(To listen to the podcast, see this link.) As we raise our children, we desire for them to walk with the Lord and not to follow the ways of the world. The process of instilling God-honoring behavior in our children while not condemning those who make different choices can be difficult. Here is a question we were asked concerning this:
“I am writing to ask for your advice. You have been such an inspiration and a source of wisdom over the years that as I prayed for godly counsel in this area, your name immediately came to mind.
I am a homeschooling momma of six children ages 10 and under. Our goals for our children are to raise them to be God-loving, God-fearing people with a heart for serving others. How do I teach them right from wrong without becoming like a Pharisee? We have always been open with our children. If they come to us having seen something of which Jesus would not approve, we try to talk with them about what God would have us do. I feel as though at times the conversation has an undertone of ‘they should be more like us’ or ‘look at what a good job I (insert whichever kid is talking here) did.’ I want to teach my children to love the sinner and hate the sin. I want them to look with humility at their own lives and their own sins. How do I not condone the bad behavior that my children may have seen without seeming like a Pharisee looking to prove that we are right and they are wrong? Please help!” Courtney
The answers to those questions are tied up in discipleship, hearts, attitudes, and examples. Let’s start with some basics. Ephesians 6:4 instructs us to teach our children what Scripture says about how we are to live. “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
We also read, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
To disciple our children, we must clearly instruct them by telling them, “This is right. This is wrong. This is acceptable. This is unacceptable.” We should have a biblical basis for those statements, we should be able to communicate it to our children, and we should live from the heart what we are teaching them.
Next we have to decide exactly what being Pharisaical is. The Lord indicates in the Word that evidence of people’s spiritual condition will be observable in their lives. “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:16-20). We are told that we are to judge righteously. “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
However, we also read this: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). We believe Jesus is speaking here against the Pharisaical attitude that Courtney is talking about and that we do not want in our lives nor in our children’s lives. It is judging that involves personal pride and condemnation of the other.
As our children grew, we explained to them biblically why we did what we did, but we let them know those were our decisions and that each family must make their own decisions before the Lord. We also told them that it wasn’t their place to tell others what was right and what was wrong, especially since they were children. Exhortation can be appropriate for elders in a church, and even for believers with each other, as Hebrews 3:13 says: “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” However, that is out of the realm of appropriateness for a child.
We suggested the children talk to us about their thoughts and concerns when they observed behavior in others that they didn’t think was godly. That gave us the opportunity to confirm their concerns or dispel them. It also allowed us to help direct their hearts toward being compassionate and praying for others rather than condemning them—loving the sinner.
Another thing we did was remind our children of the sin in our lives—the sin the Lord Jesus forgave when He redeemed us. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). We helped them know that we are no better than anyone else. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
We taught them through the Word that we have no righteousness of our own. It is only through the Lord Jesus Christ. The Pharisaical attitudes come from forgetting who we really are—sinners before a righteous and holy God. The parable found in Luke 18:9-14 is one that illustrates that fact and one that can be used to help our children toward right attitudes.
“And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
This process of discipling our children is ongoing, and involves continual discussions. Being in the Word on a daily basis shines God’s light into our hearts to help discern motives and condemn pride and unrighteous judgment. In our daily family Bible time, we regularly came across verses that played into helping our children with godly attitudes toward others who were making different choices than we were. We encourage you to use the Word to do that for your children.
May we be parents who hate the sin but love the sinner and teach our children to do the same.