Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that can Radically Change Your Family (A Book Review)

No matter the age of our children, it seems like there is always some new parenting challenge present. Currently, my husband and I are quickly wading into the deep trenches of the terrible-twos with our daughter: she laughs as we try to correct her wrong behavior and stubbornly persists in doing exactly what we told her not to do, over and over again. How do we deal with such behavior?

In these moments, it is easy to resort to quick and easy fix-it solutions that achieve the desired behavior. However, many times these solutions do not reflect what God has prescribed as the way we are to raise our children. For this reason, I am thankful for godly authors who take the time to study God’s Word and then help point us towards a better understanding of what it means to teach our children in the ways of the Lord.

One such book is Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family, by Paul David Tripp. Unlike many parenting books, you won’t find 1-2-3 step strategies and tips for solving specific parenting dilemmas. Instead, Tripp focuses on the message of the gospel and how it transforms the heart of the parent and of the child, providing strength and freedom to accomplish this ever-daunting responsibility called Parenting.

With that said, what did I take away for myself from this book?

1. I am a sinner, just like my child
In almost every chapter, Tripp makes the statement “I am more like my children than unlike them.”

In other words, our children aren’t the only ones who struggle with authority, bad attitudes, angry responses, and just plain old sin. We, the parents, also struggle with sinful attitudes and actions on a daily basis that we need confess and repent of. Recognizing that we are in need of God’s grace and forgiveness because of our own sin puts us in the position to walk in love and humility towards our children on a daily basis.

2. I am simply a tool
No matter what parenting technique or method I may try, God did not give me the innate ability to bring about lasting change in the life of my child.

The only way change can happen is if the heart is changed, and only the gospel can do that. I am simply the God-appointed tool in my child’s life to point him towards the transforming message of the cross. I cannot expect household rules, boundaries, and guidelines to accomplish what only the gospel can accomplish.

3. The Gospel plays out in the little things
When a child is caught doing wrong, it is all too easy to view this as a moment for frustration, irritation, or an “inconvenience that needs to be dealt with so I can get back to what I was doing.”

However, Tripp encourages parents to consider such moments not as inconveniences but as manifestations of God’s grace in our child’s life: it is an opportunity for us, the parent, to once again point the child towards the gospel and their need for God’s grace. These frequent and often-overlooked moments in our day are the little moments that contribute towards the big picture of pointing our child to Christ.

Parents, this is an outstanding book. Does it specifically address every problem we might face as parents? No. However, because Scripture is its basis, it points us to God’s revelation concerning His design and purpose for the family. For this reason, I believe all parents who desire to raise their children to honor and glorify God will find this book to be an incredibly helpful and gospel-centered resource.

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Reflections on Six Years of Marriage

June 1, 2013, we became Mr and Mrs Isaac Stanley and had that first awkward kiss before a watching audience. It has now been over 2,000 days since I became Mrs Stanley, and I’m still not used to that name.

That sunny June day, almost four years after the first time we first met, we thought we loved each other. But in reality, it was essentially untested love. Sure, we had to work through some things before we got married, but that day when we publicly vowed to love each other, our love was really only in its infant stages, definitely still in the fuzzy-feeling and blushing stage of young love.

Fast-forward six years: we don’t write love notes to each other like we did when we were miles apart from each other; we don’t sit for hours on the couch, gazing into each others eyes like we did before we were married; we don’t bombard the other person’s phone with sappy love texts.

Thankfully, love is characterized by more than these things. In fact, despite the current absence of them, I would say we now love each other more than we did six years ago when we vowed before God and witnesses to love each other, come what may. Yes, with the passing of time, the particular dynamics of how love is expressed in our marriage has indeed changed, but I believe it has changed for something better, something more mature, something grounded in something deeper than love notes, whispered sweet-nothings, and a rush of emotion while holding each other’s hand.

As I look back on the last six years, I can see how time and God’s work in our lives has taught us a little bit more about what it means to love. Indeed, similar to how winter melts away and spring bursts forth from the ground, then summer’s heat warms the earth and even eventually cools into the crisp fall air, our marriage has transitioned from one season to the next:

There was the season as newly-weds where we learned how to live life together, adjusting to each other’s daily habits and idiosyncrasies.

There was the season of anticipation, tainted by sorrow and grief.

There was also the season of learning to lean hard into the ministries that God had placed before us.

There was the season of pregnancy, birth, and then a brand new little life outside of the womb, which then led into the season of parenting, filling our lives with so many new and exciting experiences: the first blowout, the first tooth, the first word, the first steps.

We’ve now been entrusted with the season of training and disciplining this Little One so that she might learn to walk according to God’s ways.

Finally, we’ve just recently entered a new season of ministry.

As we enter each new season, we’re learning that love continues to take on different forms. Often, it manifests itself most strongly in the seemingly little things of life, such as washing a counter-full of dishes, changing a blow-out diaper, or walking side by side as we push a stroller, enjoying the opportunity to be with each other.

