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How the Gospel Shapes Parenting

It was in response to repeated parenting-related prayer requests that a woman in my Bible study said, “You need to read Paul Tripp.”

My immediate thought was, “Well that ship has sailed! I’ve already baked-in the problems in our family from my parenting failures.” But I kept my cynicism to myself and accepted her suggestion.

I felt a mixture of panic, sadness and relief as I read Parenting: The 14 Gospel Principles that can Radically Change Your Family. Panic because I had so many new things to think about and master as a parent. Sadness because, even though I’d been parenting for over thirteen years under godly shepherds, I now realised I wasn’t well equipped. Relief because Parenting was offering a way for me to become a much better instrument for God to use in my children’s spiritual development.

I read it. My husband read it. And it prompted a mammoth paradigm shift in our parenting philosophy and practice.

Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family

Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family

Crossway. 224.

In the midst of folding laundry, coordinating carpool schedules, and breaking up fights, many parents get lost. Feeling pressure to do everything ‘right’ and raise up ‘good’ children, it’s easy to lose sight of our ultimate purpose as parents in the quest for practical tips and guaranteed formulas.

In this book, Paul Tripp offers parents much more than a to-do list. Instead, he presents us with a big-picture view of God’s plan for us as parents. Outlining fourteen foundational principles centred on the gospel, he shows that we need more than the latest parenting strategy or list of techniques. Rather, we need the rescuing grace of God – grace that has the power to shape how we view everything we do as parents.

Crossway. 224.

The Heart is the Target

A fundamental aim of Christian parenting is to help our children see their own heart and its desperate need for rescue.

To truly know ourselves, we have to see how corrupt our heart is—otherwise we’ll never grasp the beauty of God’s sacrifice. Only when we realise how morally barren we are—how completely unable we are to change—can we enter what therapists call a “creative hopelessness” as we start to appreciate what Jesus accomplished in his death and resurrection. Only when we understand our alienation from God can we see what it means for him to reconcile us back to himself. Only when we recognise how far we continue to fall short can we rejoice in the way he sanctifies us by his Spirit and inclines our hearts toward him and his ways.

Parents, like their children, are patiently parented and transformed by our heavenly Father. In turn, parents are tools for the Father to transform our kids. Tripp describes parents as emergency first-responders to our children’s spiritual needs. Rather than resenting parent-child tussles as interruptions, we see them afresh as opportunities to point our kids towards what is going on in their heart and the hope offered by the gospel.

Tripp describes parents as emergency first-responders to our children’s spiritual needs.

Tripp gives an example of a boy who hits his younger sister and feels justified doing so because she always gets into his things. He points out that while the physically blind know they can’t see, this child doesn’t know he’s spiritually blind to the destructive nature of his actions. The parents’ role is helping their child see and respond to their sin.

Avoiding Superficial Change

When we don’t help our kids see their heart problems, we risk them becoming “emotional weatherman.” They try to discern our moods—the chance of parental “sunshine” or “angry thunder”—and behave accordingly, without any deeper transformation occurring.

At this point my one criticism of the book emerges. I would have appreciated more examples of how to talk to your kids and illuminate these moments with spiritual truths. There are plenty examples of what parents say to shame, guilt or control their children, and Tripp tells us to respond differently. But how, Paul? Tell us what to say! Please, just a few examples we can use as ideas!

When we don’t help our kids see their heart problems, we risk them becoming “emotional weatherman.”

The Gospel – Known But Not Integrated

Sometimes the gospel sits dangling—wonderful and glorious but very hard to integrate when it comes to sorting out fights between kids or responding to a rebellious moment.

That’s been my experience at times. But it’s not how it should be.

When we don’t let the gospel influence our parenting choices, we’re being “ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 1:5-9) Parenting lays down the gauntlet for us to help each other live out the gospel so that it is infused into our every moment. We need to be dunked continuously in the gospel, and we need help working it through daily life—help like Tripp’s Parenting.

Sometimes the gospel sits dangling… it’s not how it should be.

Remember

As all good Christian books do, this book exhorts us to remember—to recall that:

  • God parents us;
  • He is always there;
  • Jesus has authority over every parenting moment we face;
  • He has shown us mercy and patience and tenderness and so we are really just like our children in all our wayward neediness.

We also need reminding about the role God has given us as parents. I’ve known the gospel since I was a child but didn’t know what to do with it in my own home. Tripp showed me parents are tasked with being God’s ambassadors: “to faithfully represent the message, methods, and character of the leader who has sent [them].”

Parents show their children why they do what they ought not; why they don’t do what they ought; and how our loving and merciful God has acted in history so in Christ we can be the people he made us to be.

If you are in the throes of parenting children or teenagers, read this book.

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