Modeling Obedience for Your Children

Children Do What Children See

When you trusted Jesus as your Saviour, you became part of God’s family. You chose Him, and He chose you—forever.

“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name... And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (John 1:12, Galatians 4:6). (Abba means “Daddy”!)

Birth is final. On that day, you became God’s “kid,” and He became your perfect, awesome, loving Heavenly Father—your spiritual Dad. I don’t know what kind of family you grew up in or what kind of model you’ve seen, but if you know Jesus, I know what kind of Father you have now. He’s perfect in every way, and He’s ready to help you grow into His likeness as a parent.

So, what kind of kid are you? How is your relationship with your Heavenly Father? Are you living under authority? Are you honoring your Father? Are you living in close fellowship with Him and seeking to obey Him in your life? Truly this is the very foundation of biblical parenting.

What You Do Is What You Get

There’s a simple little principle at play in all of our parenting efforts, and our children intuitively know this: How you live speaks louder and longer than what you say.

Your model outweighs your mouth. Your parental authority is established upon your submission to the Highest Authority. How you respond to your Father comes right back at you from your kids.

To the degree that you disobey and disregard your Heavenly Father, you legitimize your children’s disobedience and disregard of you. If you live in disobedience, you discount your ability to expect obedience.

Now, I realize children are commanded to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1) regardless of the parents’ spiritual state. Biblically, I have my kids “dead to rights” either way. And that position works when they are little—you know, the “because I said so” approach.

But this argument dies with the passing of the elementary years. For teens—what you do is king. What you say only matters if your life backs it up. Here’s how they think:

  • Don’t tell me—show me.
  • Don’t demand it—display it.
  • Don’t push me—lead me.

This shift in thinking during the early teen years catches a lot of parents off-guard. And it’s especially disruptive if you’ve developed the habit of living a duplicitous lifestyle—talking one way but living another.

Think about it. For the better part of ten or twelve years we are able to manage our kids’ behavior simply by mandate. “Go to bed right now.” “Eat your dinner.” “Do your homework.” Because our role as parents is so big in their eyes and they are so dependent, they really do have to do what we say—no questions asked. Our influence can be more about dominance than example. And so we tend to settle into a control mode which manages behavior but doesn’t model it. We can default into merely issuing demands rather than mentoring the heart. We can lead by dictating rather than doing—it’s easy when they are young.

Suddenly, the teen years hit like a tidal wave and shatter our well-controlled parental universe. As teens, our kids start using their newly wired brain cells to rethink everything. They start subconsciously connecting dots and reprocessing years of parental authority. It hits them one day that we are kids too—and that we have a much higher Parent to whom we give account. For a strong-willed child, this challenging spirit may come even earlier in life.

Then, the pesky little critters start examining us—actually thinking about how we live and drawing their own conclusions. (How dare they!) What they find leads to a whole new world. They study what we watch, listen to, and say. They examine how we treat God, our spouse, our church, and our job. They investigate and find interest in every little detail and behavior of our lives. They place us under the microscope of consistency—essentially asking this question: “Is this ‘God thing’ real to Mom and Dad? Should I really take this seriously?”

Sadly, when teens come up with a negative answer to that question—when they see a life that doesn’t back  up the talk—they quickly disconnect from developing their own faith.

God’s Word is fertile ground for seeing this played out. Isaac knew God was real to Abraham, and Jacob knew God was real to Isaac. Solomon and Absalom knew God was real to David, but they also watched him dishonor God in family life—repeatedly and for long periods of time. And in the end they both self-destructed.

And Solomon’s son Rehoboam? He watched Dad play. He watched Dad turn from the Lord God to sex (as a god) and idolatry. He watched Dad give his life to foolishness and vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:17). He watched Dad reduce the Almighty God of the ages to just another god on the shelf of many. And so, he walked away. Why bother? Solomon invited his son (at some point in his life) to watch his life—“My son...let thine eyes observe my ways” (Proverbs23:26). Too bad he later left his own advice.

Parent—what kind of kid are you? Are you chipping away at your moral authority and influence in your child’s life by disregarding your Heavenly Authority? If they are watching you disobey your Father, you are creating a moral dilemma in their hearts that will manifest itself in various unpleasant ways in your home and in their futures. This is an unstable, fractured way to parent, and it reaps a really bad harvest.

If your children see you loving and obeying your Heavenly Father, they are much more likely to do the same. And they will find it more logical to obey you in the process. After all, obedience is what they see in you.

It’s really that simple. If you passively or inconsistently love God, then they will probably disregard you and your God. Your parental expectations will be rebuffed by hardened hearts. You will experience an absolute loss of parental credibility. In family counseling, I often find it odd that disobedient parents expect obedient teens. It’s just not going to happen—not for very long anyway.

Into the teen years, too many parents try to overuse their authoritarian control of behavior. They forget that they are dealing with fresh brain cells that are now asking “Why?” They forget they are dealing with young adults who suddenly find new courage to cry “foul” when they see one. And if you are living in obvious (or hidden) disobedience to your Father, they most certainly will cry “foul.”

So What Are We to Do?

