Watching an artist form pottery is a unique experience. I always marvel at the artistry of potters as they sit at their wheel and spin wet clay into a beautiful and useful piece of art for someone’s home. I often wonder about the type of training that developed each one into an artisan of fine pottery. Many of the best potters use a fine technique, a gentle touch, and pay close attention to detail. These artists have a vision for how the final product will look, and they make every effort to ensure their actions mold the clay in just the right way.
In many ways, parenting requires the same fine techniques in order to “shape” our children. In the Bible, such shaping is called discipleship, the process of teaching and training our children to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the greatest opportunity to shape another life through purposeful mentoring and principled modeling in the vast and rich topics of the Christian life.
The goal of parenting is to develop character and to direct conduct in our children that will glorify the Lord as they mature physically, spiritually, mentally, socially, and emotionally (Matthew 5:16, Luke 2:52). Because the home is the center of Christian learning and living, the home becomes the primary arena of a parent’s practice of developing their children.
The message of the Bible falls broadly into two categories: salvation and sanctification. Salvation is the free gift of forgiveness offered by the grace of God and the faith of a repentant sinner (Romans 6:23, Acts 20:21). You should teach your children the way of salvation and help them to know Christ as their Savior. After salvation then sanctification begins (I Thessalonians 4:3). Sanctification is the process of setting something a part for a special purpose. It is based on the concept of holiness, the preeminent characteristic of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7:26). Throughout the process of sanctification parents will teach their children the critical components of Christian conduct and character.
Critical Components of Christian Conduct
You should have a daily time and place to meet with God by reading His Word and speaking to Him through prayer. If you neglect these two key actions then your Christian life will suffer. It is very possible to develop a long list of specific actions that must be taken by Christians, but the Bible is the source of any such list. The wise evangelist D.L. Moody summarized the importance of the Bible when he wrote, “Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be Holy. It contains light to direct you, and comfort to cheer you; it is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s character.” Make the Bible and fellowship with God the top priority of your day.
As a parent, you have the additional responsibility of providing a time and a place for family worship. These are referred to by some as “devotions” or “the family altar.” Whatever you call it, take time to share a biblical story, principle, or concept with your children. You can also sing songs, give testimonies, or praise the Lord together. Take time to discover prayer requests (this will reveal the heart of your children) and pray for the needs of yourselves and others. Make the time to do this together every day.
A good summary of the proof of godly Christian conduct was given by Jesus:
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. – Matthew 22:37-40
If you and your children are conducting yourselves properly, it will be evidenced by a love for God and a love for others. If either of these two aspects are lacking, then it becomes incumbent upon you to search the Scriptures and seek the heart of God to set yourself and your children aright.
Critical Components of Christian Character
Your character is the summation of personal traits that reveal your true nature. These are typically the intangible aspects of your personality that reveal themselves through your conduct. For example, if you are an honest person, that character trait will be revealed when you refuse to lie to others. Throughout the process of sanctification, people must use the Bible to identify those character traits which must be “put off” and those which must be “put on” in their place (Ephesians 4:22-24). As with Christian conduct, a vast list of items could be developed. If you aspire for godliness in your character and the character of your children, then consult the best summary of Christian character is found in Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
As you or your children walk in the Spirit, the lusts of the flesh will not be satisfied (Galatians 5:16). In conjunction with your relationship with your children, you will model (show them) and mentor (tell them) of the “fruits of the Spirit” that should bloom in our lives. These fruits can permeate a myriad of real-life subjects. For example, you can model and mentor the fruit of “patience” or “longsuffering” during times of adversity; you can model and mentor the fruit of “love” and “joy” as you serve the Lord in your local church; you can model and mentor the fruit of “temperance” as you manage your time and financial commitments; and many other such situations. Continue to seek out the moments in life where the message of Scripture can be applied in order to develop Christian conduct and character in the lives of your children.
There are two primary methods by which parents raise their children to become disciples of the Lord: teaching and training.
Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee? – Proverbs 22:20-21
To teach means to “cause to know.” It results in both head and heart knowledge, that is, a comprehension and a conviction about how they should live their lives in harmony with the “words of truth.” This requires “building a bridge” from the modern world to the biblical world, and back again. You are not just supposed to teach the content of the Bible; you must also connect the biblical principles to the modern life of today’s children. This type of application is what brings about life change. If lives aren’t changing then teaching is not taking place. The climax of teaching is not what the teacher says, but what the child does. As a parent, you really are a teacher to your children.
