By Jenny Stricklin
Should we instruct a child to behave like a Christian before he or she is one? Should we insist our little people look the part even if it’s only skin deep? With its major emphasis on the heart behind an action, the New Testament is clear that a belief change precedes a behavior change – being before doing – so is it helpful to require they wear the jersey before they are officially on the team?
My first two children were about two and three years old the first time I ever considered this question. At a ladies church fellowship, a mom friend of mine casually mentioned her plan to avoid pushing her faith onto her kids, wanting to be sure their beliefs were authentic and had time to develop. I think I understood her motivation – that her kids would not ride the spiritual wave of their parents only to then realize as a teen or young adult that they did not in fact own their faith. I get that. Certainly we can all agree that authenticity is the goal. But I wasn’t sure if I agreed with her path to get there.
On any given day, I am personally involved on some level in the dressing of five other humans. I’m slowly working myself out of a job as the 9 & 10 year old need increasingly less help (as long as there is clean laundry!), and the 5 year old continues to emerge in his clothing choice confidence. But the 3 year old, and 2 year old depend heavily on my assistance, even though at least one of them is quite confident she knows it all.
Now just because the two littles don’t understand cultural clothing expectations, or know how to fully dress themselves yet, and even though they don’t always possess the inner motivation to put any clothes on at all (Hellooooo, daily naked runs!), I still consistently require clothing and happily help them dress without a second thought.
Could we consider spiritual instruction and expectation in the very same way?
Look at Paul’s words in Colossians 3:12-14:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Here we see that a believer’s wardrobe should include the ever-flattering compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness & love.
Now just because my young kids don’t yet understand the dress God requires of His people, and just because they don’t know how to properly fit themselves with these virtues, and just because they don’t yet share the inner conviction to clothe themselves at all (Hello, depravity!), perhaps it’s my duty as a loving, God-fearing parent to help them learn.
Galatians 3:24 reminds us that “The Law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith.” Some versions even compare the law to a school master or tutor, leading us straight to Christ. I suppose we might all agree that moral instruction is a necessary part of childrearing – for the greater good of society, if nothing else. But let’s not forget: the consistent training of our kids is a giant arrow pointing to them to something bigger, deeper, grander. Morality by itself is empty. But at some point, God willing, our loving enforcement of God’s dress code when they are young will serve to
1.) Illuminate their own sin nature (“I am not perfect after all.”)
2.) Expose the disparity between God and man (“My sin is a problem because it separates me from a holy God.”)
3.) Confront them with their need for salvation and inner transformation (“I need Jesus to rescue me from my sin and enable me to please Him.”)
Prayerfully, their need for the cross will be clearer and more readily accepted if we have required behavior that our kids potentially don’t always like and certainly can’t always meet.
This is good news! Our endless, mundane moments of character shaping and training MATTER. By God’s grace, they are laying a firm foundation for the next generation of Christ-centered, God-honoring, Holy Spirit-prompted men and women in a world that increasingly denies absolute truth and God’s standard of right and wrong.
Maybe one of the greatest services we can do for our children now in preparing them to know and follow Jesus, is to help them care about the same things that the Holy Spirit will be concerned with when one day He lives inside them. Will the Spirit insist on kindness and forgiveness? Then so should we. Does He prize truth and righteousness? Then we should do everything in our power to equip and outfit them now. Then, what they’ve learned out of observation and obedience will become a natural expression of faith when they are in Christ.
So let’s get ‘em dressed! Suit ‘em up! Go ahead and put on that jersey! And then pray for the Spirit to breathe new life into them.
Of course… the alternative is half-dressed or completely naked children running around. And whether physically or spiritually speaking, that’s only cute for a little while. 😉
From Little Rock, AR, Jenny Stricklin is a pastor¹s wife and mom of five young kids who is seeking to live out her motherhood calling in a way that honors God and impacts the Kingdom. God has graciously shown her His heart through everyday struggles, foster care, adoption, and parenting a child with special needs. Out of a love and desire for community, she¹s eager to link arms with other moms as they run - and sometimes crawl - toward Jesus in an effort to follow Him in the context of family.