When we think of disciplining children, it is most often in the context of behavior correction. We think of punishments that fit whatever rule the child broke. We consider verses like “Whoever spares the rod hates his son” (Prov. 13:24a). It is good that parents practice proper and consistent discipline. But the goal should not only be a behavioral correction, but a godly, humble, and gospel-filled spirit. You must be after your child’s heart. Now you might say that seems soft when what you need is a 5-step plan to make your kid stop throwing tantrums in the middle of Target. I get it, but let’s talk for a moment about a more holistic approach to discipline in your child’s life.
By negative, I do not mean that discipline has a negative effect on our children. Instead, it is discipline that is enacted when disobedience occurs. It is a deterrent to future sinful actions. We encounter consequences for our actions all of the time. When we make mistakes and break the rules, there must be consequences. It is good that we would place restrictions on our children and teach them to obey those rules. It is good that we would seek to punish them when they deliberately disobey and knowingly sin. But the goal of this aspect of discipline must be that our child’s heart is being drawn to God. We must point our children to Christ and the Gospel – even in the midst of disobedience and discipline. But, the law and consequences for breaking it cannot and will not fulfill the same role as grace and mercy. In this vein, we turn to the concept of positive discipline.
When I speak of positive discipline, I think it is helpful to imagine an Olympic athlete. Those athletes train for years to make the Olympic team and win a medal at the games. They must discipline themselves so that they will be in a position to succeed in their chosen sport. In the same way, we must discipline ourselves and our children in the way of the Lord. The way of the Lord is the only way that will bring joy and success in life. We encourage them to do good and to follow after God. We faithfully teach the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We teach them how to pray, care for others, and live out the fruit of the Spirit. The goal of this discipline is to foster a way of life that honors and glorifies God. Much like Solomon teaches his son in Proverbs to cling to the way of the Lord and to pursue Him, we too must teach our children how to be faithful disciples and foster discipline in their lives. This aspect of discipline must be seen as a partner with “negative” discipline. They work together to bring about positive life change and lead them again and again to the grace of God.
It is good that parents practice proper and consistent discipline.
It is not enough to teach kids that there is a consequence for breaking the rules. We must display for them and encourage them toward living a life that proclaims the mercies of God, the truth and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the fruit of the Spirit. We should desire more than to stop our kids from throwing a tantrum in Target (although we should stop them from doing that). We need instead to consistently teach them the word of God and show them the way of the Lord.
A resource that I would commend to you in this area is Parenting by Paul David Tripp. In it, he evaluates 14 Biblical principles that will help you discipline your children in the way of the Lord. In his introduction, Tripp calls parents to view their role as an ambassador for Christ. By this, he means that an essential aspect in the role of a parent is to be an ambassador on behalf of God and display His love, grace, mercy, holiness, and justice. Parents are the chief representatives on behalf of God in the lives of their children. The way we discipline our children should display the glory and goodness of God and cause their hearts to revel in His ways.