Proverbs 22:6- “Train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
This proverb, so often taken out of context, has been heaping guilt and condemnation on generations of parents and I think it is time that it stops. If the choices of grown children were dictated by how well their parents raised them, then God would be the worst father of all. Just look at His kids and the choices we repeatedly make.
If parents are responsible for the bad choices their children make, why don’t we blame the heavenly Father for the choices His kids make? Because we know that we have free will; and we know that we each make our own choices, good or bad, and we don’t blame God for our bad choices. The Father is always seeking to teach and guide His children with wisdom, but He always gives them free choice.
From the tree placed right in the middle of the Garden of Eden, to every circumstance we are faced with in our lives, God does not seek to control our behavior by force of His power, but He seeks to teach and lead us by giving us choices. He then empowers us to follow through on our righteous choices and reap the reward. When we acknowledge our bad choices, He even redeems them.
The First Kids
God is not interested in just controlling our behavior so that our actions are always righteous. He wants us to learn how to look to Him for the guidance and empowerment to make good choices.
If God wanted to control Adam and Eve’s choice by force, all He had to do was put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in a place they couldn’t reach. That would have insured good behavior, but it would not have been free choice and nothing would have been learned.
Instead, He placed the tree in the middle of the garden, where they saw it everyday. God wanted them and all their children to learn to look to Him for His wisdom in the choices they made.
So What About Human Parents?
So why is it any different with human parents? Why do we make imperfect, extremely fallible human parents more responsible for the choices of their children than the heavenly Father is for His kids? Ezekiel 18 says over and over- If the father chooses well but the son chooses poorly, the father is not to blame. Conversely, if the father makes bad choices but the child makes good choices, the child bears no guilt for the father’s choice.
Read Ezk. 18 for yourself and plant its truth firmly in your heart. God repeats it over and over, in several different ways; we are all responsible for our own choices. Apparently, He feels strongly about this idea of personal responsibility.
The Law of Sowing and Reaping
Remember, the law of sowing and reaping is in the New Covenant. (Gal. 6) Reaping bad results from making bad choices is not God’s angry judgment. It is actually God’s love working for our good. It is the simple result of our choices. So don’t blame God.
When you tell your child, “Don’t touch the hot stove,” and they choose to touch it anyway, they get burned. But they don’t look at you and scream, “Why did YOU burn me?” Even a child understands that you didn’t do that to them. They caused it by their choice. And this is the most important thing we can teach our children. Choices have consequences!
Genetics or Environment: A Matter of Choice
Does the example of our parents influence us? Of course. Does the environment we are raised in have an affect on us? Absolutely. But in the final analysis, each person is fully responsible for their choices. And when we exercise our choice to make Jesus Christ the owner of our life, we have the promise that we are now a new creation in Him. We have started a new genealogy based on our heritage through Christ, apart from our natural family.
We often see this when two children are raised in the same alcoholic family. One may grow up to be an alcoholic, choosing to repeat the sins of their parents. Yet, the other child sees the destruction alcohol has caused and chooses to never drink. One may grow to be bitter and resentful of the failure of the parents; while the other chooses to have compassion and live in forgiveness.
We even see this in non-believers who make these choices by human will power. How much more should it be true for those of us who are empowered by Christ’s life within us?
The Prodigal Son – Who Is To Blame?
Look at the story of the prodigal son. This story tells us about a series of choices a young man made because he was given the right to choose for himself. And he made some terrible choices that brought painful results. However, he knew that when he was ready to make a new choice, the door to home, and his father’s heart, was always open.
How much blame did the father in this story deserve? None. Jesus gives no indication that he was a bad parent. No doubt, the father heard the stories about his son’s foolish decisions. But he never protected him from the consequences. It was the consequences that brought the son to his senses. Was it painful to watch? I am sure it was. But was it worth it? Absolutely!
Remember, the elder son had all the outwardly righteous behavior, but his heart was filled with bitterness. Forgiveness and restoration came to the younger son who learned through his consequences and came to fully embrace the father’s love. We don’t know if the elder son, who’s outward behavior seemed good, ever came to enjoy the unconditional love of his father.
Be Good Parents…Unto The Lord
Should we seek to be the best parents we can be? Certainly. Not so much for the sake of the children, but to walk pleasing to the Lord for ourselves. My wife and I have eleven divorces and remarriages between our four parents. They did not set a good example. But we made a different choice. And the power of God’s grace living in and through us has enabled us to set a completely different example.
After over forty years of marriage, we have set a very different example, but we have been far, far from being perfect parents. Nonetheless, it is always up to our children to decide the choices they will make for their own lives.
Let Them Fail
Be glad when your children make a bad choice because now they will have an opportunity to learn important life-long lessons. Don’t be so quick to protect your children from the consequences of their poor choices. Certainly, this must be age-appropriate, but let your children learn that choices have consequences. Let them know you love them too much to insulate them from these valuable lessons.
Pray for your children. Do not pray that God will force them to serve Him, because God will not answer in that way. But pray that the goodness of God will overwhelm your children and that they will choose to respond by loving Him back! “Do you not know that is the goodness of God that leads you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4)
If you feel you have been a poor parent, then humble yourself, repent to your children and ask their forgiveness. And, regardless of their response, be free of fear, shame and condemnation…because Jesus paid for that sin just as He paid for all other sins!
I strongly recommend Danny Silk’s book, “Loving Our Kids on Purpose” as one of the very best resources on how to parent children through the power of true grace and truly represent the nature of the Father to our children.
Mark Drake is an internationally known author, teacher and leader. He focuses on equipping leaders around the world in New Covenant Grace.