Do Fence Me In

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We saw last week in Galatians 3:23, 24 that God has given us His perfect law for two reasons, the distinction between them being extremely important: guarding us until we come to faith, and then guiding us in our lives once we do. We looked at its guarding function in the civil government and today we will examine its guarding use in the family.

The family is the basic building block of any society.  Children must learn the difference between destructive and acceptable conduct if a society is to survive. Parental commands, like “Don’t play in the freeway,” must be obeyed. We are to bring up our children in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) teaching them right from wrong, not simply meet their physical needs for food, shelter and clothing. 

Parents’ failure to do this with their children places an impossible burden on the state—it must “start from scratch” to punish and protect (its only biblical mandates) untrained children who are now adults. The violent and practically ungovernable inner city communities in our larger cities are testimony to the difficulty of this assignment.

So, God gave His law in the Bible for us to follow as parents and for us to teach our children to obey. This family use, along with the civil law in the government as we saw last week, is an external fence that insures that our children are protected until they learn to walk by faith in in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:23b). These two uses, civil and family, are both called the “external use of the law.” When the sanctions are applied in the family in a loving and nurturing atmosphere when our children violate them, their innate rebellion is broken and biblical character is built into their lives.  

When faced with this task, it is always tempting for parents to find a better idea than God’s sometimes uncomfortable method in the Bible. They often resort to modern psychology and the latest parenting fad to train their children, admittedly a very difficult, time consuming, and sometimes frustrating job. However, current fads shift with the societal winds.

For example, in the 1950’s parents found another, more palatable “bible” for raising children—Baby and Child Care, by Benjamin Spock, a famous pediatrician. His permissive methods, contradictory to God’s, became the parenting law of the day, and the general public never seriously questioned him. However, in his later years he altered his previous stands on the child training methods that he taught, too late for the generation of children which were parented according to his book.

That which is accepted practice in the medical and psychological community today may be in complete disfavor tomorrow. Trendy methods and revolutionary ideas, which are hot, new topics for books and talk shows, have a habit of cooling off in the red-hot crucible of experience. These all represent man’s law—his attempts to have a better plan than God did. God gave us His strategy for raising children in the Bible, and the word of God always trumps man’s best ideas.

We will look at these “guarding laws” God gives us to use for raising our children, but first we must examine a more basic issue. What does the job we have been assigned in training our children entail and what job does God reserve for Himself? Keeping these jobs straight, ours and God’s, is crucial in our understanding of the proper use of the law.

According to Ephesians 6:4, as parents our job is limited to “the training (inculcating positive conduct) and admonition (addressing and remedying negative conduct) of the Lord.” The important thing to note here is that both of these responsibilities have nothing to do with my child’s relationship with God. This is the first point we must understand.

For example, the pastor of the large church that sponsored the Christian high school my daughter attended for high school had a son who was her classmate. Although he was intelligent, athletic and was a gifted natural leader among his peers, both he and his older brother were notorious behavior problems for the school administration.

However, the emphasis in the church, in the school and in the pastor’s family was never on training the children’s conduct by using the law of God as a guard to control behavior and build biblical character into their lives. Instead, the emphasis was on the children’s relationship with God and being sure that they all “invited Jesus into their hearts” at some point. The pastor’s son, of course, had done this as a young boy.

This was the focus of the yearly church youth camp, as some young, dynamic youth pastor from another church would bring enthusiastic challenges to first “give your heart to Jesus,” or, if that had already been done, “rededicate your life to Jesus.” This pastor’s young son was a yearly camp attendee who would annually “throw a fagot on the fire” at the concluding fireside dedication ceremony, vowing to follow Jesus, really this time, and get his life together.

A teacher at the school told me that this happened with this boy every summer.  However, after about three weeks, it would be back to business as usual—the same disobedience and defiance would again characterize the young man’s behavior.

What was the problem? It was not that this teen-ager was not sincere when he threw his fagot on the fire. It was not that he didn’t want to “follow” Jesus at that time. It was that the church, the school and his parents did not understand that trying to be sure he was “born again” was not something God had given them to do! That was God’s job alone, and He would do it at just the right time, according to His divine schedule, which was not necessarily on campfire night.

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood (not by being born into a Christian family), nor of the will of the flesh (not by being “good”), nor of the will of man (not by “making a decision for Christ”), but of God” (John 1:12, 13).

In other words, our children do not choose God, but God chooses them (John 15:14), and He gives them the faith to believe that He has already forgiven them completely at the cross, no matter the degree of their sin or the inconsistency of their attempts to be good (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

This is the gospel that wise, discerning parents keep ever before their children from infancy until they leave their care. God is not on the timetable we have set for our children’s conversion, and it is His job alone to bring genuine, spiritual life in His own time and in His own way.

In the meantime, our job as parents is to train and admonish our children faithfully and consistently as to their behavior according to the pattern God has laid out for us very clearly in His law in the Bible. It is God’s job alone, with no help from us, to deal with what they think and believe in their hearts.

By trying to do God’s job, and not focusing on their own, the parents in the example at my daughter’s school missed the opportunity to equip their child for life. He was a PK (“preacher’s kid”) and went to church every Sunday growing up, but he never acquired the life-skills that loving, biblical training and admonition can impart whether he was ever born again or not.

So, the first legitimate use of God’s law is as a fence to guard us from destroying ourselves. When the guarding function of God’s law is rejected or ignored, one can clearly see today what ensues. In our culture at large, and, specifically, in the family in America, even Christian families, the resulting wreckage is everywhere.

Next week we will look at the specifics of God’s child training laws in the Bible.

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