After writing Age of Opportunity, Paul Tripp never planned to write another parenting book. So why, some 20 years later, did he write another one and actually title it Parenting? Because in his travels, Tripp has discerned what parents consistently lack: a big gospel picture of their God-given task (13).
Parents need to be reoriented from the inside out. And Tripp has 14 gospel principles to help this happen.
Though parents may not always feel the temporality of their task, children inevitably grow up, and the current difficult stage(s) will give way to new ones. God has entrusted our children to our care throughout this process, and the right word for this role is ambassador:
The only thing an ambassador does, if he’s interested in keeping his job, is to faithfully represent the message, the methods, and character of the leader who has sent him. . . . Parenting is ambassadorial work from beginning to end. (14)
This ambassadorial identity is illuminating because of the perspective it produces. And among the struggles inherent in parenting, near the top of the list is the battle to maintain perspective.
We’re broken parents rearing broken people. Not only do we need the work of our Redeemer in us, we also need his work through us for the sake of those entrusted to our care.
What Gets in Our Way: Sin
From a biblical worldview, we understand that our children are sinners. They can be so cute and sweet one second, then turn on each other and us the next! Sons and daughters of Adam they are. We see them get angry and get even. We catch them in lies. We see their selfishness expressed in some form on a daily basis. We know we’re parenting sinners because there’s no other kind of child to parent.
But here’s the rub. What gets in the way of ambassadorial parenting isn’t our children’s sin; it’s ours. As Tripp reminds us,
Sin makes us all more demanding than patient. Sin causes all of us to find punishment more natural than grace. Sin makes all of us more able to see and be distressed by the sin, weakness, and failure of others than we are about our own. (16)
My greatest problem as a parent is my sin, so my greatest need as a parent is a Redeemer. The problem is devastating, yes, but the news isn’t hopeless. There’s no greater hope than the gospel:
There is nothing more important to consistent, faithful, patient, loving, and effective parenting than to understand what God has given you in the grace of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. (34)
What We Must Know: Inability
Parents can accomplish many wonderful things for their children. We might teach them to read, to throw a ball, to swim, to drive, to work with tools, and to use a computer, but we’re not all-powerful. The heart needs transformation, but for that grand work we’re powerless. This awareness is one of Tripp’s principles: Recognizing what you’re unable to do is essential to good parenting (59).
While parents can’t change the heart of their child, they are agents of change, or—to borrow one of Tripp’s other book titles—instruments in the Redeemer’s hands. “So our job is simple,” Tripp writes. “[I]t’s not to create change, but to be humble and willing instruments of change in the hands of the one and only author of change” (62).
Our inability to transform the hearts of our children should be liberating and prayer-inducing. We don’t have to employ every human mechanism of pressure and manipulation with the aim of effecting change. There’s great relief in grasping this truth. And this relief is simultaneously prayer-inducing since gospel-minded parents become dependent parents, dependent on the Lord to do what only he can. “If you had that power [to change kids’ hearts],” Tripp argues, “Jesus and his work would not have been necessary” (115).
Whom We Parent: Worshipers
It’s a simple truth but profound and consequential for our perspective as parents: We’re raising worshipers. Tripp goes so far as to say that your children’s capacity to worship is “the most important biblical insight for parents” (157). Our children need redemption because they’re idolaters. “The danger that makes parenting both essential and difficult lives inside your child, not outside him” (105). The hearts of our children have loves, and what our children love will determine what they worship. What they worship will then determine what they do. For the parent, being “an instrument of change means getting at worship issues with your child” (150).
Can we not identify with the allure of idols?
Parents may no longer be children, but we’re still worshipers. Our hearts still need to be wrecked by the gospel of grace. And in the kindness of God, we have the opportunity and ambassadorial calling to follow Jesus in front of and with our children. The rescue our children need is the rescue we need (162).
Whom We Have: Immanuel
As Tripp unfolds his 14 gospel principles in parenting, he waits until the final chapter to unveil “the best, most practical, most helpful parenting passage in all the Bible” (182). It doesn’t even look like a parenting passage at first:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18–20)
Your calling as a mom or dad is to “do everything within your power, as an instrument in the hands of the Redeemer who has employed you, to woo, encourage, call, and train your children to willingly and joyfully live as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ” (184). Nothing matters more.
The assurance for parents is the presence of Christ. In every parenting victory and every parenting sorrow, we have Immanuel. He’s strong when we’re weak, an ever-present help in time of need. No matter what we face as parents, he’ll never leave or forsake us. He’ll be with us throughout this age. And whether the years of our children are 3, 5, 10, 15, or much older, he’ll be with us through those ages too.
Paul David Tripp. Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016. 224 pp. $22.99.