Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Change Your Family
Paul Tripp organizes 14 principles of the gospel for Christian parents to apply that can radically change their family.
On Amazon, you can find dozens of parenting books published within the last 10 years. Recently, Paul Tripp added his second contribution to this genre, entitled Parenting. Since I have enjoyed many of his other books, I decided to read this latest offering.
Having finished the book, I don’t feel this book is a must–purchase. But like Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson, Tripp’s book will encourage you to apply the Christian gospel to parenting.
Tripp devotes each of his 14 chapters to a specific gospel principle. He summarizes each principle in one or two sentences. He begins most chapters with a parenting dilemma where there is opportunity to apply each principle. He then reviews relevant Bible verses and passages that apply.
Let me review briefly each principle and give you my personal thoughts and application.
Principle 1: Calling - Nothing is more important in your life than being one of God’s tools to form a human soul.
I often forget that my role as father is one of the most important things in this life. It is important to be faithful to the tasks that God gives each of us, and the eternal value of parenting our children cannot be underestimated. Our career, our comfort, and our hobbies should not compete with this vital calling.
My wife is a stay–at–home mother. She has given up her career as a pharmacist to care for our household and raise our children. As a homeschooling mother, she is with each of our three children 20-24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s important for us to remember that all that she does behind the scenes to care and raise our three children is priceless. There is no high calling than to form the human soul as parents.
Principle 2: Grace - God never calls you to a task without giving you what you need to do it. He never sends you without going with you.
Our task of parenting at times is daunting. When the kids were newborns, we are physically exhausted. Now, we are more mentally and emotionally drained. Battling with our children’s rebellion and foolishness, my wife and I get sinfully angry on a regular basis.
I need to remind myself that God promises us that he will give us the daily grace to face each new day as parents. Even when I felt we failed miserably, God is always there to give us the strength to continue to persevere in faithful parenting.
Principle 3: Law - Your children need God’s law, but you cannot ask the law to do what only grace can accomplish.
Whenever my wife and I set up new rules for our household, it’s usually for practical reasons.
- No eating or drinking in the family room. (We don’t want to stain our area rug.)
- No crossing the street without holding a parent’s hand. (We don’t want our children in harm’s way.)
- Bedtime is 8:00 PM. (We need to sleep to have energy to wake up cheerful.)
We teach about Christian character: kindness, patience, humility. We memorize Bible verses like Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Yet we falsely assume that our children need to learn to follow these rules and commandments with near perfection.
There is nothing wrong with our household rules. God’s commandments revealed in Scripture is perfect. But the purpose of the laws are not so they can be followed perfectly. Rather, the point is to show that all of us will break these rules and commandments. Therefore, we need grace and forgiveness. Our children need grace from us. All of us need grace from our heavenly Father.
Principle 4: Inability - Recognizing what you are unable to do is essential to good parenting.
I need to meditate on this principle more. I need to constantly assess what I am incapable of doing. One thing I cannot do is change my child’s heart. I can point out my child’s wrong behavior. I can ask my child to examine his own heart. I can speculate the probable wrongful thoughts and attitudes in his heart. But I cannot change my child’s heart.
Why is this principle important? It is important because it helps me know the boundaries I must set for myself. One time, one of my school–aged children, was completely defying me. I had threatened severe punishment, and he responded with indifference. I was so anger; all I wanted to do was raise my voice higher and pound him into submission.
I failed to understand that I had overstepped my bounds. I am not able to change my child’s heart. Only God can through his spirit. I can only pray that God would show mercy and grace and rescue my children.
For those of you with adult children, remember — even if you faithfully preached and lived out the gospel to your children, you cannot bring your children to saving faith. That is a work of our God. We can only be faithful to disseminate the seed. It’s God that changes the heart and produces spiritual life and growth.
Principle 5: Identity - If you are not resting as a parent in your identity in Christ, you will look for identity in your children.
90% of my wife and my Facebook posts are about our children. 90% of my discussion with my wife revolves around something about our children. We are consumed with our children. This strong focus on our children is only wrong when it supersedes our focus on Christ.
When I don’t pray and read God’s word daily, I easily look focus on God. If you were to ask me who I am, I’d like to answer, “I am a Christian, a husband, and a father — in that order.”
Principle 6: Process - You must be committed as a parent to long–view parenting because change is a process and not an event.
This is actually a principle that I think about a lot even before reading this book. Although I do not want to be presumptuous about how long I will live and how long my children will live, I constantly ask myself, “What can I do to prepare my children to become men and women of God.”
Sometimes, my wife and I get overly discouraged at little failures, and we overreact at small successes. We want to approach our parenting one day at a time, but we realize that like the Christian life, this journey is a marathon filled with lots of uphill climbs. Parenting is not just going to a couple of soccer games. It’s spending quantity and quality time in the ordinary moments.
Principle 7: Lost - As a parent, you’re not dealing just with bad behavior, but a condition that causes bad behavior.
