Parenting Pharisees and Prodigals

Click on the link Janelle Speaks on Parenting to listen to my parenting testimony.

parenting pharisees and prodigals

Parenting Pharisees

My older daughters are all very well behaved. They are eager to please others and thrive on knowing what is right and doing it. They are my Pharisees and they need the gospel. I use to assume that their good behavior was a sign of their hearts being right with the Lord. Because I only probed into their hearts when they did something wrong (which wasn’t very often), I never realized that their motives for good behavior were often far from pleasing to God.

You see, some of my daughters were under the impression that their good works would make God happy and be the cause for God to love them and ultimately save them. No matter how many times I shared with them that the gospel of salvation was through faith alone, because I never carried it into my parenting, they never really grasped it in their day to day lives. They often acted more like Pharisees than like children saved by a merciful and gracious God.

Because, in their own minds, they had been obedient and well-behaved they often struggled with seeing themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. They knew they occasionally sinned outwardly but they believed that as long as their actions were right that it didn’t matter what was in their hearts. They did not understand that the sin in their heart was just as bad as the outward sin.

As I parent them, my aim is to help them see themselves as sinners who desperately need a Savior. I have to remind them that God is concerned with their hearts not just their actions and that it is better to be real with God than to cover over a sinful heart with good behavior.

Parenting Prodigals

Now my son is a different story! He never cared to abide by the rules. He is more like the prodigal son. He wants whatever he desires and doesn’t think about whether it is right or wrong. He was punished often but to my dismay, my efforts at reaching his heart were failing. He wasn’t sorrowful over his sin.

You see, my son was living in despair. He knew he was a sinner and he knew he could never measure up. And that reality caused him to give up.  Inwardly he was saying, “What use is it to try to do what is right if I always fail?” “I might as well do what I want since I will never be as good as my sisters.” And his behavior got out of control.

My prodigal son needed the gospel. He already knew he was a sinner. What he needed to know was that in Christ’s death and resurrection all his sins were already paid for. He could never be perfect. No one could. That’s why Jesus came.

My conversations with him began to change. I no longer told him to do good in his own strength. Instead, I told him what was right in light of the gospel. I reminded him of his need for a Savior who already lived a perfect life on his behalf and paid my son’s sin debt in full. What he needed, I told him, was the saving grace of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit working in him to aid him in making good choices.

I’ll never forget the day when my son expressed these profound and precious words to me-

“Mommy, I’m tired of being bad. I want Jesus.”

There was hope in his voice. Hope that only the good news of the gospel brings. And while he still sins (as we all do), I can see the Holy Spirit working in his life now.

My Kids Need the Gospel

I have some Pharisees in my home and some prodigals as well. But while their behavior is drastically different their wretched state is the same. They are sinners and they need the good news of the gospel. They need grace and mercy that only God can give them through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. My kids desperately need the gospel and I’m guessing your children need it too.

I hope that these words of mine challenge you to probe the hearts of your Pharisees and for those of you will prodigals, I pray these words give you hope. For it is often easier for a prodigal to recognize his need for a Savior and cling to the gospel than a Pharisee. Parent your kids with the gospel and then trust the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of your children.

For it is only in the cross that our kids can find the hope of salvation.

Do you have some Pharisees or prodigals in your home? Do they know that the gospel is for them?

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You can find out more about parenting Pharisees and Prodigals with the gospel in the book Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson.

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