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"Train up a child in the way he should go... [for] folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him" (Proverbs 22:6, 15).
As the school year begins (or, for some, has already begun), we turn our attention to academics: to learning and to teaching.  Some will send their youngsters off to school, while others will give them academic instruction at home.  However a family decides to prepare their children for independence, this much is true in every situation: parents are teachers.

Parents have a crucial role in instructing their children.  Not only should parents teach skills like how to fold clothes, how to get dressed, and how to sit at the table, but parents should also be giving moral instruction in everything they do to their children.

Why?  Because God's Word directs us to do this:
"Honor your father and mother" (Exodus 20:12).
But there are still two questions that need to be answered:
1) Why does my child need to be taught what is right?
2) How do I teach my child what is right?

I will answer these questions as best as I can from the Bible, the authority for all things pertaining to life and godliness.

First of all, children need to be taught what is right because "folly is bound up in the heart of a child."  In Hebrew culture, calling someone a fool is a great insult.  God says that children are foolish; it is in their nature.  This is for two reasons: 1) they lack experience in the world into which they are born, so they are naturally ignorant of many things (i.e. heat and cold); and 2) all children are born with sinful natures that are largely unrestrained because they lack the ability to self-moderate.

Experience definitely shapes our children.  Psychologists call this "nurture" versus "nature."  Our environment affects us all greatly.  But I want to focus on the "nature" of children - the nature of us.

What seems to be lost in today's parenting culture is the truth that children are born sinners.  In fact, in a world of soothing theology, this truth hits us like a root canal.  By and large, our society believes that all people are basically good.  And what is more innocent than a child that hasn't been corrupted by society?!

This is so not true.

In fact, God says that our mothers conceived us in sin (Psalm 51:5).  This doesn't necessarily mean that our mothers committed adultery to have us, but it does mean that from the moment of our conception, we were infused with the nature of Adam, which makes us rebellious against God, zealous for ourselves, and wholly unholy.

This is crucial to understanding God's command for parents to teach their children.  Not only do basic life skills/experiences need to be taught (nurtured), but our very nature needs to be conditioned to know what is right and what is wrong.  From birth, children are born foolish.  (In the Hebrew context, foolishness implies moral depravity.)

If parents don't understand that their child's natural, uninfluenced, heart-attitude is sinful and rebellious, then they will not be able to properly instruct their children.

This leads us into how to correctly train our children's hearts.

Our hearts need conditioning.  This is no different than how God instructs His children.  The author of Hebrews tells us that "God disciplines those He loves," meaning that God instructs His children's hearts in the way of righteousness and teaches them right from wrong.

But what is the means by which He teaches us?  Through discipline.  If you have walked with the Lord for any length of time, you will know that the Lord's discipline is often painful.  As the author of Hebrews writes, "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

How, then, are parents to teach their children?  Through discipline; specifically through the rod of reproof.

I don't know how else to say this, so I'll just say it: I'm tired of Christian parents saying that they know better than God.  These Christians say they love God and would affirm the infallibility of the Scriptures, but when it comes to spanking, they say, "No; I'll try this new method developed by some guy who doesn't believe in the depravity of man.  I'll count to three; I'll bribe; I'll make excuses for my children's disobedience; I'll do anything but what the Bible says because that's too harsh."

What folly there is in that practice.

When we train animals, we do so through some amount of physical discomfort (dare I say pain?).  Even in the wild, dogs will snap at their pups to teach them what is expected.  Pain, as a matter of fact, is a very good teacher.  It is fitting that pain be part of instruction in righteousness, since a result of the fall of man is pain and suffering because of man's first sin against God.

Finally, our children's hearts need to be trained in righteousness, not just their outward behaviors.  What I mean is that I can get my children to obey me if I bribe them.  "Come here and sit in your chair.  If you do, I'll give you something you want."  I tell you what, they'll come running!  But what has really happened here?  They have not obeyed because it is right to obey their parents; in fact, they have not obeyed at all.  They have simply acted according to their sinful impulse of selfishness.  "I want that, so I'll do this to get it."  No training has happened.  This is why behavior modification should not be the end goal of Christian parenting.  The end goal of Christian parenting should be the fear of God - the knowledge of good and evil - and why all men everywhere need the gospel of God because of our depravity (sin).

My hope and prayer is that Christian parents everywhere - chiefly, in my own household - take the truths of God to heart and practice them daily.  Our children need instruction and parents are their primary, loving teachers.

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).