(This is the manuscript from “A Godly Home Guarantees Godly Kids” preached on May 8, 2011. Here’s the audio for the message. See additional resources at the end of the manuscript)
We’ve all seen and experienced it. We’re at the mall and there’s a little kid going berserk, screaming at the top of his lungs and flopping on the floor. And what do we typically think? “That kid’s parents need a parenting class!” Or we hear about a teenager in rebellion, partying, sleeping around, maybe even doing drugs. And what do we typically think? “I wonder where the parents messed up?” Or someone tells us about an adult child who’s going through a divorce, struggling with addiction or same sex-attraction. We speculate on where one of the parents failed. And all of these speculations of parenting failures are based on a spiritual urban legend that we’re going to look at today. And here it is…
A godly home guarantees godly kids.
Last week, we began a 7-week series called Urban Legends. We’re talking about some of the spiritual urban legends and myths we believe in our Christian faith. And they’re not harmless misunderstandings. They’re spiritually dangerous beliefs. When we believe these urban legends and life doesn’t work out the way we thought it would, we become disappointed with God and disillusioned in our spiritual life. And today’s urban legend is especially painful.
I’ve been nervous about preaching this message, especially on Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is a day filled with all kinds of emotion. Some of you are single, and you desperately want to be married and be a mom. Some of you are struggling with the pain of infertility, and Mother’s Day is a reminder of the pain. Some of you didn’t or don’t have a good mom. And some of you have lost your mother, and Mother’s Day seems to make her death that much more painful. My grandmother died on this very day 33 years ago, and it’s going to be a hard day for my mom. And lastly, some of you have children who’ve rejected Jesus and have walked away from a relationship with Him. And you feel all kinds of emotions on this Mother’s Day.
So today as we talk about the spiritual urban legend that “a godly home guarantees godly kids,” I want to talk about it with grace and compassion, but I also want to talk about the truth and what the Bible really says. Today, we’ll discuss four things: (1) the Myth, (2) the Reality, (3) the Problem, and (4) the Responsibility.
#1 The Myth
Here’s where we get the myth that a godly home guarantees godly kids – Proverb 22:6. “Train up a child in the way he should go. Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Here’s what we think it says. If I “train” and raise my child or children in a godly home, a home that loves Jesus and lives out what Jesus says to live out, then my kids will be godly. And even if they go through a season of rebellion or play the prodigal for a while, eventually they’ll come back to Jesus because they’ve been raised correctly.
There are books, blogs, and seminars that all teach this urban legend. If you will simply apply the “biblical principles” then you’re kids will turn out to be godly. Many of us have read these books and blogs and have heard some of the seminar speakers… a godly home is guaranteed to produce godly kids.
Here’s what one writer says, “If our parents’ approach seemed closed to biblical parenting, yet bore bad fruit, we can be certain it was not biblical. Parents who accurately implement biblical principles will not be disappointed.” Another parenting “expert” advises use of their online Bible study to “observe and learn from winning parents… whose children are obedient and respectful and who know God’s will and live faithful Christian lives. We should be imitating those parents who are successful, not those who fail.”
Sounds good, huh? Almost too good to be true, huh? Well that’s because it is too good to be true. So let’s look at the reality.
#2 The Reality
What does the Bible really say about godly parenting and godly kids? Let’s go back to Proverbs 22:6. Let’s look at the first part of the verse.
“Train up a child” – Biblical scholars don’t agree on what this means exactly. It could mean teaching and instructing a child. It could mean formally dedicating a child to the Lord. It could even mean tailoring training and parenting specifically for each child (“train up a child according to his way”). Regardless of the specific interpretation, the implication is that Christian parents should teach their kids the path of righteousness and do it in a way that fits their child’s unique personality. But it’s the second half of the proverb that creates the spiritual urban legend.
“Even when he is old, he will not depart from it” – the first obvious question is “when did depart become return?” What we want it to say is that a kid raised in a Christian home who rebels and becomes a prodigal will eventually return. But that’s not what it says. If it says anything, it says they won’t depart or turn away in the first place.
Now there’s something very important that we must understand: Proverbs aren’t promises. Proverbs tell us how life generally works out, but they don’t guarantee how life will work out. The Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman III wrote this in his commentary on Proverbs:
A proverb does not give a promise. The book of Proverbs advises its hearers in ways that are most likely to lead them to desired consequences if all things are equal. The point is that this proverb encourages parents to train their children, but does not guarantee that if they do so their children will never stray.
Here’s another way of looking at the reality. If we believe that a godly home with godly parents guarantees godly kids, then we should be able to apply the test to God Himself. God the Father is the ultimate, godly parent. So how did the perfect “home” in the garden work out for his kids Adam and Eve? Not too well. And then in the OT, God calls Israel “my firstborn son.” How’d that ultimately work out? Not too well. If God’s success as a parent is to be judged by the fruit of His children, then God doesn’t pass our parenting test.
As parents we have a strong influence over our children but no ultimate control. As our children grow into and towards adulthood, they’re ultimately responsible for their own actions, conduct, and ownership of their faith and spiritual journey. Just because they rebel from what you have wholeheartedly and authentically taught them doesn’t mean that you have failed them or you are an ungodly parent and an inadequate role model.
