“I Will Be a God to You and to Your Children”
Raising our Children to be Disciples of Jesus Christ
How are children of believers best raised to be disciples of Jesus Christ, sincere and devoted followers of the Lamb? This concern lies near to the heart of every believer in Jesus, whether or not he has children. It is a congregation-wide concern. The desire of every child of God is to see God glorified throughout the earth and for the next generation of believers to praise the Lord and serve him faithfully. It is the Bible’s teaching that there will not only be a church on earth from our Lord ascension to his glorious return in glory, but that our Savior will build his church to grow and fill the earth (Matt. 16:18). It will be the highest mountain, rising progressively as Micah (4:1-4), Isaiah (2:2-4), and Daniel (2:44-45) foretold, spreading like leaven throughout the earth, until it is the highest mountain. Men and women from all the nations will flow into it and desire to be taught God’s word (Mic. 4:2; Ps. 22:28; Rom. 1:5; 16:26). Therefore, since our active years of service to Christ are short, limited by weakness, old age, and eventual death, the glory of God and the increase of Christ’s kingdom force the question upon us: “How can we raise our children to be disciples of Jesus Christ?”
Over the summer I would like for us to return to those “great and exceeding precious promises,” divinely authorized examples, and direct commands that help us answer this and related questions. As you can see from my planned series schedule included below, raising children for Christ is an extension of Christian discipleship. Followers of Jesus Christ seek and, by God’s grace and power alone, make other followers of Jesus Christ. In the process, since God’s eternal truth does not work “automatically,” our own hearts are discipled. We learn to sow in hope, in expectation of a future harvest. We follow Jesus and obey his word not because this makes everything easy. In fact, it usually makes life more challenging, for “narrow is the way that leads to life” (Matt. 7:14). Following God’s narrow way, following Jesus Christ, and raising our children to follow him requires commitment over time, patient continuance in doing well, and above all faith in the promises of God. My plan is to consider these passages of Scriptures, for it is in their light we must walk in these evil days if we are to follow the Lamb by overcoming evil with good and being children of the light in this “crooked and perverse nation” (Phil. 2:15).
General Series Schedule
Foundation: Build upon God’s Covenant (Genesis 17:7-9; Acts 2:39)
Determination and Consecration: As for Me and My House (Joshua 24:15; Acts 16)
Pattern and Discipline: Follow Christ, Make Disciples (Matthew 4:19; 11:28-30)
Daily Living: Speak, Teach, and Model Christ (Deuteronomy 6)
Parenting Dynamics: Nurture, Admonition, and Command (Genesis 18:25; Ephesians 6:1-4)
Antithesis: Maintain a Holy, Intentional Separation from the World (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)
Heavenly Power: Pray without Ceasing, Fervently, and Purposefully (Job 1:5; James 5:16-18)
Guide and Standard: Immerse Your Children in Scripture (Luke 2:40-52; 2 Timothy 3:15)
Build upon God’s Covenant
Genesis 17:7-9; Acts 2:39
7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. 8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. 9 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. (Genesis 17:7-9; KJV)
For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call. (Acts 2:39; NKJV).
God’s Covenant Makes a Vital Difference in Our Lives (Gen. 17:7-9)
His Sworn, Gracious Relationship with Us
More than any other single word or idea, the Holy Spirit spoke “covenant” as best defining our relationship with God. Our Confession of Faith helps us understand the reason for this. “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant” (WCF, Ch. 7, Para. 1 Of God’s Covenant with Man). As the idea of covenant will be the heart of our study together, let us parse this a little. Notice first the Bible’s emphasis upon the Creator-Creature distinction. How can we know God? He is so far above us; his “thoughts are not our thoughts and whose ways not our ways” (Isa. 55:8-9). And if we now add the bitter reality of sin, we run away from him as fast as we can, hide, excuse ourselves, and blame others. Can we really have God to be our God, be restored to our Maker, and feel ourselves to be happy and complete in him? Can we, as our Confession beautifully states, have him for our “blessedness and reward?” Yes, if we receive the covenant of grace he makes with us in his Son.
His covenant is the way he relates to us – a promise bound relationship, whereby he reveals himself in grace to be our God and Savior, makes promises to us in his Son, calls upon us to believe those promises and turn from our sins, and then shows us by his Word and Spirit the way to walk in a joyful obedience to him. Even the most basic New Testament doctrines of “the new covenant” and “mediator of the new covenant” (Jer. 31:31; Heb. 8:8,13; 12:24), “this is the cup of the new covenant” (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25), and “the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Heb. 13:20) make it clear that the Old Testament covenant reality follows straight into the New Testament. Covenant is the way we relate to God. We could not know him except he came to us when we were dead in sin, made us alive in Christ, and revealed his promises to our heart. The Bible always describes this relationship as a covenant – God’s promise laden, graciously given, Christ-centered relationship with us. Even the main requirement of the covenant – faith in his promise – is a gift (Eph. 2:8-9). Since the main promise of the covenant of grace, in its old and new covenant forms, is life and salvation through Jesus Christ, there is no place for our works in any meritorious sense. Our works confirm his grace in us, but they are never the basis of his grace to us.
