The Apostle Paul says that children must obey their parents in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1). Now there is a world of difference between children obeying their parents, and children obeying their parents in the Lord. The former can be done in the flesh. The latter can only be done in the Spirit. The former can be done in unbelief. The latter can only be done by faith. It is striking that the Apostle Paul speaks directly to children in this letter that he writes “to the saints which are at Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1). The apostle then has no problem speaking to children directly when he is speaking directly to saints.
Likewise, Paul says that fathers are to bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Notice the command is not simply to teach your children about the Lord. You can teach a child about George Washington. And you can teach a child about the Lord Jesus Christ. But that kind of teaching does not capture everything commanded of parents when it comes to the raising of their children. Parents must raise their children in something, namely the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
What our Lord says in John 17 is a helpful paradigm for the work of raising children in the Lord. Christ’s prayer in this chapter has given birth to the common phrase that we are in the world and not of the world. Jesus clearly says that the saints are “in the world” (John 17:11). But he adds that they, like himself, are not “of the world (John 17:14). Here lies a common parenting problem. It is a problem on a structural level. Christian parents aim to teach their children about the Lord while conceiving of them as being of the world.
But God has done a remarkable grace to the saints and their children. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:14 that the children of a believing parent are holy. Such children have been dedicated and consecrated unto the service of God. In Mark 10, Jesus rebukes his disciples for forbidding children to come to him. Christ takes the children in his arms, puts his hands upon them and blesses them. John Calvin says of this text, “By embracing them, he testified that they were reckoned by Christ among his flock.” In other words, these children of Christ’s followers were not of the world, but of Christ’s fold.
Christian parents are to raise their children in that fold, in that fellowship, where children are nurtured and blessed by Christ himself. In this way, parents labor along the same lines of the Apostle Paul who said to the Galatians— “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).
Indeed, the work of raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is like travailing in birth. But the strength comes from the Lord. He supplies it through his precious and very great promises which are to us and our children. And those promises are grand, pertaining both to his word and Spirit:
“As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My spirit that is upon thee, And my words which I have put in thy mouth, Shall not depart out of thy mouth, Nor out of the mouth of thy seed, Nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, From henceforth and for ever” (Isaiah 59:21).