The Common Work of Christian Parenting
I recently published a book on covenantal baptism. Entering into these waters (pun intended) of constant discussion and even conflict have caused me to reflect a lot in recent months upon Christian parenting. Though there may be differing views among Christian parents about whether we should apply the waters of baptism to our infant children, we have the greatest of things in common. And I simply want to remind us of that in this brief article.
We all agree that our children’s greatest need is for the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit, regardless of whether we are a Baptist, Presbyterian, or Anglican. And this truth sets all Christian parenting in perspective, regardless of our views on who are the right recipients of baptism. Christian parents know that, though we may provide our children with shelter, clothing, food, and even a loving and affirming home, if we are not putting our children in the way of gospel grace, their greatest need remains unaddressed. With this perspective, we are truly distinct from other parents in the world.
Resting as Christian Parents
From the moment our children are conceived, we pray and hope that they will claim Christ as their Savior and Lord. We know this is their greatest need. And that knowledge, at times, can weigh like a burden on a parent’s shoulders. But our God is our child’s God. What rest is found in this knowledge! Though there are no grandchildren in the body of Christ, he is a God both to us and to our children (Acts 2:39). We can look in faith to him. Our children are not without hope, and neither are we as parents.
This is God’s promise, and salvation is his work. Yet we often forget this. Our Christian faith becomes quickly confused. We argue incessantly, and rightly, that our own personal salvation is wholly a work of God, but then act as though the salvation of our children is the result of our work. In other words, we approach our own souls as grace-saturated Calvinists, but approach our children’s souls as Arminians or, at worst, works-saturated semi-Pelagians.
Let us remind ourselves that both our own salvation and our children’s salvation lie in the hands of God. They need grace—saving grace. And saving grace comes only from God. As Christian parents, regardless of our views on baptism, we surrender our children to God. We entrust them to him. And rest accompanies this trust.
Striving as Christian Parents
This rest that we can find, however, does not negate our need to strive, as well. As we rely “upon divine grace,” we also “endeavor” and “strive” with and for our children’s souls. The family serves as the most fertile soil in which the seeds of gospel truth can bear fruit. And, as this soil is softened by the rains of God’s grace and warmed by the rays of his mercy, Christian parents tend to it as well through the nurture they provide.
That’s why it’s important for us to seek to raise our children in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). All our parenting is done in the hope that they will know, trust, and delight in the Lord whom we love. Evangelism is a way of life for Christian parents. We continually direct our children to the goodness of God and the covenant promises he has made to us in Christ Jesus. We always call our children not to bank on the fact that their parents are Christians, but to realize that they must place their own personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Dane Ortlund said this well when he wrote,
“At the center, our job [as parents] is to show our kids that even our best love is a shadow of a greater love. To put a shaper edge on it: to make the tender heart of Christ irresistible and unforgettable.”
I love to hear a new member who joins our church say, “I was raised in a Christian home; I don’t remember a day in which I did not know Christ.” This is the testimony of children who were blessed with parents who loved Christ, modeled him before them, talked often of him, prayed with and for them, and brought them to church week in and week out.
The best testimonies of Christian faith are the most boring ones. Often it is the drug-addicted, philandering sluggard who is converted to Christ who receives the most attention—and that is a wonderful miracle! Let us celebrate such a conversion with thanksgiving and joy. Yet a boring testimony is even more miraculous! It is the story of one who was born into this world a sinner—a child of Adam—but who nonetheless cannot recall a day that he or she did not know the Lord. What a mercy!
To possess such a testimony is impossible, however, without being raised in a faithful and faith-filled Christian home by parents (or a parent) who strive, by the power of the Spirit, to live for and to the glory of Christ. Such a home cannot guarantee this kind of testimony; but what is guaranteed is that no such testimony has ever flowed from a home that did not have at least one striving Christian parent.
Though the salvation of our children is God’s work, he does not encourage us to be slothful. Even as we look to him, we are also to strive for him. The soil is not ours to lay, but it is ours to tend. We cannot cause the seed to take root, but we are to sow that seed. We cannot shower the ground with rain, but we are to prepare for the rain. And when the fruit comes forth, while it will not be our doing, we are still to harvest it. Let us treat, train, and tutor our children as Christian parents.
Agreement & Comradery Among Christian Parents
I am convinced by my understanding of Scripture that baptism is rightly applied to our infant children, other Christian parents are not. Regardless, we approach parenting with the same perspective—the greatest need of our children is the salvation of their souls, we experience the same burden, possess promise of the same rest, and strive by the same grace. Though there are not inconsequential differences, there is greater agreement and comradery than we often underscore. May God grant all of us the desire of our hearts and we seek to raise our children to know and love Him.
Jason Helopoulos (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He is the author of several books, including Let the Children Worship, A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home, and most recently Covenantal Baptism.
"The Radical Society" by Zack Groff
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Covenantal Baptism by Jason Helopoulos
Family Worship by Donald Whitney
 Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Suffering (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 100.