Click the link below to download the PDF.
Welcome back to the show.
Man, I hope our last episode did for you what it did for me.
It’s so important. Christian families have absolutely got to stop letting their emotions dictate how they respond to the circumstances in their lives.
God never intended for us to give our feelings reign of our lives.
But we do it, and it needs to stop. If you didn’t catch our last episode, “Your Family Needs to Stop Getting Offended,” I highly recommend you check it out.
And — speaking of things you need to stop doing — today we’re going to talk about how parents need to stop expecting impossible obedience.
Now, fair warning, most of you did not understand what I really meant by that. Stick with me before jumping to any conclusions.
But before I hand you the conclusion you’re allowed to jump on, please let me remind you that Truth.Love.Parent. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. That means that we don’t make the funds necessary to create all of these free, biblical parenting resources . . . we receive the funds from donors who love God, love strong families, and love TLP.
These people are so awesome that we call them our TLP Friends, and I invite you to click on the "TLP Friend" link in the description of this episode so you can learn more about how to support Truth.Love.Parent. as we glorify God by equipping families to be everything He called and created them to be.
We’ve created a really easy-to-navigate pathway if you’re interested in donating to TLP. For those of you with short attention spans and tons of zeal, you can click just one button, and you’re ready to give.
For those of you who would like a little more information — you’d like to know you options — we give you everything you need to feel confident and comfortable donating to TLP.
And there’s also a new feature that tells you all about in-kind donations. In-kind donations are typically donations of goods and services. So, to make that easy on you, we’ve created a list of items that Truth.Love.Parent. needs.
One of the coolest things we’re doing — and I’m really excited about this — we have a physical location where we’re building a TV studio. We’re super excited about doing much more with video — I can’t tell you it all now — but I can say that we need some help making it happen.
You can go to TruthLoveParent.com/donate and see the list of items we need. You can donate those items. You can buy those items for us, or you can send the money we need to purchase those items.
I’m so incredibly excited and hope that T.L.P.T.V. is a huge blessing for you and your family.
And with that, don’t forget that you can access your free episode notes and transcripts at TruthLoveParent.com just in case you’re mowing the lawn right now and later want to take a look at the passages I reference on the show.
Alright. Let’s talk about what I mean by impossible obedience.
First, let’s start with a baseline.
If you’ve never heard our Teach Your Children to Obey series, I’ll sum up the main points.
True, biblical, Christ-honoring obedience is doing the right thing in the right way for the right reason and in the right power.
Anything less than that is not true obedience.
Now, let’s be honest with each other. We all have children. When the was the last time your child truly, 100%, biblically obeyed?
Yeah, I know. It’s not as often as we’d like.
But, if we’re still being honest, when was the last time we truly, 100%, biblically obeyed?
Praise God that He’s merciful and patient.
And we know this is true. We know our kids aren’t holier than we are. We know they fail more often than we do, and yet, as a biblical counselor, I encounter so many parents who have exceptionally unrealistic expectations for their children.
Now, before I outline the problem, I do want to set your minds at ease.
This episode is not going to be a progressive, mamsy-pamsy, unbiblical feeling-fest about how we need to lower our expectations. Since our kids aren’t perfect . . . and neither are we . . . we obviously just need to tone it down on the sin and consequences business.
No, my friends, that is not the case. Our children have the exact same expectations on their lives as we do. We must be holy as God is holy. We must glorify the Lord in all we eat, drink, say, and do. If we love Christ, we must obey His commandments.
Never forget that it’s completely acceptable to have unrealistic expectations for our children’s spirituality.
Why can I say that? Because — in our flesh — it’s impossible for us to ever please the Lord. You and I obey not because of some righteousness which we have done, but according to His grace in our lives.
And the same is true for our kids. Since God is the author and finisher or our faith, He can set the bar at perfection. And since His sacrifice on the cross enabled us to positionally gain victory over sin, and since His future grace in our lives will one day rid us of the sin nature, He really will be the one Who enables us to obey perfectly as He is perfect.