Teaching will take place in two settings: formal and informal. The formal times of teaching will take place in schools, at church, and during your family devotional times. These times are more structured or planned with the expressed purpose of teaching and learning. Because these teaching sessions can be anticipated, students can put up walls that will inhibit learning from taking place. However, the parent can also take advantage of the informal times of teaching. These take place moment by moment in casual settings at nearly any point throughout a normal day. It could be while your eating breakfast, watching a TV show, reading a book, discussing your day, making plans, enjoying play time, and any other moment in your day. Because of the spontaneity of these lessons, the children are less likely to put up walls and resist the teaching. The drawback within the informal setting is that the demands are higher on the parent to discern the appropriate spiritual lesson and quickly apply the truth. The parent must already have the Word of God locked in their own heart and must always be prepared to share a biblical principle on a moment’s notice (I Peter 3:15).
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6
Training is the act of teaching certain skills and behaviors to your children. It is a practical element of training that shows children how to repeatedly perform certain behaviors. The Bible provides the subjects, or the “what” of our parenting. Teaching, as mentioned above, develops the “why;” training provides the “how.” As the parent teaches, he must also train the child by providing direction, administering discipline, fostering development, and explaining dividends in the Christian life:
oDirection – Monitoring and leading your children into the application of truth (Proverbs 4:11)
oDiscipline – Correcting the practice of sin (Proverbs 22:15)
oDevelopment – Fostering the formation of godly habits (II Timothy 3:14-15)
oDividends – Revealing the rewards of righteousness and the risks of sin (Galatians 6:7)
All of these elements repeated over time from loving parents will result in children obtaining the comprehension and convictions of the Word of God. Parenting of this nature will allow children to develop godly habits and skills that will bring honor and glory to God as well as blessings to your children and others. As a parent, keep in mind your roles and responsibilities as a teacher and trainer of your children.
Just like a potter, we must have a vision for what the final product will look like. Many parents set career goals for their children, but very few set character goals as well. As parents who seek to live by the Bible, we understand that it contains the highest standards for ourselves and our children. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, any Christian can live to please the Lord and to bless others (Romans 8:8-9). As parents, we must shape our children in accordance with the biblical standards for Christian conduct and character.
The term “man of God” refers to men who are spiritual and godly. Any man of God in the Bible was a respected person in the community because of his spiritual wisdom and blameless testimony. The term was also used in connection to the office of the pastor. It is evident that not every son will grow up to hold a biblical office. However, an appropriate biblical goal in parenting is to raise sons that will be qualified to hold a biblical office. There are two offices in the church: the pastor and the deacon. In I Timothy 3:1-13, the qualifications for these offices are explained. As you read through them, you’ll notice that any candidate must possess certain attributes of Christian conduct and character. These attributes not only qualify them for leadership in the church, but also for any other position of spiritual leadership. One day your son will grow to be a husband and a father, both roles of spiritual leadership. If your son is to be a man of God, then he should have a godly testimony that reflects purity and patience. He should be one who is serious about learning the Bible and enhancing his walk with God. A man of God is one who can be lead and controlled by the Holy Spirit. Though he doesn’t strive for notoriety, he is a man who is in good standing with others in the community and not just inside the church walls. If your son is to become a man of God, you will need to nurture these outstanding qualities of spiritual maturity in order to prepare your son to properly lead his future family. The characteristics of such a godly man are summarized wonderfully in I Timothy 3. Even if your son never fills an office of church leadership, he will be prepared to be a spiritual leader in other areas.
A “virtuous woman” is a woman who is strong in her character and spiritual maturity. She exhibits the virtues of trustworthiness, industriousness, and reliability. She is a tenderhearted and compassionate woman adorned in modesty and humility. She may appear meek, but is by no means weak. By the strength of her character she meets the needs of her family and reaches out to those in need. She is characterized by prudence, charity, and wisdom. She is valued above the price of any earthly wealth, and she is the premiere example of virtuous Christian living. Moreover, her virtue is attractive and appealing to her daughters, and she leaves an enduring legacy for them. Such a woman is worthy of praise. Therefore, each parent should strive to invest these qualities into their daughters in order to establish virtue in their lives as well. This is the highest praise any woman can receive, and parents should labor to help their children realize these virtues in their own lives.
In summary, shaping our children is similar to shaping the soft clay on a potter’s wheel. As we gently and purposefully craft our children after the pattern of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can help them to develop godly character and conduct that will glorify the Lord. Conversely, we can become flippant in our roles and responsibilities and thus mar and corrupt the development of our children. We must take great care to ensure we are teaching and training our children in a biblical manner. We must ensure that our message is correct, that our methods are Scriptural, and that our milestones are established. May we seek God’s grace so we can fully invest our hearts and lives into our beloved children.