But God’s covenant perhaps lies deeper even than these considerations, like the foundation of your house. You do not see it, or at least not much of it depending upon the way your house is constructed, but you can always tell if foundation problem exists – cracks in the walls and joints, poorly shutting doors, and sloping floors. It is the same in our relationship with God. We could not know him unless he revealed himself to us, and that self-revelation, since we are fallen, must be of grace. It must make promises of life and salvation, for we are dead and condemned. It must be a bonded relationship, or we could never be assured of his love and good will to us. It must show us the way to walk in holiness by his power, or we shall be constantly unsure of whether we are pleasing him. Unless we understand that he comes to us in grace and mercy, establishes a relationship of promise and fulfillment to us, and seals that covenant with the blood of his Son, we shall always be shaky, especially when the world, flesh, and devil are roaring at us and attacking on every side!
Our Children Heirs of God’s Promises (Luke 8:16; 1 Cor. 7:14)
To reveal the wonder and breadth of his saving grace, the Lord includes our children in his covenant. In Eden, it was the Lord’s promise to the “seed” of the woman, those who believe God’s promise. To Abraham, it was “and to your seed.” “I will be a God to you and to your seed after you.” This does not mean that every child of a believer will be regenerate or obtain the blessedness of salvation, but it does mean that God’s usual plan is to save “you and your house” (Acts 16:31). The New Testament manifests the same inclusion of the children of believers. Jesus blessed them and said, “For the kingdom of heaven belongs to these.” Peter preached at Pentecost, “For the promise is to you, and to your children” (Acts 2:39). This is the same as the Lord’s promise to Abraham – to you and to your seed after you. The children of even one believing parent are called “holy,” which means that they are set apart to God, have special privileges by virtue of his grace, as well as serious responsibilities to believe in the God of their parents and thus obtain life and salvation through Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 7:14). But the important thing is that God’s covenant, his special, bonded, promised-laden, Christ-centered revelation to us includes our children. His grace must shape and direct how we view them, treat them, speak of them, and train them.
Grounded in Jesus Christ – He is the Covenant (Isa. 42:4; Gal. 3:16)
We do not embrace God’s covenant as it pertains to our children because we love them and feel that they are special. His covenant of grace contrasts starkly with our sinfulness and that of our children. It is important to bear this in mind, for the gift of the covenant leads us to see the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. In God’s covenant of grace, Jesus Christ is the chief and glorious promise. He is the “Seed of the woman” and the “Seed of Abraham.” Isaiah described him as “the Covenant” (Isa. 42:4). Therefore, the ground of the covenant, our assurance of God’s love and salvation for our children is Jesus Christ. God’s covenant does not include them to make us passive or presumptuous but to encourage our zealous application to Jesus Christ for our salvation and for theirs. The blessings of the covenant are grounded in his finished work so that he has shed the precious “blood of the everlasting covenant.” The covenant of grace, including our children’s participation in its blessings, are all and only in Jesus Christ. All God’s promises are “yes” only in him (2 Cor. 1:20). Our children must come to him to receive the blessings of salvation and the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises.
Our Lives Bound to God’s Grace and Faithfulness
God’s covenant in Christ gives us an incredible foundation for assurance. As for personal salvation from sin and hell, what a relief it is to know that assurance does not rest upon salvation “experiences” or “sinner’s prayers” but upon the finished work of Jesus Christ, a work that he undertook in fulfillment of the covenant of grace. Therefore, however often we stumble, God does not take away his mercy from us but invites us to return to our Advocate and Redeemer for cleansing and mercy. God’s covenant provides a similarly strong foundation when we think of our children. There is no one who can avoid feeling overwhelmed by the weight of parenting, the many enemies to our children’s faith, purity, and future usefulness, and the blindness and stubbornness of their hearts. And yet, the Lord would have us take a higher and better view. Yes, we must fight the flesh and the devil for our salvation and theirs, but we fight upon the foundation of his covenant promises to them. We have the weight of eternal counsel and omnipotence behind our words of instruction to them, the discipline we endeavor to provide, and the hope we try to instill. We need not discover new parenting paradigms; we need to build upon God’s promises and his faithfulness and trust that our blessed and gracious God will do as he has promised.