All my children have learned at an early age that it is difficult and impossible to manage acceptable behavior. They sin all the time. In fact, whenever I ask my three–year–old daughter to change her bad behavior, she frequently responds, “I can’t do it. I can’t do it.”
My older son’s common response is, “It’s hard, dad. It’s hard.”
It seems hackneyed, but I don’t want to miss these daily opportunities. Every time my child responds that to stop sinning is impossible, I get to share my children the gospel of Christ. Jesus died for our sins. He paid the penalty. The same God that can forgive us our sins is the same God who can give us power to say no to sin.
Principle 8: Authority - One of the foundational heart issues in the life of every child is authority. Teaching and modeling the protective beauty of authority is one of the foundations of good parenting.
Since my children are still under 7 years old as I write this, I still have time to teach and remind my children about God’s ordained order of authority. We are born, placed under authority. As the creator God, he has full rightful authority over all his creation including us. We must submit to God’s authority, and by committing cosmic treason, without Christ’s imputed righteousness, we are condemned to eternity torment and death.
We are also placed under the authority of government. Many of us have bosses in our jobs. Students are under the authority of principals and teachers. Church members are often under the authority of church elders. Children are under the authority of parents.
One of the most important truths we need to convey to our children is that they are under authority. And God has good purposes for putting us under the authority of others. It is for our protection and well–being.
Understanding the truth of authority will not prevent us from rebelling or disobeying. But it is one of the first steps to understanding the gospel, because we need to understand that our ultimate authority is God. The reason that children are to obey their parents is not because of the parent’s virtue and wisdom; it is because it is ordained by God himself.
Principle 9: Foolishness - The foolishness inside your children is more dangerous to them than the temptation outside of them. Only God’s grace has the power to rescue fools.
This principle is extremely relevant to me today. My wife and I want to protect my children from the influences of our sinful society. We don’t want our children to watch Youtube videos. We educate our children at home instead of placing them in a public school system to guard them from external influences. The children that come over to our house to play, we carefully screen.
The truth is their foolishness often is more dangerous than external influences and temptation. Our heart is deceptively wicked. To prepare our children for adulthood, it’s not enough to remove external temptation and danger.
This principle compels me to pray for my children. Sometimes, I foolishly give more priority to planning and doing things for my children than praying for my children. Only God can rescue you and me from our foolishness, and only God can rescue our children.
Principle 10: Character - Not all of the wrong your children do is a direct rebellion to authority; much of the wrong is the result of a lack of character.
My wife started asking my children three questions before bedtime.
- What did you do today that was kind?
- What did you do today that was brave?
- What did you do today that you regret?
The first few days, none of my children were able to give a thoughtful response. The questions, however, forced all of us to think about our character. To answer these questions, my children must understand good character and what actions reflected that particular character.
It’s pretty easy to open a discussion with my children regarding the sin of rebellion. It’s more challenging to have a discussion about developing character.
Principle 11: False Gods - You are parenting a worshiper, so it’s important to remember that what rules your child’s heart will control his behavior.
Tim Keller deconstructed spiritual idolatry in his book Counterfeit Gods. Our children and we are guilty of worshipping things above our God. These gods might include comfort, peace, and reputation. Anytime my children get angry or throw a tantrum, I always ask the question, “What do you want that you are not getting?”
My children is desiring something so much that they are willing to sin to get it. In other words, they desire something above God. That is the heart problem, and that idolatrous desire is what leads to wrong behavior.
I need to regularly examine my heart and desires to sieve out these idols. Likewise, as a parent, I need to shepherd my children to be able to do the same. Only by addressing these false gods can we begin the process of changing heart and behavior.
Principle 12: Control - The goal of parenting is not control of behavior, but rather heart and life change.
This principle is a corollary to principle 11. But the practical application is this: it is not sufficient to control my child’s behavior. What is required is that we guide our children to experience a change in heart.
Principle 13: Rest - It is only rest in God’s presence and grace that will make you a joyful and patient parent.
This principle is linked to principle 4, inability. When we identify what we are incapable of doing, then we can cast our cares to God, the one who is capable of everything. Prayer and petition is the hallmark of Christians who places his confidence in God. When we pray to God, we draw near to God’s rest. That state of rest produces patience and joy.
Principle 14: Mercy - No parent gives mercy better than one who is convinced that he desperately needs it himself.
The first marriage book I read after I got married was When Sinners Say “I Do.” One of the main encouragements of this book is reminding us that marriage is our opportunity to learn to forgive one another on a daily basis. As Christians, we have Christ who enables, models and motivates us to forgive.
Just as Christ forgave us, we have the unique opportunity to forgive our children and show them the same mercy Christ extends. Meditating on God’s great mercy is critical to give us the proper motivation to extend mercy to our spouse and our children.
Tripp does not present a step–by–step recipe for parenting. Rather, he organizes the essential truths of the gospel in a refreshing outline that Christian parents will welcome and enthusiastically receive.
I definitely place this book in my top 5 books for Christian parenting. If you want a book to help you bring gospel truth to parenting, it is my top recommendation.