The challenge of parenting takes most parents by surprise. We get used to the diapers and the late nights. We adjust to the new financial implications and the reordering of our schedules. But there’s nothing more difficult than the first time we come face-to-face with a child’s defiance. The battles come from any number of issues: when to wake up, when to go to sleep, what to eat, what to wear, where to sit, how to act. In Ephesians 6, Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right,” and then he quotes the fifth commandment with the promise, “that it may go well with you.” This confirms what we instinctively sense, but goes against the idea that self-expression is what a child most needs. Regardless of what some may think, rejecting a parent’s authority isn’t a natural part of a child’s path toward healthy independence. But how can a parent help?

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Paul Tripp’s latest book on parenting, begins his discussion in this area by pointing to Proverbs 22:15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. “Foolishness,” he explains, “is what makes your child think he knows better than you do.” Proverbs makes it clear that firm, consistent discipline has to be an essential part of a parent’s response. But Tripp also points to Psalm 53:1 to show that an attitude of foolishness is not just a rejection of a parent’s authority, but ultimately a rejection of God’s authority: “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”” Understanding the problem helps us to better see the solution. Discipline plays a crucial role. But Tripp encourages parents to accompany that discipline with four words that can help reach our children’s hearts.

  1. Glory: Children are born with the conviction that they are the centre of the universe. Tripp says, “Our job is to help our children to be so blown away by God’s glory that they find joy in submitting to his rule.” Creation, Scripture, and our experience of God provide opportunities for us to testify to our children that there is a great and glorious God who deserves our wonder and glad submission.

  2. Wisdom: Children think they know all that they need to know. And sometimes parents respond in kind by arguing that they know what’s best. A stalemate ensues. What we really need to be doing is winsomely pointing our children to the wisdom of God’s Word with the recognition that the serpent makes foolishness as attractive today as he did in the garden.

  3. Story: Our tendency as parents is to preach sermons about our children’s behaviour. Tripp, instead, encourages us to work at telling stories to our children about Jesus. Children hear what we repeat and it’s only the things we emphasize that take root. Children need to hear how our sins merit God’s unflinching justice but that instead of abandoning us He provided a means of rescue through the death and resurrection of His Son. We need to look for opportunities to share this message and connect it with the real issues of a child’s life so they can see and feel it.

  4. Welcome: It’s easy to easy to respond to a child’s defiance with an expression of hopelessness. Often parents feel hopeless and they communicate the same to their children. Or the exchange ends with condemnation – discipline or words of rebuke. But while God employs both discipline and rebuke, His response to sinners, this side of the final judgment, doesn’t end in condemnation. Rather, He always leads a sinner through invitation. Tripp urges parents to regularly express words of gospel welcome. We can welcome children to confess their sins, seek forgiveness and receive God’s help. God makes those offers of invitation throughout Scripture. Genesis 4:7 is a classic example of God’s welcome to a defiant child: “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” When we welcome our children to repent, we partner with God in what’s He’s seeking to do in their lives.

This Sunday, January 28, from 2 to 4 pm, we will host a Gospel Parenting Seminar Follow-up based on Paul Tripp’s book, 14 Gospel Principles that can Radically Change Your Family. Finish reading the book, register at by this Friday, and then join us for a discussion as we seek to encourage each other as parents who are shaped by God’s Word and the good news of Jesus Christ.

In awe of Him,


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photo credit: 藍川芥 aikawake Child | Crying Little Girl via photopin (license)