God’s Covenant Directs Parents and Congregations
Know the Promises: the “I Will’s” of God
And what has he promised to us and to our children? It is important for parents and all believers in Jesus Christ to know the promises that God has made to our children. He says, for example, that “I will be a God to you and to your children” (Gen. 17:7). To this, we can add his promise: “And your children will all be taught of the Lord; great will be the peace of your children” (Isa. 54:13). “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, you and your house” (Acts 16:31). “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children” (Ps. 103:17). Does it not lighten our burdened parent’s heart and our worries about the future to know that it is a righteous thing with God to show mercy to our children? He has bound up his righteous character to his faithful word in their salvation. You must learn these promises, and there are many more of them. “Keeping covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to thousand generations” (Deut. 7:9). “Else were your children unclean, but now they are holy” (1 Cor. 7:14). “That it may we well with you” (Eph. 6:1). “I have written to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake” (1 John 2:12). But that first promise alone is sufficiently glorious to seize and dominate our affections with the wonderful grace of God: I will be a God to you and to your children. What mercy lies in these words! What hope to broken-hearted parents! What a challenge to hard-hearted children! What! Would you make a liar of God by your neglect of his grace and worldly hearts? Have a care. When God gives such a promise, he expects each one of us to seize upon it with all the energy and zeal that a man drowning in the sea lays hold of a piece of wood.
Trust God’s Faithfulness: Not Your Worth, Works, Faith
Whenever we read any promise, even if there are conditions attached to it, such as faith or obedience, still we must not look first at our worthiness or our works but to God’s faithfulness. So, for example, when God tells children to “obey the Lord, that it may be well with you,” obedience is a condition of the fulfillment of the promise. But where do we find grace to obey? Especially when we are children, our thoughts and affections are tossed in so many directions. But if God sets a condition to the promise, he would have us draw from him the strength to fulfill that condition, so that even our obedience is all of his grace. Thus, the lesson of these promises is to trust God’s faithfulness. Yes, the children of believers will be tested in this life. Will you take God’s promises for granted or be humbled by them? Will you follow the Lord or the world? Some children of believing parents are wayward and worldly, and it seems like they are so far from God’s kingdom that they will never enter into it. But we cannot see all of God’s purposes, both to chasten them for their ingratitude and to humble us for our sins. Nor can we see the whole story, for the Lord may and often does save them later, after our earthly course is completed. But even if in some cases he does not save them, still, his covenant was not without effect or his faithfulness in the least diminished. Instead, we should think that he is righteous in all his dealings with them and knows what is most conducive to his glory and our eternal happiness. And would we doubt him or be angry because he does not fulfill his promises in the way or time we think best? We are at best children, and we must keep our souls quiet and weaned before him, which is the best posture for us to honor him and see our children walking with Christ.
Pray the Promises: Ask, Seek, Knock
I want to tell you honestly tonight that the Lord has made so many precious promises to us and to our children so that we shall spend our lives praying and seeking their fulfillment. We are so sleepy and lazy. We would like to have a promise and then PRESTO! It is automatically fulfilled. This would be terrible for us. We should never learn the discipline of the cross, to walk as our Savior did, trusting God as our Father and setting our hope upon his word. We would never value his promises as we should, and our hearts would blow around like kites after every bauble the world holds out. When he promises to bring peace to our children, but we see the world turned upside down with unbelievers and perversity, the Spirit-quickened heart is led to pray – the believer’s safest position! When we read that he will be a God to our children, then think that we shall not always be with them but that they must also grow old and find their way in the world and follow Jesus through many hard places, again we are stirred to ask him to keep his promises and guard over them. Or, when he says that they are holy, but all we see is evidence of a great disregard for God’s holiness and great impurity in them, we are led to wail over our sins and their sins before the Lord, to plead only his mercy and the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. By this asking and seeking he confirms his promises in our lives, for when we seek, we find, and he also furthers his purposes in their lives. We must not doubt that obtaining the promise will require faith and patience and self-emptying obedience to God. This is our discipleship, is it not? But most do not want to give it, and therefore God seems slow in fulfilling his promises. He had ordained and uses our faith and obedience to fulfill his promises, as we shall see next time (Gen. 18:25).
Teach the Promises: Identity, Destiny, Hope
There is one other way God’s covenant vitally alters our perspective about our children, and by God’s grace, his promises also transforms them. The children of this world have no future, for they are the “children of disobedience.” But the children of believers, what are we to think of them? First, they belong to the Lord and are holy. They are set apart to him. This gives them a distinct identity in the world, and it is an identity that we must constantly set before them. God claims them. Jesus saves them by his death and resurrection. They are heirs of God’s kingdom. Thus, they need not seek to define themselves by notorious wickedness, being “cool,” or finding their own way in the world. God has found you, child of the covenant, in this howling wilderness of sin and corruption. He has placed you in a Christian home and made promises to you. If you will believe his promise and cast yourself upon the grace of Jesus Christ, you have a marvelous destiny and an unshakable hope. When God judges the world, he will save you. When the wicked go hungry, he will feed you. When the perverse die alone and heartbroken, you will bear fruit in old age (Ps. 92:14). Children of the covenant here tonight – God loves you and has made many precious promises to you. Hear and believe him. Fulfill your destiny. Come to Jesus Christ!