But there are other, less concrete, ways that we’ve found love to manifests itself:

Love is shown in learning to be each other’s biggest fan, encouraging each other in dreams and interests instead of simply pursing our own.

Love is shown in learning to appreciate what the other person loves.

Love is shown in learning to serve together.

Love is shown in choosing to love because we have promised to love, even when we don’t feel like loving.

Love grows as we seek to love God more.

Love is made stronger in the stormy waves of life, not the glassy, calm sea.

Love is displayed when we recognize our mistakes and failures, forgiving each other.

Love is shown in learning to trust each other.

Yes, genuine love is hard and takes work; it constantly demands patience and sacrifice, over and over again. Such love can only happen because of God’s enabling grace in our lives.

Have we “arrived”? Definitely not.

Can we expect that one day, perhaps after we’ve been married another six years, we will have “arrived” and will love each other perfectly? Again, no.

Only God can love perfectly, for He is the author of love itself. He also holy, not having sin to taint His perfect love, unlike us who daily, minute by minute, have to deal with the constant struggle to be proud and selfish, seeking our own interests instead of the interests of the other person.

However, despite our sin and because of Christ’s work on the cross, we can be confident that He will continue to carry out and complete His work in us, making us more like Himself. It is in this then that we can have confidence that in the coming years of our marriage, He will accomplish His work in us, little by little increasing our love for Him and for each other.


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To Be Called His Children

My toddler daughter recently went through a stage where everything was “Mama”: Papa is Mama, Grandma is Mama, the toy is Mama.

Even now, there are many mornings when “Mama!” is the first word out of her mouth when she wakes up. She then continues to patiently call out, “Mama? Mom? Mama?” until I finally come get her out of bed.

Sometimes the inflection in her voice, “Mommy?”, tells me that she has something very important to tell me.

Other times, it seems like she simply likes to say the word: I can be standing right next to her, having already responded to her request and given her what she was asking for, but she continues to say it over and over again, “”Mama, Mom, Mama”.

Such moments hit a soft spot in this mama’s heart, for there was a time when I wondered if I would ever have a child who would call me “Mama”. Hearing Talitha repeat that word over and over again melts my heart and makes me treasure these tender moments with my daughter.

I cannot help but think that if I, the imperfect and sinful mom that I am, can love my child with such tender love, what must God the Father feel towards His children? Indeed, perhaps one of the most tender and personal depictions of God’s relationship towards the believer is that of a parent/child relationship: God calls us His children. He is our Father.

So what does it mean when Scripture tells us that we are God’s children and He is our Father?

God has adopted us as sons
John 1:12 tells us what happens when we take God at His Word and believe on Him: “But to all who did receive him, who believed on his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Did you catch that?

Throughout Romans and Ephesians, we read about our rebellious, sinful state before God. We are condemned to eternity in hell because we justly deserve it! However, the moment we believe on His name, God justifies us, making us no longer His enemies. Instead, He calls us His children.

First John 3:1 further expands on our becoming sons of God: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” Being made sons is a manifestation of His great love towards us!

In his fantastic book, Knowing God, J. I. Packer gives some meaningful insight into the fact that we are adopted as God’s children and not simply justified:

Justification is a forensic idea, conceived in terms of the law and viewing God as judge. In justification, God declares of penitent believers that they are not, and never will be, liable to the death that their sins deserve, because Jesus Christ, their substitute and sacrifice, tasted death in their place on the cross.

…but justification does not of itself imply any intimate or deep relationship with God the judge. In idea, at any rate, you could have the reality of justification without any close fellowship with God resulting.

But contrast this, now, with adoption. Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship–he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater (page 207).

That moment when Christ’s righteousness was imputed to our account, God gave us all of the privileges of His Son, Jesus Christ, making us His heirs and joint-heirs with Christ. As Romans 8:15 tells us, we can now cry out “Abba! Father!” for we come to Him, knowing that He is our loving, kind, and gracious heavenly Father who cares for us and sees our every need. Indeed, we are no longer enemies but family: we are His children and He is our Father.

God is superior to a human father
At one point during His teaching ministry, Christ illustrated how good God is towards His children by comparing it to how a human father treats his children: a human father who loves his children will not give something bad to his children. Rather, he will always strive to do what is best for his children.

Likewise God our Father, in a manner that is divinely superior to any earthly father, will only give what is good to His children. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11). We also read that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

Yes, because God is our Father, He desires what is best for us. Furthermore, we can be confident that He only ever gives us what is good.

Why? Because He is our Father.

God disciplines His children
When we were children, we experienced the pain and discomfort of discipline from our parents. At times, we may have even despised such treatment.

However, now that we are adults and are parenting our own children, we have learned that discipline is, in fact, a significant demonstration of love. Yes, because we love our children, we must discipline them when they disobey, for it is the God-given means of pointing our children towards behaving in a way that pleases God. To refuse to discipline and instead allow our children to act according to their ignorance is to manifest a failure to love them: childish ignorance and foolishness will only lead to much sorrow and destruction.

