Using Scripture to Change Children's Behavior

September 07, 2023

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Today's question says, "In a previous podcast, you address the question, how should we as parents balance teaching how to correctly study scripture and also take the time to teach the moral lessons too? You explain the concept well, but didn't give any practical examples of how scripture should inform our children's behavior. Can you give some practical examples about how to do that?"


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical Worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today. Today's question says, "In a previous podcast, you address the question, how should we as parents balance teaching how to correctly study scripture and also take the time to teach the moral lessons too? You explain the concept well, but didn't give any practical examples of how scripture should inform our children's behavior. Can you give some practical examples about how to do that?" Great question, and I'm so happy to follow up on that podcast.

Now, before we dive down deep into this question, would remind you that if you have found the content of this podcast beneficial, please make sure to like and subscribe so that you never miss a future episode, and also would ask that you would take the time to write a review so that more people can find this content and be equipped to get their kids in their care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter.

Now in the podcast that the previous podcast that was referenced in this question, I addressed the error of solely or even primarily using scripture to correct a child's behavior. And the reason that I did that is because scripture is primarily God's self revelation. It's the way that we learn who God is, how he designed the world, how he created us, who he wants us to be, how we're reconciled to him, how he wants us to live. And so it's primarily God's self revelation. And while scripture should definitely be the foundation for all that we do, including the ways in which we behave, we don't want to use scripture just primarily as a tool to correct our children's behavior, like scripture is always out to get them. We want to make sure that we're helping our children see that this is how we learn who God is.

Now, that doesn't mean that scripture should not inform our behavior or inform our correction of our children's behavior, the way we address our children's behavior, their attitude, their actions. It should all be rooted in scripture and we shouldn't use scripture to manipulate the behavior, but instead to point them to the gospel. And then how once someone has received the gospel, accepted the good news of who Jesus is and turned from their sins, then we joyfully submit to the way that God has called us to live. So we want to make sure that we're using these behavior correction opportunities, these discipline opportunities to point our children towards the gospel. I mean, scripture makes clear that that was one of the primary purposes of the Mosaic law when God made the Mosaic Covenant with the nation of Israel, he gave them his law. And then in the New Testament, it's clear that one of the primary purposes for giving that law was to point the people of Israel to the fact that they could never keep the law perfectly and that they needed a redeemer.

Paul makes this very clear in Romans chapter seven, I'm going to read Romans chapter seven verses one through six for us. It's primarily verses four, five and six that I want to focus on, but I'm going to read the first three verses because as you know, if you follow this ministry for a while, we are very passionate about making sure that we're reading scripture in context. So Romans chapter seven, verses one through six. Paul writes, "Or do you not know brothers - for I am speaking to those who know the law - that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by the law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she's released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulterous if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she's free from that law. And if she marries another man, she's not an adulterous. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we may serve in the new way of the spirit and not in the old way of the written code."

So in that portion, in Romans chapter seven, Paul is making clear that the ultimate purpose of the law was to highlight human sinfulness and point us straight to Jesus. That the law was preparing the nation of Israel for the redeemer. And that's one way in which we can use scripture to help inform our children's behavior. That yes, scripture teaches us how we are to live. And when we do not live up to that, what that is highlighting is the fact that we need a redeemer. We need to be reconciled in our relationship to God. And once we are reconciled to him, we need to daily confess and repent of our sin and trust anew in Christ, rely on him through the power of the Holy Spirit to give us everything that we need for life and godliness. Well, you may be thinking, "okay, Elizabeth, this sounds all well and good, that when we have a behavior situation that arises, we can use scripture to correct that behavior and point them to the gospel. But how in the world do we do that?" And that is a great question.

So I'm going to take us through an example of a situation that you might encounter in your home and how we could use this process with our children. So I think a very practical example, especially if you have young ones, is where one child will get frustrated with the other child and will then hit that child, okay? Obviously one sibling hitting another is wrong, okay? Now, in the moment, in the heat of that moment, you need to physically separate the siblings. And the one who hits the other one, there needs to be some sort of consequence. There needs to be a punishment for what was done. And so in the heat of the moment, you're not going to sit down and read scripture with them, but after you've implemented a consequence and there's been time to cool off, that's when we can go through this process.

So this is where we want to have a discussion with our child, okay, "what did you choose to do?" This is where it's important for us to ask questions and not just simply sit down and lecture, because usually when we lecture what happens? It goes in one ear or it might not even go in that ear. It might bounce out of that ear, but if it goes in and then it might go out the other. So we want to ask a question, what did you do? Well, I hit, I hit so-and-so. You're right, you did hit so-and-so, was that the right thing for you to do? And I let them ask, no, it wasn't. And then say, let's talk about why that was the wrong thing for you to do. And then you can turn to Genesis chapter one and you can read verses 26 through 28, which talk about humans being created in God's image and say, "okay, your little brother, who is your little brother?"

According to this verse, he's someone created in God's image, right? Did you treat him like he was created in God's image? No. Then you can take him to the second chapter, Philippians and read verse three, which talks about doing nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but with humility, considering others more important than yourself. Say, "okay, according to this verse, what are we not supposed to do? We're not supposed to be selfish. What are we supposed to do? We're supposed to consider others better than ourself. Okay? When you hit your brother, were you thinking of him better than you thought of yourself? No." And so then say, "okay, so when you did not treat him like an image bearer and you did not think of him better than yourself, what is that called?" And call it what it is. It's sin.

