“My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?” (Galatians 5:16-18).
Read this passage over and over again as it is one of the most important passages for raising children. One of the main goals in parenting is to see our children come to the place that they are free from selfishness and motivated by God’s spirit. Paul is appealing to the Galatians that they live out of their true identity in Christ. If our children remained chained to the law of self, they will never enjoy life in the Spirit. The selfless life means the cross filled life.
As parents, when our babies begin to express themselves, we can observe right away that they are sinners, born of Adam and wanting their own way. A baby wants to nurse and usually cries when it is time to eat. As the child gets older, they resist diaper changes by trying to flip over or tense their muscles. Toddlers may pinch a sibling when they’ve been hurt or throw a temper tantrum when they don’t get that piece of candy when they want it. These young children need character developed in their life. So we set about as parents training our children, saying things like, “Honey, you don’t throw a temper tantrum. Here is what I want you to do, and if you don’t obey, here are the consequences.” They get the picture often through the pain of discipline. As they mature, you begin explaining to them “why” they are not supposed to throw tantrums and be selfish.
As you move along, in order to train and teach them you establish family rules. “At our home we …” – you fill in the blank. The big “but” is that at some point you transition from rule living to principle living to grace living. How is this done? I don’t think there is a simple explanation for this transition, but let me try to give some thoughts that help us understand where we are heading. The first big issue is to ask yourself, have your children believed in Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives, repented of their sins, and accepted him as their Savior? If they have, then the Spirit of the Lord resides in them. If your child is not a Christian, you can train him/her to be a good moral person, but they will lack the “reason behind” the moral character. Once your child receives Christ, the Holy Spirit starts witnessing to his/her spirit truth and righteousness. Their mind, will, and emotions should begin to line up with their spirit person. First and foremost they are a spirit, they have a soul, and live in a body. If Christ is not exalted in their life they will live out of their soul and flesh. You can teach, train, and discipline your child, but you can’t exalt Christ in their lives; only the Holy Spirit living in them can do this. As they mature in the Lord, they are not bound to the letter of the law as they were when they were youngsters, now they are motivated to do “good works” because of the Spirit of the Lord living in them. It is very important that this transition takes place. Otherwise, they become adults obedient to the law and you, but their heart is far from the crucified life. They remain like little kids bound to their flesh and acting out what they “feel” each day rather than being led by the Holy Spirit of God.