Day 20: Conduct
Even a child makes himself known by his acts,
by whether his conduct is pure and upright.
Imagine, if you will, an apple tree in your backyard. The branches, which once boasted lush foliage, are now withered and bare. The sickly trunk leans off to one side. The fruit, once plentiful, has fallen to the ground to rot. Think how foolish it would be to approach that tree with a ladder, a staple gun, and a bucket full of red delicious apples. If you tried to staple those apples to that sickly tree, they would rot within days because the problem is the root and not the fruit (Mark 7:21-23; Luke 6:43-45).
So also, dads, your child’s sinful conduct begins in the heart. You can paint their fruit red as much as you like, but a sinful heart makes that an exercise in futility (Jer. 17:9).
The “heart” describes the inner person—the center of their being (Mark 12:30). As your child’s central processing unit, it controls the mind (Prov. 23:7; Eph. 1:18), emotions (Pss. 37:4; 111:1; Prov. 13:12), and will (Eph. 6:6; Heb. 4:12; 10:22).
Jesus also described the heart as the birthplace of sin and rebuked the religious leaders for painting fruit on dead branches (Mark 7:1). They were the model citizens at the temple any time the gates were open. They were meticulous about Bible study, tithing, and service. Jesus, however, observed their rotten roots, so he quoted from the prophet Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (vv. 6-7; see Isa. 29:13). All sin, whether legalism or lawlessness—man-made religion or secular humanism, originates in the heart. So dads, do not raise Pharisees who conduct themselves morally, but are rotten at the core. Hope in God to change your children’s hearts, so that transformed hearts will lead to godly conduct.
The ideal Jewish family was seven sons since seven was the number of perfection and sons were more profitable than daughters (see Ruth 4:15). So when my wife and I discovered our third child was another boy, I joked with her: “We are 3/7 of the way to the perfect family.”
To this she replied, “I guess we’re settling for less than perfect.”
Dads, take joy in however many children the Lord grants you (Ps. 127:3), but realize that no family is perfect. Those little vipers in diapers will quickly break your trust. So first, hope in God and not your children because parenting reprobates is risky. You cannot control independent moral agents who are born as sinners and surrounded by sinners. In fact, Proverbs reveals that every child makes his own choice to either walk in wisdom or in folly (4:18-19). So dads, plead with your children to live rightly as you show them the path of wisdom (1:8). Clarify the consequences of choosing either righteousness or sin (20:11), then trust the Lord to change their hearts.
Secondly, hope in God and not your children’s environment. If you make an idol of creating the ideal home or discovering the perfect childrearing strategy, then you will live your life for that idolatrous desire. You will obsess to achieve it and angrily defend it, then despair when it fails and blame God for your suffering. So do not try to artificially control your home environment, for you are not the sovereign God. You must not trust in music lessons, homeschooling, youth group, or any other human influence to save your children. Consider Cain, whose parents walked with God. Cain had no peer pressure, video games, or the trappings of today, yet still he murdered his brother in cold blood (e.g., Gen. 4). You can cultivate an environment to give your children advantages in life, but only God can change their hearts.
Lastly, hope in God and not yourself. Even if parenting was a formula, every one of us would fall short (Rom. 3:23). “For we all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2). Even if you parent according to God’s way, your children still make independent choices. Even God, the perfect Father, grieved over his rebellious daughter Israel (e.g., Isa. 30:1). Even Jesus, the perfect mentor, was betrayed by his own disciple (e.g., Matt. 26:14-16). So dads, you are called to parent biblically (Prov. 19:18), but yield the results to the sovereign God who alone can change your children’s hearts (10:28).
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Let me hope in you and nothing else when I am tempted to idolize my children or exalt my ability to change them. Show me that you alone can change the heart and bring them to salvation. In you alone, O Lord, I place my hope. In your Son’s name, Amen.
LifeWork: Write down one way you will apply today’s Proverb.
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