My sin doesn’t die easily. Right now, I’m fighting a particular one that seems especially persistent. I might see victory in it for a few months, but then something happens, I let my guard down, and I like feel I’ve taken 10 steps backward in sanctification. It’s frustrating. It’s annoying. It’s discouraging.
My young kids also have sin issues that don’t seem to be going anywhere. Like me, they have good days and bad days. But unlike me, they don’t have the Holy Spirit sanctifying and convicting them. Though Christians may disagree about the spiritual condition of our children, I believe all my kids have is common grace, and more often than not their own sinful hearts prevail.
This besetting sin in my own life, and the besetting sins in the life of my kids, often lead me to despair. What do you do when training and discipline is hard and seemingly unfruitful? How do you keep going when it seems nothing is working?
Stiff-Necked Parent, Stiff-Necked Kids
Disciplining our children is hard for many reasons. The difficulty can range from us not getting enough sleep last night to stubborn sin issues in our kids that must be confronted. Illness, external stress, disability, and major life changes can also add to the difficulty of daily discipline.
How do you keep going when it seems nothing is working?
Other times, my own lack of humility makes discipline hard. My child disobeys again after I’ve already told him multiple times to do the right thing. He doesn’t. I get mad. He retreats. I get more frustrated because of his frustration, and the cycle continues.
But if I remember my own besetting sin, then I’m able to see him through sympathetic eyes. If I, a blood-bought child of God, continue to go back to the same sin, how much more will my child who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit? Yes, his sin needs to be dealt with. But so does mine.
At the end of the day, discipline is often hard for me because I fail to see my children through humble eyes, and instead expect behavior that even I don’t exhibit. Discipline is hard because they’re stiff-necked sinners who need new hearts; they’re simply responding according to their nature. They disobey because it’s all sinful people know how to do (Rom. 8:5). They’re unkind because they don’t have new hearts (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26). They keep going back to their sin because it’s the only impulse anyone has apart from Christ (Rom. 1; Rom. 3:23).
Only when I see them in that light am I able to respond with compassion—not frustration. They need Jesus again and again and again.
Discipline is hard because sin is serious. Sin demands consequences. But it also requires we take the log out of our own eye first (Matt. 7:5). We’re stiff-necked parents dealing with stiff-necked progeny.
Gracious God, Stiff-Necked People
The most glorious truth in parenting is that I’m not the only one parenting my children. God is their ultimate authority, and I care for them as one under his authority, too. I’m my children’s first understanding of what God is like (Ps. 22:9–10). Children learn to trust and obey God by learning to trust and obey their parents, so how I discipline them should testify to how God disciplines us (Eph. 6:1). That truth is incredibly sobering.
What is the general pattern of discipline in Scripture? How does God deal with his children? He’s gracious. He’s slow to anger (Ps. 86:15). He gives them repeated chances to obey. He gives them deliverance even when they don’t deserve it (Deut. 7:7). He provides for them (Ex. 16). And ultimately, he gives his only Son to give them new hearts, so that they can have even a chance at true obedience (John 3:16).
The pattern of parenting we see in Scripture is one of long-suffering patience with wayward, rebellious people set on going their own way. Does that sound like your house? It sure sounds like mine.
When discipline is hard, we tend to respond with frustration and surprise: Surely they should know by now. I’ve told them repeatedly what I require of them. Or we despair: God said in his Word that he’d bless my efforts if I was faithful. Why is this so hard?
But consider your own life for a moment. What besetting sin keeps you humble, ever mindful of your need for growth? Consider the life of the Savior with his disciples, always granting more grace for their lack of understanding and trust.
Discipline is hard because sin is ugly and hard to root out. It’s hard because no one likes to deal with inches of growth when they’re pouring themselves out every day. It’s hard because you really do love these children more than you ever thought possible, but repeated rebellion hurts and is frustrating. It’s hard because no matter how much you try to force obedience, sinful hearts can only be transformed by a power you don’t possess in yourself.
You’re Never Alone
But these truths can also lead to encouragement for parents. In the same way that we don’t possess the power to change our children, we also don’t parent without supernatural power from the Holy Spirit. We’re never disciplining alone.
When we are prompted to talk to our children about their sin, the Spirit gives us words, grace, and discernment. When we discipline them, the Spirit provides the necessary patience to discipline in love like God the Father. When we present the gospel to them, it’s never without the power of the Spirit who alone can open blind eyes to the beauty of grace.
Discipline is hard, but that’s why God never leaves us alone for the task. The difficulty of discipline leads us to the end of our own efforts and leaves us coming up short. But it also points us to the Savior who takes dry bones and makes them come alive (Ezek. 37:1–14).