Keli, a mom, writes in to ask: “Pastor John, I’m wondering if you would speak on the subject of dealing with rebellious children. How do you keep trusting God when you see no evidence of his working in a child’s life?”
Well, this is exactly the right question to ask, Keli. How do we keep on trusting God? The crucial need for every parent is to trust God: to trust God that he has work for us in Jesus to save us from our sins, to trust God that he will fulfill all of his promises to his children, to trust God that he will uphold us. “Fear not, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed. For I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you” (Isaiah 41:10), to trust God that he will give us only what is good for us and that all his ways are just and wise.
What our children need from us most is to see us joyful, hopeful, peaceful, obedient, trusting God, resting in God. And the biblical answer to the question—How do we keep trusting God in this and every situation?—is surely given probably most clearly in Romans 10:17: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” And I think that means not just that you get converted and get faith the first time by hearing Christ, but that you also get faith, strengthened every day by hearing. Faith comes daily by hearing. Right now, faith doesn’t come from John Piper. Faith comes from John Piper’s reading the Bible and applying the Bible. Or it doesn’t come at all.
So let me give a few texts that would, I hope, strengthen our faith in respect to our children:
First, it helps parents, I think, to realize—strange as it may sound—that God’s own children rebel against him. Isaiah 1:2–3, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the L??? has spoken: ‘Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.’”
No parent on earth has ever been a sinless parent or a completely wise parent or a completely loving parent or a completely patient parent. The sins that we have committed as parents in the presence of our children, and against our children, are countless, and we must constantly repent and seek forgiveness—from both God and them. But even the very best parent in the universe—God himself—has rebellious children (Isaiah 1:2–3). So don’t let Satan load you down with faith-destroying guilt greater than you can bear or should bear.
Second, remember that the apostle Paul gave himself as an example of the worst sinner. And that means not only that he did the worst things, but that he sinned against the greatest light. He grew up at the feet of Gamaliel, the best teacher of the Old Testament there was in those days. And he gave us this illustration to encourage us that none of us, and none of our children, is beyond conversion.
So he wrote in 1 Timothy 1:12–16, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”