Why do Christian parents feel so much pressure to produce Christian offspring? After all, Proverbs 22 tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (v. 6, ESV). At first glance, Proverbs seems to offer us an ironclad promise: Raise your children “the right way,” and they will automatically “turn out right.” Perhaps you’ve heard sermons or Bible study lessons insist that this is the message of Proverbs 22:6. But telling parents that the solution to having Christian kids solely depends on their ability to train them up is not only unfair to parents, it is unfair to the Scriptures.
Proverbs 22:6 was never written to serve as a stand-alone foundation for the biblical model of parenting. Yes, parents have a God-ordained responsibility to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. But this verse from Proverbs (as well as the entire book) presents us with wisdom, not a formula.
Sadly, misreading and misapplying this verse has led many Christian mothers and fathers to embrace a humanistic, results-oriented approach to parenting. Instead, when we see Proverbs 22:6 embedded within the gospel story, it enables us to depend on Jesus rather than ourselves in our parenting. Putting all the pressure on parents to execute and then blaming only them for failure is both unbiblical and impossible—unbiblical because it removes the work of God and brings glory to man; impossible because human parents cannot manufacture what only the Holy Spirit can produce.
We also forget that every child is an individual human soul, created with his or her own accountability before God. Worse, we ignore the work of the Holy Spirit in the shaping of a child’s soul.
So what is the job of a Christian parent? Faithfulness. Parents are given the task of creating a culture of faith that intentionally uses all of life to point their children toward a lifelong relationship with God. We’re to equip them for life.
Yet the job of salvation and spiritual growth can only be done by God through the work of the Holy Spirit. Only God can shape the human heart. Only God can call us out of sin and give us life. Too many Christian parenting models operate under the subtle assumption that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is incidental to parenting. But gospel parenting is about much more than raising moral children—it’s about constantly pointing our children to Jesus with our words and actions. Even so, the beauty of gospel parenting is that it frees us from taking the place of God.
In a gospel paradigm, parents are both evangelists and disciple makers, continually retelling the story of creation, man’s sin, Jesus’ offer of redemption, and the promise of the Holy Spirit in guiding their children toward their God-given purpose. We earnestly pray with fervent trust, knowing that it is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who will do the work of creating faith in our children and making them more like Jesus.
Children are a divine stewardship. They are not for us to own but for us to love, carefully guide, and then release to God’s providential care. We cannot pressure, bully, or force them into faith. We parent, not with anticipation of some promised outcome, but out of faithfulness to Jesus, leaving the outcome to Him.
This excerpt has been adapted from Christ-Centered Parenting: Gospel Conversations on Complex Cultural Issues by Russell Moore and Phillip Bethancourt. Officially releasing August 1, the Christ-Centered Parenting—Leader Kit is available for preorder here. The Bible study book is now available—buy here!