So, no, I’m not going to say that we need to stop expecting our children to obey. Of course they need to obey. Their Creator demands it.
On the other hand, I want to talk about our obedience to God when it comes to our expectations for our children’s obedience to us.
Just like our kids, most of us parents don’t drop the ball when it comes to wanting the right things to be done in the right ways. It all starts to unravel when it comes to our motivation.
So, here we go.
1. Your unsaved children cannot please God. It’s impossible obedience.
Too many parents find their anxieties appeased when their kids simply “follow the rules.” They have no real passion or love for God, but they’re “good kids.” They get good grades. They do good work. They like good things.
And we convince ourselves that it’s good enough.
But the problem is that Romans 8:7-8 tells us, “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God."
Deep inside we know that superficial, pharisaical obedience isn’t good enough, but we lie to ourselves by pretending that when our children muster up enough fleshly self-control to outwardly conform to simple rules, they’re actually doing something worth while.
But they’re not.
Yes, they eat vegetables instead of doing drugs. Yes, they go right to sleep instead of sleeping around. Yes, they tackle their homework instead of beating up kids at school, but Romans 14:23 makes it very clear that anything we do (including outward acts of religiosity) that’s not done from genuine faith . . . is sin.
That means that my unconverted five year old is no more pleasing God by going to bed sweetly than a fifteen year old is messing around with his girlfriend.
If you have children who are not born again, please stop hanging your peace on their ability to obey. They cannot truly obey. They cannot glorify God without first being regenerated, submitting to Him, and being born again.
It’s impossible obedience, and it shouldn’t be our goal.
If our kids are not born again, our biggest focus should be on introducing them to God.
They need to see His miraculous works. They need to wonder at His infinite character. Without first understanding His perfection, their sinfulness won’t be that bad.
If their sin isn’t that bad, they won’t need saving.
That’s the first impossible obedience — that’s expecting a dead person to live. Your unregenerate children cannot obey.
Yes, you should have standards, but the requirement that they do the right things in the right way is merely a schoolmaster to show them how sinful they actually are. It’s not an end goal . . . it’s merely part of the process of realizing they’re a sinner and seeing their need for a savior.
But, even if our kids are born again, we can still expect impossible obedience.
2. Your born again children can’t obey if you are the motivation for their obedience. It’s impossible obedience.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again. If your child isn’t interested in worshipping God, what makes you think he or she wants to worship you?
But there’s another application of this truth.
If you want your children to worship God, stop demanding that they worship you.
This is the same issue as our first point, but from the other side.
In the first scenario, the parent’s goal was that their kids do what they’re told. As long as little Benjamin and Olivia listen to mommy, we’re happy. But that motivation falls so infinitely far from what God expects of them.
We should never be happy with our unsaved children’s mere conformity to rules because they need far greater. They need to become a follower of God.
In the same vein, just because my kids are born again doesn’t mean that mere outward conformity to my rules pleases the Lord.
If my kids are doing the right thing in the right way, but they’re doing it for my reasons . . . they’re not obeying any more than an unsaved kid is.
Sure, their eternal life isn’t at stake, but they’re not pleasing God.
Again, as a biblical counselor, I encounter so many parents who — even though it’s really hard for them to realize it — they just want their kids to follow the rules. But they want their kids to follow the rules for their own peace of mind, their own comfort, their own happiness.
The parents want their kids to obey for the parents. They literally want their kids to engage in idol worship with the parents themselves as the idols.
Sometimes it involves manipulation, sometimes we use force, but it’s not rightly motivating our kids behavior.
Our kids cannot please God while they’re obeying solely for us. It’s impossible obedience.
So, what do we do?
Well, we need to stop focusing on impossible obedience. But more than that, I’m going to carefully suggest that we need to stop focusing on obedience . . . period.
Now, the same people who were worried I was falling off the Bible train are back to being concerned.
Please give me a moment to explain.
Travel back in time with me to Mt. Sinai. Moses had just given the children the 10 Commandments he had received from God Himself.
But despite the Lord setting up a theocracy and codifying religious expectations, God did something else very important.
