What Influence Do You Have on Your Children

John MacArthur

 

You can’t save your children. You can raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord, guard them from the sinful influences and temptations of the world, and cocoon them in the fellowship of others who know and love God. But in the end, as we saw last time, their repentance and faith cannot be inherited or manufactured—salvation is God’s work, not yours. As a parent, your influence can only go so far.

The Wrong Kind of Influence

Having said that, I want to stress that sometimes—I should say often—parents are partly to blame for their wayward children’s rebellion. And it has been my observation over the years that parents are generally more to blame for wayward kids than society, peers, or any of the other influences parents tend to blame. I occasionally encounter parents who have violated nearly every biblical principle of parenting, who nonetheless come to the pastor seeking some kind of absolution from the responsibility for their children’s defiance. They want verbal assurance that they are in no way to blame; someone else is.

Yet God Himself has given the responsibility for raising children to parents—not to schoolteachers, peers, child-care workers, or other people outside the family—and therefore it is wrong for parents to attempt to unload that responsibility or shift the blame when things go wrong.

Parents must involve themselves in their children’s lives enough to insure that no other influencetakes precedence. To parents who complain that their kids’ failures are the kids’ friends’ fault, my inevitable reply is that ultimately the parents themselves must be to blame, because they were the ones who allowed peers to have more input into their kids’ lives than they have themselves.

Blame and Accountability

Some parents will no doubt cynically roll their eyes at that, and insist that it is unrealistic in this day and age to expect parents to influence their kids more than peers, the culture, television, schoolteachers, and all the other factors that vie for a controlling interest in the typical child’s life.

Still, a moment’s reflection will reveal why parents in our culture have less influence on their kids than peer groups do: Most parents have simply abdicated the parental role. They have turned their kids over to their peers. They have invested less time in teaching their kids than the amount of time they have permitted the kids to watch television. They have permitted much of—if not all—their children’s spiritual, moral, and ethical instruction to come from television, movies, music, and other children. Even in the best cases, parents rely too much on school teachers, Sunday-school teachers, and youth leaders—all outside the purview of the family. Parents must realize that character is neither inbred by genetics nor picked up by osmosis. Children are taught to be what they become. If they have become something other than what the parents hoped for, it is usually because they have simply learned from those who were there to teach them in their parents’ absence.

In other words, the parents, not the kids—and not even the peer groups—are ultimately to blame for the parents’ diminishing influence in our culture. Whenever outside influences shape a child’s character more than the parents, the parents have failed in their duties. It is as simple as that.

Christian parents today desperately need to own this simple principle. Before the throne of Godwe will be held accountable if we have turned our children over to other influences that shape their character in ungodly ways. God has placed in our hands the responsibility of bringing our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and we will give account to God for our stewardship of this great gift. If others have more influence on our children than we, we are culpable, not excusable, on those grounds.

Your Full-Time Job

God has made parenting a full-time responsibility. There are no coffee breaks from our parental duties. This principle was even built into the law at Sinai. God prefaced His instructions to the Israelites with this solemn charge:

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deuteronomy 6:6–7)

That is God’s own definition of the parents’ task. It means parenting is a full-time assignment in every sense of the expression. No phase of life is exempt. Not one hour of the day is excluded. There is no time-out for the parent who wants to be faithful to this calling.

Some parents think they can compartmentalize their child’s life, assign a set number of hours per week to spend on parenting, and then fulfill their duties as parents by making sure the hours they put into the task are “quality time.” That whole philosophy is contrary to the spirit of Deuteronomy 6:7, and it is a sure way to guarantee that outside influences will have more influence than the parents in shaping the child’s character.

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Nate Logan