#3 The Problem
Here’s the problem when we believe the spiritual urban legend and myth that a godly home guarantees godly kids. It produces three “false,” spiritually damaging things:
False Guilt. When we’ve raised our kids in a godly home and they don’t turn out the way we hoped and prayed for, we bludgeon ourselves with the sledgehammer of false guilt. We begin to believe that we’re either ungodly people or lousy parents. But perhaps it’s because human beings, including our children, have a sin nature and are inherently self-centered. And there are other factors at play as well. Perhaps we have children that are hyper-active, have learning difficulties, are emotionally handicapped, and even strong-willed or just plain incorrigible. There’s another group of parents that can get hammered under the false guilt of this myth… adoptive parents. They make an incredible sacrifice filled with incredible love, and they take in an unwanted or abandoned child. They long to provide a great home with a great spiritual foundation. And then that adopted child begins to exhibit some of the same struggles as their biological mother or father. The culprit is just as likely to be genetics as home life… there are other things at play. And so when our kids don’t turn out to be godly, this myth that a godly home guarantees godly kids plagues us with false guilt.
False Pride. The next thing the myth produces is false pride. If our kids do turn out to be Christ-honoring and Christ-following kids and adults, it’s all too easy to take too much of credit… and it’s only natural. When something we have a hand in turns out well, we’d prefer to think that we had a large role in it. We think it must be a result of our stellar, godly parenting. Larry Osborne shares in his book 10 Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe this about false pride:
Before Nancy and I had children of our own, I would have titled a sermon on raising children something like “Ten Rules for Raising Godly Kids.” But birth by birth, the titles changed. The progression went something like this:
“Ten Rules for Raising Godly Kids”
“Ten Guidelines for Raising Good Kids”
“Five Principles for Raising Kids”
“Three Suggestions for Surviving Parenthood”
False Hope. The last thing that this spiritually dangerous myth can produce is a false hope. Once again, a proverb is not a promise. It’s not a guarantee that just because you’ve raised your kids in a godly home that they will remain or won’t turn away. And if our kids don’t return and we’ve believed this myth, we invariably get disappointed with God and disillusioned in the Christian life.
#4 The Responsibility
What is the responsibility that we do have in creating a godly home, even though it’s not a slam-dunk guarantee that our kids will turn out to love Jesus and follow Him? What are some of the ways that we can increase our odds of success? What can we do to make it easier for our kids to know Jesus?
Parents. I want to speak to two different sets of parents:
Parents with kids at home. If you’re married, work at having a great marriage. I know some of you are going through or have gone through divorce. And I don’t say this to do a “drive-by guilting.” But the reality and truth is that a great marriage provides great stability for our kids. Put your marriage and not your kids first. I’m not saying that you lock them in a closet or don’t pay attention to them or do special things for them, but your first priority is your marriage and then your children. Don’t get that reversed.
Second, teach the gospel to your children and not behavior modification and sin management. I could do a whole sermon series just on this. When you’re training your kids, always take them back to Jesus and the gospel. Teach them about God’s great love for them. Teach them about God’s forgiveness and grace for them. Teach them about God’s empowering presence for their lives as they face and even succumb to life’s many temptations. Teach them the gospel… that’s the only thing that will change and shape their hearts to be godly kids and godly adults.
Parents with prodigal kids. Pray for your kids. I know this should go without saying… because I know that if you’ve got a prodigal son or daughter, you’re praying for them with every ounce of strength you have. And as hard as this sounds, pray for their brokenness because often that’s the only thing that will get them to re-evaluate the life they’re living. Pray for faith. As we talked about last week, faith doesn’t fix everything. But faith trusts God enough to do what He says even when we have doubts. Faith believes that God is good, that God is present with you through ups and down, thick and thin, and that God loves you more than you can ever imagine. If you’re in a place of struggling with having a prodigal child, I want to encourage you to go talk with someone in our recovery and counseling ministry. We have some amazing people who would love to walk with you through this pain in your life.
Kids. Take ownership of your faith… it’s your responsibility… not your parents’. “Choose this day who you are going to serve” and who you’re going to live for. And stop blaming your parents. Every person, every parent, and every family is dysfunctional at some level. And I’m not saying that some of the choices our parents made aren’t damaging and painful for us… but I’m saying, take ownership and responsibility for your life. If you’re playing the prodigal, repent, come back, and get some help and accountability in your life. You will not find what you’re looking for outside of a relationship with Jesus. And here’s the beauty of the gospel of Jesus… His grace and love is more than sufficient for you, regardless of what road you’ve been walking. There’s nothing you can do or not do that would cause Jesus to love you any more or any less. Come back to Him… choose faith… and live your life for Him. He’s the only way that you’ll find and experience what you’re really looking for.
A godly home doesn’t guarantee godly kids. And there are even godly kids who come from ungodly homes. So we know that God’s grace is present in all kinds of situations. But as parents, even though we don’t have ultimate power or control over our children, we do have influence. So use that influence well. But let’s not beat ourselves up nor puff ourselves up over the results. And to those that are hurting because of prodigal children, who’ve turned from God, let’s love and encourage them. Because Jesus is present with us and His grace is sufficient for all of it.
Here are some additional resources to explore:
Parenting is Your Highest Calling & 8 Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt – Leslie Leyland Fields