Friday, October 5, 2012

Teaching Children Morals = Moral Children

My son is alive and well, but it's a miracle he made it out with relatively few scars. I was admittedly, one of those homeschool moms. Well meaning for sure, but way off track when it came to teaching my son what really mattered.

I poured over school curriculum and researched local and online resources. I devoured books about homeschooling and how to graduate a high-school student. Teaching the Bible was an important part of our program each year, so I was always on the hunt for books and help regarding raising a Christian young man.

Enter Exhibit A:

Last week I noticed this handy resource from our homeschool days.

I'm not knocking the book. It is a helpful tool for study. However, I clearly used it for another purpose. I saw it as an easy solution to parenting from a Christian perspective. Simply look up the word for whatever issue we're dealing with and find all the verses in the bible that talk about the particular sin. Perfect!
This section could be called "The Top Character Traits I Thought Would Save My Son."

This was tucked inside. I remember writing down these topics and giving the list and the book to my son for his personal devotion and study.

I wrongly believed that an examination of scripture verses related to drinking for example, would be the anecdote to potential failure in that area.

What I didn't realize was that my son was learning conformity, obedience and a right moral appearance.

This instruction and teaching was void of Jesus.

It was Christ-less Christianity.

I can hear what you're thinking.

"Lori, are you saying it's wrong to teach these morals and character traits?"
No, that's not what I'm saying.

"Lori, are you saying all of this had nothing to do with Christianity?"

Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.

Teaching a set of principles (for the purpose of achieving right moral behavior) is in vain apart from Jesus and the grace he died to bring us, regardless of how valuable they may seem. Apart from teaching kids the truth of God's high standard of the Law, our complete and utter inability to achieve that standard, and Christ's standard meeting work on our behalf, it all boils down to getting our kids to achieve an external behavior that makes us as parents look pretty darn good. We love it! Even when we don't actually say it, inside we value the way our kids look to others because it reveals our success as parents. We feel justified when our kids do good or are good. All of our hard work has paid off.

That's why I can say our teaching had nothing to do with Christianity.
Anyone can teach morality and external behavior modification.

Enter Exhibit B:

The second resource from our homeschooling days peered out from under the piles of books I'd boxed up to sell. I was horrified when I flipped through it the other day! I was sickened by the way I had used the curriculum. I believed the lie that I could actually raise a Christian if I could just teach right behaviors!

I thought that good parenting and training produced a godly kid.

I had failed to teach my son the truth about God, the truth about his own sin and the truth about the grace that is ours in Christ and what he has accomplished on our behalf.

That kind of moralistic teaching had no option but to produce a law abiding child on the outside and a rebel on the inside. 

That's what law does to each one of us. We sit down on the outside, but we're standing up on the inside.

Enter Exhibit C:

Look carefully at the scratched out statement below. This little gem of instruction should be entitled "Teaching Your Kids By Law in 20 Easy Steps."

You can tell how my son felt about this particular "step." Of course, he knew long before I did that listening to rock music would not stand in the way of following Jesus. He was also pretty certain that it's possible to follow Jesus even if you are a rock musician.

This kind of moralistic training has no power to save a soul and transform a human heart.

Our assigned reading should have included this insightful comment:

"I remember coming back from a very long tour…. On Christmas Eve I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. …It had dawned on me before, but it really sank in: the Christmas story. The idea that God, if there is a force of Love and Logic in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty… a child, I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry.

Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was sitting there, and …tears came down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this. Because that’s exactly what we were talking about earlier: love needs to find form, intimacy needs to be whispered. To me, it makes sense. It’s actually logical. It’s pure logic. Essence has to manifest itself. It’s inevitable. Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.” – Bono

God's Grace

If I had the opportunity to do it over, I would do it differently. I wouldn't be a perfect parent, but I pray by God's grace I would be an honest parent. Honest about my sin and honest about my child's sin. I pray God would give me the grace to readily admit failure and run to Jesus in front of my child. I pray that if there was one thing my child would learn from me it would be just that; a readiness to acknowledge sin and a mad dash to the foot of the cross.

Age appropriate child training is good and it is necessary. But,
teaching children morals equals moral children. 

There is zero chance it will transform their heart.
The only power to transform a human heart is the gospel.

God's love for them in the person of Jesus Christ can rescue the hardest of hearts. 

If you are having a hard time believing it just ask yourself this question. What melts your heart? Is it someone telling you to be good and try harder? Or, is it the reassurance that although you mess up and even when you don't or can't try harder, God loves you so much he sent his Son to rescue you in your mess, again and again? While you are warming your heart by that gospel truth don't forget to tell you kids.

They need to hear it again and again because,
they are just like you; sinners in need of grace. Sinners in need of the fresh reminder that in Christ, their sins are forgiven.


  1. what a wonderful true post! We as parents can only do our part - but we must be aware that learning what is right is not enough.... and avoiding what is wrong is not enough.... It can even make us weak.

    Having a relationship is what it is all about... and that is the hardest part of all... we can do the checklist, but a real vibrant moment by moment relationship with God is so much more than learning right from wrong.

  2. "The only power to transform the human heart is the gospel" AMEN! Excellent post, sister. I like the idea of homeschooling but sometimes I feel that well-meaning parents are just raising pharisees. Teaching moralism makes us no different than the jehovah's witnesses, mormons and muslims!

    1. Thank you so much! I love all options for school - depends on the needs of the child, really. We just run into trouble when we believe all that matters is outward compliance. That can happen in a homeschool environment, but it can happen just as easily in public/private school.

      Thank for stopping by!

  3. Excellent article. I was one of those homeschool moms, too. We taught parenting classes and hosted homeschooling conferences. We ended up putting our children in a private, Christian school due to health issues, and now they are in public school (high school). I have had to die many small deaths along this journey...dying to my perception of what a godly family looks like, how people perceive me, my spouse, and my children, and pretending that we have it all together. We just went through a major crisis with our youngest daughter that had me reaching out to many people for prayer. It has been very humbling. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. God bless you.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment! It is a difficult and humbling process but one that will set you free! I am so sorry to hear of the crisis with your daughter...I pray that as she comes clean, you and your husband can come clean as well. The gospel frees all of you to be honest about who you are, running to the cross to find all the love, acceptance and welcome your hearts long for!

      Blessings my friend,