’s holy standards, and we train them to do so (working from the Old Testament on up). But they quickly discover that they cannot ultimately fulfill the requirements upon them and must know Christ as savior if they are to be counted righteous before the holy judge (this is the miracle we discover in the New Testament). After their faith and repentance takes root, they are now empowered in an unprecedented way to obey and give glory to God. The Holy Spirit in us, through our union with Christ, provides a power and a motivation never before possible (this is what Paul and the apostles labored to help early Christians understand).
So: teach your young kids good habits. Teach them good manners. Train them in self-control. Model what being a Christian is like, and encourage them to follow your behavior. Instill in them that obedience is the cornerstone of being a child. Discipline them when they fail on this point. And consistently–though not mechanistically or fearfully–hold out their only true hope for life and faith, the message of free grace in Christ.
Your children will thank you after their conversion that you trained them in good habits, even as they will recognize that only the gospel truly sustains holy living.
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