To put it simply—if you want obedient kids, be one. If you want deceptive kids, be one. Disobedient kids, be one. Argumentative kids, be one. Defensive kids, be one. You get the point.... You are modeling childhood to your child. You are also modeling parenthood to your child. They will learn how to be a kid from you, and they will learn how to be a parent from you. So swallow hard, dig deep, and...uh... yep, I’m going to say it: straighten up! (And go clean your room while you’re at it.)

Have the relationship with God that you want your kids to have with you. Love Him, and they will love you—and Him. Obey Him, and you have every right to expect obedience and to deal with disobedience. Honor Him, and you should receive honor. Have a right heart with Him, and you can lead your kids to have a right heart with you. Deal honestly and biblically with your own failure, and you can help your children deal honestly and biblically with theirs.

Parent, you and I are just a link in the chain of authority. We are under authority, and modeling obedience is the best way to teach it and receive it. Standing on the solid ground of submission is the best place from which to teach submission.

Here’s Your Assignment in Becoming an Obedient Parent:

1. Pursue God and love Jesus with all of your heart. Ephesians 6:6 reminds us to do the will of God from the heart. God tells us His first command is that we love Him with all of our hearts.

Your children know what (or whom) you love. It’s obvious in your lifestyle. And don’t think you can fool them. If you love God intensely, they will know it. If you love Him casually, they will know it. Your life is your loudest message. Your life is your truest message. If you are authentic, you will have credibility—and with teenagers, if you don’t have credibility, you have nothing. Credibility is king in this relationship.

2. Obey your Heavenly Father and let your kids know. Are you faithful to church? Are you growing in God’s Word? Are you listening to God and making changes in your life based upon His internal conviction? Then show it to your kids. Talk about it. Sit down at the dinner table tonight and say, “Hey, you know, God’s been really speaking to my heart about... and He’s challenging me to obey.” For instance, do you tithe? If not—start. And when you do, tell your kids.

Your kids should see obedience to God throughout all of your life. It should be obvious. The biblical answer to most of their questions could be, “You know, I don’t do that (or I do that) primarily because I’m trying to obey God.”

How can teens argue with that? You are obeying your Father. If they have a problem, it is with God, and they can appeal to Him.

3. Don’t get caught in the appearance trap. Don’t play a game spiritually. Too many parents act one way at home—rather unspiritually—and another way at church—spiritually. Too many kids see their dads pray with men at church, but never with the family at home.

This game doesn’t work in leading teens. They see straight through it, and they resent it. They use it to justify bad attitudes and negative behaviors. One of the worst things we can do as parents is indirectly give our kids more ways to justify their own sin.

Parent, externals are just that—externals. They are to be the product of a right heart, not a replacement or cover for it. Whatever outward service or standards you have in life, let them flow from a fervent, heart-based love for Jesus Christ and solid biblical obedience to your Father. When your kids ask “why,” be able to answer, “Because I want to obey God.” That’s a rock-solid answer for a child of God.

Let your life flow from the inside out. The externals of the Christian life—the preaching, teaching, worship, service, lifestyle—only make sense to your kids if you have a genuine heart walk. You can’t hide or mask a genuine love and walk with God. It just comes out of you on every level of human relationships, and God uses your delight in Him to make Himself more attractive to your child.

4. Prove your beliefs and biblical standards. While externals do not produce spirituality, a truly spiritual heart will always show externally. You can’t hide godliness beneath a carnal exterior. Our kids need to see us growing in obedience and commitment to Christ. It starts in the heart, but it flows into all of life. A growing child of God will be seeking godliness and holiness in life, and our kids are looking for behavior that is driven by biblical belief. If it’s real with you, then they will know it. You will be able to answer for it. And you’ll have a good case for helping to make it real with them, too.

Titus 2:11–12 states that the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness. God’s Word is clear that our conversation (lifestyle) is to be as “it becometh the Gospel” (Philippians 1:27). And we are commanded to “shew forth the praises of him” (1 Peter 2:9).

5. Decide to be an open, approachable parent. Does the thought of your kids examining your life bother you? If so, why? Probably because there’s something you don’t want them to see. Consider the fact that God has placed these young humans in close proximity to you on purpose—for quite a while. He knows your failures and flaws, but apparently that wasn’t enough to disqualify you. Perhaps He intends for you to model honesty, transparency, confession, and repentance as well?

Don’t be tense about letting them inspect your life. To the best of your ability—given that you still struggle with the flesh too—seek to be real and be right. Our kids, of all people, know we are flawed.

Welcome their examination. Welcome their questions. And be prepared to be greatly challenged at the deepest level of your belief and practice. Be prepared for your every inconsistency to be exposed that you may deal honestly before them. For all their missing brain cells, teens sure can come up with the most profound and insightful questions. They sure are great referees and quick to throw flags! For all their emotional fog, they can see through us clearly.

When it comes to teen parenting, start with this question: what kind of kid am I? Build your authority upon the solid foundation of submission to your own Heavenly Father. Teach your children to obey you because you obey Him. Show them what it looks like. Teach them how to do it. Model submission before you demand submission. Then expect obedience and hold them to the commands of God’s Word.

It is inconsistent to expect obedience that you are not willing to give.

This article is part of Cary Schmidt’s latest book, Passionate Parenting, available through Striving Together Publications.

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