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Obedience and the Heart

Why should children obey their parents? Ask differ­ent people and you get different answers: “They’re sup­posed to . . .” or “I’m the parent!” or “If they don’t, they’ll be grounded.” A Christian parent might reply, “The Bible tells children to obey their parents.” And it does. But none of these responses gets at the real heart of God-pleasing obedience.

The answer to that question sets Christian children apart from others. Take away Christian faith, and a child’s obedience is usually connected either to the fear of punishment or the promise of reward. For the Christian child, obedience to parents flows out of a love for Jesus. All of us as Christians—adults or children—do what we do because it’s our way of showing our grati­tude for all that the Lord has done for us, beginning with his gracious gift of salvation. The Bible says it this way: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

This is a fundamental principle: We obey God by liv­ing according to the Ten Commandments, and we live that Christian life out of love for him. So, the essence of all Christian discipline is serving the Lord with our lives.

Loving the Lord doesn’t happen on its own. The Holy Spirit plants the seed for such an obedient life at the moment of Baptism. And God is with Christian parents every day as they teach children that misbe­havior and disobedience are sins. It’s really quite sim­ple: Christian parents teach their children that wrong is wrong because it ignores God’s Ten Commandments.

But along with teaching children right from wrong, parents need to tell their children about the wonderful gift of forgiveness that is theirs through faith in Christ Jesus. Their sins are forgiven. That forgiveness brings joy. And the joy is expressed in the children’s obedience. It’s that message of forgiveness that motivates them.

Yes, a child will sin again. And probably again and again. But each time, there is forgiveness and joy and a renewed commitment to do God’s will.

Parents don’t need to go through this explanation every time their child does something wrong. The key is to remain consistent with God’s will in setting rules and expectations for children; let the Ten Command­ments set the standard.

There is still an appropriate time and place for time-outs, grounding, other types of punishment. Sin has consequences. Star charts posted on the refrigerator door and surprise hugs can still reinforce good behav­ior. But these things in and of themselves do not bring about compliant behavior. Christian children obey their parents because they love their Savior.


 From Patient Parenting © 2006 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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