I’ve read countless articles and heard several well-meaning friends and family advising that parents should never call their children “bad.” Whether we admit it or not, we sometimes say it to our children especially when frustration sets in. Sleep-deprived parents of hyperactive toddlers know it too well. Yet parenting experts say that calling children “bad” will give them a bad rap. And when they hear it long enough, they will eventually believe it to be so about themselves.
Why are these parenting gurus so worried about children regarding themselves as “bad” persons? The alternative, they say, is to tell children that they have not been good. Therefore, the aim is to “be good” and “do good” because, after all, we are good people; and that is the mindset that we would like to protect and preserve at all costs.
Photo taken from American Red Cross IL
The concept of man born as “good,” which is largely Confucian and theologically Pelagian at heart, has clouded the minds of parents and has created confusion in the hearts of our children. This view has so infiltrated mainstream parenting and has crept into Christian circles unawares.
Why is that so? Because the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ has been predominantly missing in our churches. What is taught in the walls of present-day churches isn’t that Jesus was born to save sinners from sin and misery through his suffering and perfect obedience, but moralism. It’s the be-good-do-good model that Huffington-Post-esque articles call us to emulate.
Sociologist Christian Smith coined the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and identifies this as the belief system held by a majority of American teenagers:
- A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about one- self.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
Because of this pervading moralistic orientation, even Christian parents are driven to believe that the aim is to affect behavioral change, i.e. do-good-be-good. But there can be no real change, unless the heart is transformed. The only way the heart can be transformed is through the miraculous work of regeneration by the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus.
The problem then is not whether or not we call our children “bad” per se. The issue at hand is whether or not we realise the sort of worldview we are passing on to our children with the secular parenting influences we carry. There is a huge disconnect in what the Scriptures require of us and the way we live out its implications simply because we have not been hearing the Gospel all along.
As Christian parents, how do we apply the implications of the Gospel in the way we raise our children? How do we impart the truths of Scripture without invoking anger in our children? How do we lovingly instruct them, that in fact, we are all evil, born in sin, having no desire for truth within (cf. Psalm 51:5), without scarring them for life?
Elyse Fitzpatrick has summed this up in her book, Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus, quite well:
Every way we try to make our kids good that isn’t rooted in the good news of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ is damnable, crushing, despair-breeding, Pharisee-producing law. We won’t get the results we want from the law. We’ll get either shallow self-righteousness or blazing rebellion or both (frequently from the same kid on the same day!). We’ll get moralistic kids who are cold and hypocritical and who look down on others (and could easily become Mormons), or you’ll get teens who are rebellious and self-indulgent and who can’t wait to get out of the house. We have to remember that in the life of our unregenerate children, the law is given for one reason only: to crush their self-confidence and drive them to Christ…
Most of us are painfully aware that we’re not perfect parents. We’re also deeply grieved that we don’t have perfect kids. But the remedy to our mutual imperfections isn’t more law, even if it seems to produce tidy or polite children. Christian children (and their parents) don’t need to learn to be “nice.” They need death and resurrection and a Savior who has gone before them as a faithful high priest, who was a child himself, and who lived and died perfectly in their place. They need a Savior who extends the offer of complete forgiveness, total righteousness, and indissoluble adoption to all who will believe. This is the message we all need. We need the gospel of grace and the grace of the gospel. Children can’t use the law any more than we can, because they will respond to it the same way we do. They’ll ignore it or bend it or obey it outwardly for selfish purposes, but this one thing is certain: they won’t obey it from the heart, because they can’t. That’s why Jesus had to die.
Sinful hearts need Jesus. Our children need Jesus. And so do we.