By Aaron Earls
For many parents, the first time they held their newborn child in their arms they felt an incredible sense of love. For me, love came with another overwhelming thought: I have no idea what I’m doing.
The root of many fears we face as parents or any adult of influence in the life of a child is a feeling of inadequacy. That affects everyone—celebrity and commoner, pastor and parishioner, first-timer and long-timer.
Of all the fears that grip me, one most frequently haunts my sleepless nights. I’m terrified of raising good little Pharisees, instead of children with a vibrant and growing faith in Christ. What makes matters worse is my worst fear is my greatest temptation.
I find it easy to focus on the externals, particularly when thinking about the legacy I leave with my children. Apparently, I’m not alone.
When Pew Research asked American adults what qualities they believe are the most important to pass down to children, most Americans (55%) listed being responsible. More than 40% said hard work, while only 30 percent mentioned religious faith. (Both helping others and being well-mannered garnered support from 22 percent of Americans.)
For Christians, we can look at those statistics and cast judgment on those who would say responsibility is more important for children than faith in Christ. But we have to ask if our actions give the same impression.
How easy is it to be concerned that our children have a good reputation or, to cut more to the heart of the matter, that our children behave in such a way that we have a good reputation?
Don’t you get that twinge of pride when your child does something nice in public and someone makes a comment praising them and, by extension, you and your parenting? Doesn’t it feel good to be the parent of the kid who knows all the right answers in Sunday School?
Then you come to your senses and the fear sets back in. What if they grow up and their entire Christian walk is just one of going through the motions? Am I modeling a vibrant, passionate love of Jesus or am I giving them a dull, selfish version? Will their faith be more suited to the pious, well-to-do robes of a Pharisee than the dirty, well-worn sandals of a Savior?
We can end up simultaneously terrified and tempted. In those moments, you understand Paul, in his letter to the Romans, when he cries out in frustration over the conflict between what he wants to do and what he ends up doing.
The Gospel as the Solution
Thankfully, the gospel serves as the corrective to both the fear and the temptation. Just as Paul confesses in Romans 8, the resurrection reminds us that Christ is more powerful than our failings. He is able to take our stumbling steps and use them to develop the children He has entrusted to us as parents.
The gospel can overcome any parenting mistakes we make. Despite what our fears may tell us, our parenting failures are not beyond the redeeming reach of the cross.
You do not have to fear your children turning into religious hypocrites because you can trust that God desires so much more for them. You serve as a steward over them for a season on behalf of the One who loves them even more than we do.
We do not have to be tempted by a desire to see them become good because we know that only One is truly good. There is no room for pride when we realize every good thing in our children is from God and everything good in us, including anything we’ve done right as parents, is from Him as well.
As a parent, keep Colossians 1:29 at the forefront of your mind: “I labor for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me.”
Work hard to be the parent God created you to be so that you raise your children to be the people God created them to be. But work knowing that the strength comes from Him and the results are His responsibility.
My greatest fear and temptation as a parent is no match for the power of the gospel. What are your greatest fears and temptations? The gospel is still greater.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.