Raising (Covenant) Children Well

There are two books I have vowed never to write: a book on marriage and a book on raising children well. Most, I am sure, can understand why one might have some trepidation writing on those topics. But, as a Presbyterian pastor, husband, and father of four, I cannot be altogether silent on these topics. In a series of blog posts – not, a book – on the topic of raising covenant children, I wish to offer some basic points on certain non-negotiable aspects of raising children well. Naturally, as a Presbyterian, my own take will differ from that of my Baptist brothers, but I hope these posts will challenge them also to think through the implications of their own theology in how to raise children well.

Raising children well in our time and culture depends on several interrelated factors, most of which are relatively simple applications of divine truths. As Christians we want to raise godly children who love the Lord. But if there’s anything to incline us towards humility and dependence upon God, it is navigating the process of raising children well.  

Many parents are drawn to specific formulas when it comes to parenting. (By formulaic parenting I have in mind those parents who, very often with good intentions, have excessively strong opinions on what is right and wrong in practically every realm of living: schooling, eating, watching, listening, etc.). Some of these formulas may be wise and not merely the appearance of wisdom; yet, other formulas simply promote “self–made religion” and “are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:21–23). It is not always easy to distinguish between the two, which means we need to simplify our approach to the Christian life. There is much truth in Augustine’s famous dictum where he says in his Seventh Homily on 1 John, “love God and do whatever you wish.”  

We can have an elaborate formulaic approach to raising children, but nothing is more important than them receiving love, both from their parents and God. Love can cover a multitude of deficiencies in our parenting: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Biblical love helps us to understand God and how to raise our children well. But, far from being some vague concept, I want to first speak to the topic of love and in a subsequent post or two advocate for the raising of children in a context of love whereby we focus on two hugely important aspects of our Christian living: baptism and churchly communal life. These two gifts are an expression of God’s love for us as he helps us raise children for his glory.

All We Need is Love

Jesus was a covenant child. God the Father was primarily responsible for raising his Son well. True, the Father also entrusted his Son into the care of Mary and Joseph, but even Jesus understood that his ultimate authority was from above (Luke 2:49–52), to the point that he could say: “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49). Jesus was taught by his Father, “morning by morning” (Isaiah 50:4). He was deeply conscious that his Father was for him, and if God was for him who could be against him? The Lord God helped Jesus (Isaiah 50:7) and this gave him the confidence to face the world and his enemies (Isaiah 50:8–9). In a few places we are told that Jesus received words of assurance from his Father, whether audibly or in God’s word:

Luke 3:22 “…and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”


Luke 9:35 “And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’”


2 Peter 1:17 “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”


Psalm 2:7 “I will tell of the decree:

            The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son;

                        today I have begotten you.’”

Here, then, is the first reminder that we need as parents: the Father told his Son that he loved him, sometimes publicly and audibly. There is no question in my mind that Jesus needed these words of assurance from above. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, the devil asked him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here” (Luke 4:9). Jesus knew he did not need to put his Father to the test (Luke 4:12). More specifically, Jesus did not need to test his Father’s love for him to know whether he was God’s true Son. He simply needed to believe the words he had heard earlier at his baptism. When we speak of the attitude of the Father towards the Son we cannot help but think first of the love he had for him, which was gloriously reciprocated (John 14:31).

The goal of good parenting is realized when love is reciprocated. So for all of the instruction Jesus received from his Father—i.e., what to do and how to speak—it was never divorced from what I believe were frequent affirmations of the Father’s love for his Son.

What is Love?

Love is not easy to define. Often the word is used, but its meaning is either assumed or left to the imagination. True love has certain non–negotiable components. Historically, theologians have said that love is a virtue that seeks union, satisfaction, and good will. In his superb work, The Marrow of Theology, William Ames calls these the “parts of love.” These “parts of love” are not one–way (i.e., from us to God) but are in fact two–way (i.e., God to us and us to God). Three essential parts explain the goal of love from God to us and us to God:

1. The love of union: We desire to be with God through union with Christ. God desires union with his people. He accomplishes this union through his Son, which is the greatest spiritual blessing we possess. There is a type of union we share with our children by virtue of the blood relation we share with them. We also have a covenantal union with them, so that the parent-child bond in Christian families has a theological foundation. 

2. The love of satisfaction: We desire to know who God is. His attributes—all of them—satisfy us, because knowledge of his being is the chief source of our joy, blessedness, and glory. God is also satisfied in us, for he delights in the good in us, which ultimately comes from him. He cannot but love those gifts that he himself gives to us. God is satisfied in Christ and by extension all who belong to Christ. Christian parents delight in their children, who are holy. They see them not merely as their children, but as God’s offspring and our delight in them is both natural and spiritual.

3. The love of goodwill: We devote ourselves entirely to God by yielding to him in all things. All glory, honor, and praise are due to him. He exhibits goodwill toward his people as well. He grants us good things because he loves us. We cannot grant any good thing to him who is infinitely good and in need of nothing, but we can and must acknowledge his goodness because of who he is. Our worship is a type of “good will” towards God. Regarding our children, our love for them demands goodwill towards them. Our goodwill is regulated by God’s word and what he regards as good.

God is the goal of all of our love. As such, when it comes to raising our children well, we are only good parents to the extent that God is first in our lives and we love him chiefly before our children. This sounds obvious, theoretically speaking (it is the first commandment); but, practically, we can put our children before God and thus not love them in the way that God commands. Think of a parent “loving” their child by taking them to baseball instead of church. That is, fundamentally, a failure to love God before our child and so we lose sight of what truly matters for our child: that they worship God. Smiling at a child at a ball game instead of being at church is hatred, not love.

As parents, we have a “union” with our children so that loving them is natural. But we also have a love of satisfaction towards them because we love them as individual persons with distinct gifts and characteristics that we find pleasing. Yet there must also be an attitude of Christian goodwill towards our children as an aspect of our love for them. We grant them goodwill insofar as it is agreeable to God’s word. The Father had a natural (eternally loving) union with his Son; he also delighted in his person (as God–man, the “chief among ten thousand”); and he showed goodwill to him (e.g., sustaining him by the Spirit, raising him from the dead, etc.). Our love for our children must be predicated upon that type of love the Father has for his Son so that all of the “parts” are present.  

In sum then, to begin with, God raised his covenant child, the Lord Jesus, with a love of union, satisfaction, and goodwill. Our love towards our own children must have these characteristics and that is the chief part of good parenting. Everything we do towards them should flow out of the biblical picture of true love.

Mark Jones (Ph.D., Leiden) has been the minister at Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (PCA), Canada since 2007.