“’Touch’ with your eyes, not your hands.”
“You may not slap your sister!”
“No, you can’t have candy now. It’s almost suppertime.”
“Group dates only. That will make it easier for you to choose wisely in your relationship.”
“Don’t touch the stove!”
We all want our kids to exhibit self-control; we know it’s safer and healthier than impulsivity and indiscretion. Thus, I’m sure that – like me – you could quickly list dozens of self-control-promoting statements you’ve told your kids over the years. In fact, it’s our job as parents to be purposeful about defining appropriate boundaries for our children so they might eventually internalize good and healthy limits for their own behavior.
But – as with all the other qualities listed in Galatians 5 as Fruit of the Spirit – we must also remember that true self-control actually emanates supernaturally from each individual’s relationship with the Lord. No one can really “gut it out” in his own strength with any true consistency. So, in a very real way, true “self-control” is actually “Spirit-control” – i.e., a choice each child (or adult) makes day by day, moment by moment, to allow the Holy Spirit (rather than her own natural inclinations) to guide and lead her behavior. For the safety and well being of an immature child and others around him, we must set external behavioral parameters – complete with logical, consistent consequences for disobedience – but our ultimate goal should never be only outward compliance for its own sake. Rather, our aim should always be toward encouraging each child to accept Christ as Savior and Lord so that the Spirit will come to indwell him, thus opening the door to an internally driven Spirit-control.
I was reminded of this recently when reading Romans 2, wherein Paul exhorts the Jews to whom he was writing:
For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Applied to behavior, this means that “being good” doesn’t make a child a follower of Christ. Likewise, the goal is not getting a child to follow rules laid out by his parents just to avoid trouble. Rather, true “circumcision” – a real ability to control one’s behavior – is internally driven. And the Spirit actually powers that control, since we – as humans in our own strength – have deceitful, wicked hearts that cannot be trusted (Jeremiah 17.9).
With that in mind, what can you do today to lovingly encourage your child to embrace Christ? And if she’s already taken that step, what can you do to remind her that she can avail herself of Spirit-control in any situation?
Photo Credit: FromSandToGlass