It seems Tim Keller inspires me to reflect often. Sorry for mentioning him two re-runs in a row, but I’m happy he gets me thinking the way he does. Thanks for putting up with a week of re-runs while I’ve been enjoying my vacation. We head back home tomorrow!
Reading Tim Keller’s Prodigal God provoked me to think more deeply about my own rebellion. It’s also got me thinking more about the way I parent. We don’t want our children to fall into a sinful lifestyle, and we surely are responsible to keep them safe. Yet, in this mission of parenthood, we are so quick to label one type of behavior rebellious and another as pleasing.
Certain behavior is just labeled “bad,” so we give our children a list of things to avoid as they’re beginning to make decisions on their own. Did anyone grow up with the aphorism: Don’t drink, dance, do drugs, or run with boys who do? Some who were raised under this tutelage jokingly refer to it as the eleventh commandment. However, we all tend to add our own rules to the Bible’s precepts because of the principles in which they point. God’s Word teaches temperance and purity. Since the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, we are not to defile it. But I fear that my children will just look to these markers as signs of rebellion without sharpening their discernment skills. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want my girls “running with” boys who carry on drinking, smoking, and the like. But this is only one means of expressing teenage rebellion.
There is another danger. This danger appears praiseworthy in reputation. Its poison is subtle but the more it’s tasted, the more they may crave. Like a moth to the flame we get sucked into the light of self-righteousness.
I am speaking of the horror of the good kid.
The good kid is like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. He was a rule follower. But the older brother’s heart was exposed when his father lovingly embraced the younger, repentant, sinful brother and prepared a feast to celebrate. As it turns out, the older brother was also rebellious. His good works were the means in which he rebelled against his father’s grace. Keller explains that there are two ways to run from God: by being bad, and by being good. The gospel can be even more offensive to the self-righteous. Like the older son, we can try to accumulate a resume for ourselves and be deceived into thinking God owes us in some way. In his book, Keller explains that the Father is the true prodigal—the one who has extravagantly spent everything.
In my parenting, I definitely need to have rules and boundaries for my children–but they are not the ends in themselves. It’s so easy to heap praise on my kids when they are making good decisions. Nonetheless, I don’t want good behavior to be my ultimate goal in parenting. I want my kids to know the One who is truly good, Jesus Christ. Do I have a formula for this kind of parenting? Nope. In fact, I fall on my face continually, which leads me to two tips:
- Hear the gospel message.
- Teach the gospel message.
We all need it. Everyday. Unfortunately, my heart is also rebellious. Even as a recipient of God’s grace, I need to be reminded of His glorious work over and over again. The more I grow in his grace, the more I realize that I am totally dependent on my Savior for everything. I don’t want my kids to be fooled into thinking that I’ve arrived somewhere close to the pinnacle of my good life. I want them to know that Christ is the source of all good.
Don’t forget, even the good kid needs the gospel—maybe even more so. May we always be thinking of creative ways to teach it to our children in all their stages of life.
Reflection: Luke 15:11-32