Samuel Taylor Coleridge once fell into conversation with a gentleman who believed that children should receive no formal religious instruction: they should, rather, be free to choose their own religious faith upon reaching a suitable age.
Coleridge did not disagree, but later invited the man into his rather unkempt garden. "You call this a garden?" the visitor exclaimed. "There are nothing but weeds here!"
"Well, you see," Coleridge replied, "I did not wish to infringe upon the liberty of the garden in any way. I was just giving the garden a chance to express itself and to choose its own way."
No matter what well meaning sociologists claim, a child is not born morally and religiously neutral, as if all they need is to be left to its own devices to grow up untainted and noble and wise. If you just let a child go with its natural tendencies they will become destructive and self-destructive. All you have to do is to see a tantrum thrown by a 3-month-old child – they’re mad enough to kill you, but they only weigh 10 pounds and not 210!
The Bible teaches that children are born with an inherent inclination towards doing wrong. And so that’s why Paul writes in Ephesians 6:4 “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’
It is not enough to “not exasperate” them, we are to have a positive input into their spiritual and moral upbringing. We are to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord”.
What does that mean? It means that, since we have brought people into the world who have an eternal soul that will go to either Heaven or Hell, God holds parents responsible for teaching their kids about him, and about what he requires, and about what Jesus has done for us. It means letting them see that wrong is wrong and will be punished. It means letting them see that God is not just Holy, but loving and has provided Jesus to pay the price for our sin.
This is part of what the “training and instruction of the Lord means”.
Practically it means that we should be reading the Bible to our children, teaching them to pray, taking them to a church where God’s word is taught and explained. But of course we’ll not want to do that unless we have a right relationship with God ourselves. For even if we do it, we’d be hypocrites telling our children to be interested in something we weren’t interested in – and that would exasperate them, which we are commanded not to do.
The answer is found not in simply following God’s instructions for parenting, but in following the God who gives them. God has commissioned parents with a challenging but eternally significant role. How will you respond?