In order to really appreciate it, we need to travel back a little further.
Moses finds himself before a burning bush; he’s commanded to take God’s people from Israel; but Moses is concerned that the people will not recognize the Lord. “Whom shall I say sent me?” And God replies, “‘I AM WHO I AM . . .has sent me to you. The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.’”
The children of Israel had nearly forgotten Who their God was, but they knew very well Who Abraham and Isaac and Jacob’s God was. He started by revealing His character to them.
Then all of plagues not only substantiated His power before the people, they communicated the fact that He loved His people enough to upset the order of the universe and rearrange chemical bonds and do the impossible just to set them free.
Shortly thereafter He splits the sea in half for them to cross on dry land.
He provided for them over and over and over again, sometimes in very normal ways, and sometimes in very miraculous ways.
And then, when the time came to make them a nation and give them the Law, God’s first words are, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.”
There was one and only one motivation for the Jews obedience. God is worthy of their obedience.
You see, obedience has never been the goal. It’s merely a byproduct of the goal.
The goal is that all people everywhere would recognize God for Who He is and give Him the love and honor and fear and adoration that’s due Him. That’s the goal.
And when people love God, they obey God.
Loving God is the goal. Obeying God is merely a consequences of achieving the goal.
Our problem is that we make obedience the goal, and when we make obedience the goal, we are expecting an impossible obedience.
It’s like expecting a blizzard without an accumulation. It’s demanding fire that gives no heat.
So, do we expect our children to obey? Of course we do. God expects our children to obey. But, we don’t make the obedience anything more than God does.
God expects obedience because He expects love. He demands fear and honor and glory. He doesn’t want obedience if the love isn’t there.
This is why in Amos 5:22-24 God says, “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. 23 “Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. 24 “But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
True justice and righteousness can only grow from love for God.
This is why Jesus said, in Matthew 22:37-40, ““You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.””
The whole Law depends on loving God.
We only expect our children to obey because our greatest goal for them is to love God. Therefore, their disobedience is concerning to us simply because it reveals that — in that moment — they’re not loving God. We’re not bothered by their disobedience because they’re disobeying. We’re concerned that their disobedience is revealing they clearly don’t know God the way they should.
The disobedience won’t get under our skin. It won’t annoy us. It won’t exasperate us. It will remind us that our kids don’t love God the way they should, and we need to redouble our efforts to make certain that they know just how worthy God is.
Listen, I get this wrong all the time because I like it when my kids do what I tell them to do. I can’t see their motivation, so as long as they don’t watch too much TV, they get their homework and chores done well, and they talk sweetly to each other, I’m happy.
But most of the time they’re doing those things they’re not pleasing the Lord any more than I am.
Whether my kids are doing something that looks right or looks wrong, my focus should be to help them see the wonder and grandeur of God.
Next week we’re going to expand on this topic and discuss the curse of obedient children because well-mannered kids — contrary to popular belief — actually make parenting much more difficult.
It’s rewarding and awesome parenting, but it’s so much harder, and we’ll talk about that more next time.
For now, though, we have to shake up our expectations. God wants us to focus on a majestic, mountainous vista, but we’re distracted by a couple run-of-the-mill fir trees named “Good Grades” and “Curfew Keeper.”
There are goals for more grand and glorious for our parenting than mere obedience. Expect obedience, but don’t parent toward it. Parent toward a love for God that will result in obedience every single time.
Please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets, and get in touch if you’re uncertain how to overcome your preoccupation with outward obedience.
You can email us at Counselor@TruthLoveParent.com or call us at (828) 423-0894.
I hope you’ll join us next time as we open God’s Word to discover how to parent our children for life and godliness.
To that end, we’ll be discussing the curse of obedient children, and in the near future I’ll continue this conversation even more with my friend, Jerrad Lopes, the author of “Stop Behaving.”
Don’t worry, he hasn’t fallen off the deep end either. I’ll see you then.
Join The TLP Family and receive email updates when we publish new articles and episodes.
Subscribe to Our Podcast