Okay, it's sin. And then discuss, "okay, who have you sinned against primarily? Firstly, you've sinned against God, that first sin that is against God. God is the primary one who has been offended. You've also sinned against your brother, but primarily you have sinned against God." And then that's when we can bring the gospel in and say, "You know what? Sin always requires a payment. We can't just take sin and sweep it under the rug. We can't do that. Sin always requires a payment because it puts a hindrance. It puts a block in between our relationship with God, our relationship with one another, even our relationship with ourselves", and then discuss the two payment options. There's two payment options. We can pay for our sin one day when we're judged by God, by being separated from him forever in a place called Hell. Or we can accept the payment. We can receive the payment that Jesus already made for that sin by dying on the cross and bearing God's wrath toward that sin.

Okay? So present the gospel to them. That I think one of the mistakes that I made when growing up is I thought that the gospel was something that was just for immediacy upon salvation. Like, okay, so I confess, I repent of my sin. I'm born again. I'm regenerated, brought into new life with Christ. Okay? That's the gospel. I'm done with it where we need the gospel each and every day because yes, we do need the gospel initially when we come to faith in Christ, but every day we need to be reminding ourselves that we are sinners, that we have sinned against a holy God, and we need to confess and repent of that sin and trust always and only in Christ. After this, I'd recommend just praying together, thanking God, pray with your child, have your child confess and repent of a sin. Ask for forgiveness. Pray together, then require confession and repentance to his or her sibling that they actually have to go name what they've done. I hit you and that was wrong. I'm so sorry. Will you forgive me? Okay. And then the other sibling has the opportunity to forgive.

Okay. You might be thinking, Elizabeth, what you've just outlined takes so much time. Do you know how often my children get into a fight at home? Do you know how often there's quarreling? We've been doing nothing but discipline all day long if I spent this much time. You're right in the heat of the moment, okay, you can't do this each and every time because there is just not enough time in the day. But you do need to make this a consistent habit, and it might involve cutting some other things out of your daily schedule so that you have more time for these opportunities that come up.

I know that when I was a teacher, there were many times where I gave up my lunch break or I gave up when my students were at a special. So I gave up these planning times or these times to connect with other teachers because a discipline situation had arisen, and I needed to go through these steps with the student who had just acted sinfully. And so it does require a lot of time. Now, another thing I think it's important for us to remember is we want there to be one time of confession, repentance, and forgiveness and reconciliation, and then perfect. We are never going to encounter this situation again, but that is just not the way that things work for us, broken, fallen image bearers of God. I mean, think about how many times God has to teach us as adults the same lesson over and over and over and over again.

So our children are probably going to continually make the same mistakes. They are going to have certain patterns of sin in their life that we're going to have to deal with every day. And so in the moment, it can feel so overwhelming, but just as you're doing this, remember that this goal of parenting is a marathon. It's not a sprint. So we need to expect our children are going to sin. They're going to sin every single day. Our goal is to continually point them towards Christ and develop these habits in their life where when they sin, they confess and repent of that sin. Another thing to address that I kind of touched on a little bit before that, taking them through scripture to help to have it speak to their behavior, to have it point to Christ, although it doesn't take place immediately, because we and our kids need some time to cool down, consequences can happen immediately, okay?

It doesn't mean that you just say, get away from one another and let them keep playing. You can implement a consequence, whether it's a timeout or whatever other form of discipline you implement in your home. A consequence can be implemented immediately. I know when I was teaching, which I know teaching is different than parenting, but just I gave the example before of how I would give up my lunch break or the PE break or art or music or something like that to go through this process with my students. Where in the moment, if I had a student that was disrupting the class and was not listening, that was hurting all the rest of the students in the class. So I would have that student go and stand out in the hallway for at least five to 10 minutes, and then they would have to stay after school to make up that work. And I said, I don't care if you have soccer practice. It's fine if your mom comes in here and says that you need to go. I'm going to tell her that you made this decision to say after school instead of going to soccer practice. So I would implement an immediate consequence. So don't think that there's no consequences because of this, because it is really important that our children have immediate consequences for their behavior.

Well, I hope that this example that I gave just provides clear guidance on how we can take the truths of scripture. I just walked us through taking the passage about us being image bearers in Genesis one, and then the passage about not being selfish, but considering others better than ourselves in Philippians chapter two, and then using those passages to point our children towards the gospel, to show them they have sinned and they need Jesus. They need to confess and repent of that sin. And those are things you could write down those verses on little cards for your children. You can work on memorizing those things so that they remember in the heat of the moment, okay, I'm supposed to view my brother as an image bearer, okay? I'm supposed to be kind and compassionate. I'm supposed to be tenderhearted, forgiving one another, okay? I'm not supposed to be selfish. I'm supposed to consider him better than myself. So we can use scripture in this way. It is supposed to correct our behavior, ultimately point us to Jesus.

Well, that's a wrap for this podcast. But as always, when we leave our time together, my prayer for you is that you, no matter the situation that you or the children, God is placed in your care, find yourself that you would trust that God is working all things together for your good by using all things to conform you more into the image of his son. I'll see you next time.

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