In the same way, God shows us that we are indeed His children, beloved and precious in His sight, by disciplining us when we refuse to walk according to His instructions. As Hebrews 12:7 reminds us, God’s discipline is a sign of our son-ship: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as son. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” This is not just something God does. We do the same thing, for when was the last time you disciplined someone else’s child instead of your own?

Indeed, discipline, in any form, is painful . However, when God disciplines His children, it flows from a heart filled not with anger but love and tender compassion for His children. Yes, even when God disciplines us, we have cause to rejoice, for it once again points towards Him being our Father!

So when sin threatens to condemn our hearts and the trials of life invite us to question God’s relationship to us as our Father, let us remind ourselves that we have been bought with Christ’s precious blood, declared righteous, and are now adopted as His children. Now, because we are His children, let us find great joy, comfort, and peace, knowing that such a bond can never be broken: God will always be the faultless, loving Father whom we can approach and call “Abba! Father!”

(All Scripture is quoted in the ESV)

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Parenting and the Gospel

I distinctly remember the first time the weight of parenting struck me: my daughter, Talitha, was barely a week old and I was singing to her before putting her to bed for the night. As I started singing the children’s song Have you heard about Jesus by Sovereign Grace Music, the words “Have you heard about Jesus” had barely rolled off my tongue when the realization hit me like a ton of bricks: No, Talitha hadn’t heard about Jesus. In fact, she had barely even heard His name being uttered within her hearing since she’d been born. And no, she had not even begun to comprehend what His name is all about!

A lump formed in my throat as I sat there holding my newborn daughter, trying to grasp the magnitude of the fact that Isaac and I would be the primary people in her life that God would use to teach her about Jesus and show her the way to the cross.

I believe many, if not all, parents who have trusted in Christ as their Savior, would agree with me when I say that we long for our children to come to know Christ as their personal Savior, for Scripture clearly tells us that all have sinned and are in need of rescuing.

In light of this, what is our responsibility as parents?

We are to train our child.
One of Scripture’s specific instructions to parents is that parents are to “[t]rain up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6).

So what is “the way he should go”?

While the principle concerning training a child “in the way he should go” can be applied to many areas of parenting, Hebrews 11:6 clearly states that “without faith it is impossible to please him….” For this reason, outside of a saving faith, no matter what else a child does that may appear to be pleasing to God, a child cannot do anything to please God. Thus, we can conclude that pointing our child towards the saving power of the cross is the primary direction we should point our child.

We can pray for the salvation of our child.
A comprehensive understanding of salvation reveals that it is ultimately God, through the Holy Spirit, who does the convicting work in the heart of the unbeliever (see John 6:44). Consequently then, it is God, through the Holy Spirit, who leads the sinner to the cross.

We can present to our child the truth of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the payment of sins, but the child is the one who has to make the personal decision to believe on Jesus Christ as his Savior, trusting Him for the forgiveness of sins. We cannot make the decision for him.

And so we pray that the Spirit will reveal the truths of the Gospel to the heart of our child.

We pray that the Spirit will convict our child of his sin before a holy God.

We pray that God will extend mercy and grace to our child.

We pray that God will draw our child to Himself and redeem him through Christ’s atoning blood.

We can model the Gospel and Christ’s love to our child.
As we’ve already discussed, we understand that it is God who ultimately draws a sinner to Himself. However, we also understand that God uses very practical means to do this. Romans very plainly lays it out: “…And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14) Yes, one does not simply, out of the blue, with zero outside influences, come to a saving knowledge of Christ. Rather, as the Apostle Paul has explained here in Romans, God uses the preaching of His Word to convict and draw a sinner to Himself.

In the context of “preaching the gospel” to a child, a very tangible way of doing this is to model it before them in real life.

Deuteronomy 6:7-9 gives us an example to follow, for we find Moses instructing Israelite parents on how to train their children:

“You shall teach them [the the words Moses had previously commanded them] diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit down in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

We see here that in every area of life–even in the most ordinary, mundane routines of the day–we have opportunities to teach our child about the Lord and to model before him what the Lord has instructed.

So what are some practical ways that this can look?

  • We can preach the gospel to our child by intentionally reading Scripture to him. The Word of God is living and active, powerful to convict (Hebrews 4:12).
  • Regular church attendance is another way for our child to be directly confronted with Scripture through the intentional preaching and teaching of the Word.
  • Discipline also provides unplanned opportunities to lovingly point our child to the cross and his need for the Savior.
  • Humbling ourselves and asking for forgiveness when we have wronged our child is another way to point towards the transforming power of the Gospel. A child often learns more from our actions than from our words.

These are just a few of the many ways that we can live out the message of the gospel and Christ’s love in front of our child, and in turn “preach the gospel” to him. As parents, it is imperative that we be attentive to the many gospel opportunities that arise out of the ordinary events of life.

And so, even though Talitha is not even quite two years old, I realize I cannot take lightly my role as a parent to point her towards the Savior and her need of Him.

(All Scripture is quoted from the ESV)

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