Many Christian parents believe that they will be able to save their children if they faithfully manage all their parenting responsibilities. The reasoning goes like this: God promises the covenant blessings of salvation from generation to generation. If I do my job faithfully, I will bring these blessings on my children. Such reasoning is satisfying because it provides peace of mind.
The implications of this thinking are catastrophic, because it obscures the sovereign grace of the gospel. God alone saves. God gives the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Like us, our children come to Christ because of God’s grace and mercy. As John says, “to all who did receive him, . . . he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12–13, emphasis mine).
Believing that I will save my children through my obedience produces wrong motives for faithful parenting. My parenting will have this undercurrent of grim desperation, born of believing that if I don’t get it right, they will not know God. The settled peace of quiet confidence in the goodness and mercy of God’s sovereign grace is lost if I believe my faithfulness will save my children.
While the pressure on the parent is great, the children are placed under even more duress. They face being harried, goaded, perhaps even badgered, by parents who love them and are trying to produce something that is only the work of grace.
The young parents who are trying to save their children will find themselves tempted to judgmental criticism of older parents whose children are struggling or seem to walk away from the faith. Later, they may become angry, confused, and even cynical if their own children struggle with questions of faith. “Where did we go wrong? We did everything we could to shepherd our children.” They will find themselves spring-loaded for self-recrimination and hopelessness rather than hoping in the power of prayer and resting in God’s faithfulness to his Word.
What truths will realign our thinking? Salvation is of the Lord. God is the one who saves sinners. Salvation is not by works; not by our works or our children’s works. I hear someone asking, “Then why work so hard to provide the best possible parenting for our children?” The answer is clear. We strive to raise our children according to God’s ways because God has called us to faithfulness. We delight in his ways in our inner being. We long to be faithful in all our callings. We know that God uses means, so we strive to fulfill our role by using our parenting and family life to point our children to Christ.
At the end of the day, we hope, not in our good works, but in God’s great faithfulness to bring glory to himself by raising up from our homes a holy seed for his church.