By: Scott O'Malley
June 25th, 2021
“And [Jesus] said to them all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it’” (Luke 9:23-24).
If we are going to be biblically faithful parents, we must learn to deny ourselves and follow Christ in the moments of ministry God provides for our children.
One of the most challenging parts of the Christian life is learning to die to self. It does not come naturally or easily for anyone, but it is an important part of the life of every Christian. If we are going to be biblically faithful parents, we must learn to deny ourselves and follow Christ in the moments of ministry God provides for our children.
Consider further this challenge from the Apostle Paul to the church at Colossae: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” (Colossians 3:3,5a).
Commenting on these verses one author writes: “In this passage, Paul refers to two deaths: one in the past (“you have died”) and one in the present (“Put to death”). By faith, we mysteriously died with Christ in the past, but in the present, we are not yet dead to our sin. Paul links our past death with the present by inviting the Colossians to re-enact Jesus’s death by putting to death their sinful habits” (Paul Miller, J-Curve pg. 90).
Foundation #10 – Dying to self
For parents, there are an innumerable opportunities in daily life with our kids to die to self. In this article I want to describe what it looks like in a particular situation to actually put to death our sinful nature.
To begin, I want to revisit something I shared in article #8 to help us. I described a scenario every parent has faced when there are two children in a different room playing; they begin fighting over a particular toy. I then described the common response of a parent entering the room and simply removing the toy. At the time, I stated that it does not resolve the underlying issue that led to the conflict and was therefore not the best way to handle the situation. If just taking away the toy is not helpful, how should we approach this situation?
The key is having an eternal mindset. Just before being told to put to death what is earthly in us in Colossians 3:5, in verse 2 it says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” In those moments when we as parents are tired and just want to relax we must die to ourselves and our comfort and engage with our children. If we love our comfort or relaxation more than we want to minister to the souls of our kids we will not take the necessary action as parents.
“What I love shapes what I want, which controls what I do . . . Instinctively, we want to get at desire by educating it, by renovating it, or by improving our hearts. But you can’t improve the flesh; you must kill it. The cross is a place for dying, not improving” (Paul Miller, J-Curve pg. 96).
If we love our comfort or relaxation more than we want to minister to the souls of our kids we will not take the necessary action as parents.
If we cannot improve the flesh, how do we go about killing it? Romans 8:5-6 provides helpful guidance when it says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” So we see in Colossians 3:2, Romans 8:5-6, and many other places, that as parents, we must fight to set our minds on Scripture in moments of temptation so we do not fulfill the desires of the flesh but rather serve our children in love.
With an eternal mindset in place that clearly calls a parent to take action when two kids are fighting in the next room, here are a few additional guiding principles to meditate upon:
ask more questions while making fewer statements (Proverbs 18:13);
the heart is the target not temporary peace (James 4:1);
the desired result of targeting the heart is conviction of sin (Psalm 51:1-2);
remind them of the hope and forgiveness of the gospel (1 John 1:5-9);
and all of this can lead to confession of sin and reconciliation between siblings (Luke 17:3-4).
Every parent has experienced a very long day when you decide to relax on the couch. Then you hear the dreaded fight between siblings in the next room and all you want to do is ignore the conflict. Here is what the thoughts and actions of the parent could look like to actually die to self:
Colossians 3:2 – “Oh, God, you know how tired I am right now. I do not want to have to deal with this conflict but please help me by your grace to invest in the souls of my children.”
Proverbs 18:13 – ask questions (use the five questions first detailed in article #5).
What were you thinking and feeling as it was going on?
What did you do in response?
What were you hoping to accomplish by that behavior?
What was the result?
Psalm 51:1-2 – As the children answer the questions and their hearts are revealed, our focus should be on exposing sinful motives and behaviors that bring conviction to both children using the Word of God. If our focus as parents is on our fatigue or irritation with having to deal with this problem we will certainly miss the mark of what God intends in this moment
(Review Articles #5 & #6 which describe in more detail how to use the Scriptures to lead a child to conviction).
1 John 1:5-9 – When the children feel the weight of their sin, we want to encourage them to confess their sin to God and then remind them of the good news of the gospel that the blood of Christ can cleanse them of all of their unrighteousness.
Luke 17:3-4 – Finally, we want both children to be willing to repent and ask the other for forgiveness so there can be reconciliation and restored fellowship.
I believe it is vitally important that parents fully engage in this conflict and not leave the children to figure it out for themselves when they are young (perhaps 12 and under). In my experience, many parents do not pursue conviction of sin, allow children to “resolve” it on their own, and settle for temporary peace. When parents do this, numerous problems result. Children don’t actually reconcile and bitterness between children grows – which leads to more conflict later. But also, children never learn to resolve conflict with others.
I believe it is vitally important that parents fully engage in this conflict and not leave the children to figure it out for themselves when they are young.
It becomes harder and harder for children to admit they were wrong because no one insisted they do so in the formative years. As parents, we need to continue to work with our children until they admit wrong doing, especially when they are very young. As they get older their own conscience will need to convict them, but when they are young we must not let them move on until they have confessed sin if they were guilty.
The fruit of confession, repentance, and reconciliation is very sweet. When we train our children like this they can learn to understand their own heart better and thus better counsel themselves as they get older. Furthermore, they will be better equipped to resolve conflict with others because they have practiced it with us so many times. Let us pray that God will help us as parents to learn to die to self and minister to the hearts of our kids in conflict for His glory and the good of our children.
The fruit of confession, repentance, and reconciliation is very sweet. When we train our children like this they can learn to understand their own heart better and thus better counsel themselves as they get older.
Please join me next week as we consider one of the most frequent mistakes parents make as their children become teens and young adults. For now, let me close with a few questions for you to reflect on this week.
Questions for Reflection
1. Spend some time prayerfully considering, how frequently do I have an eternal mindset that leads to me dying to self when it comes to conflict in my home?
2. What is the most frequent distraction or desire that hinders me from having an eternal mindset in my parenting? If this is an area of struggle, ask God to help you grow in this area while meditating on and memorizing Colossians 3:1-4 or Romans 8:5-6.
3. How well are you doing as a family in regards to having a pattern of life of asking each other for forgiveness and reconciling?