Provoking Our Children to Repentance

Last year I had blogged about how we, Christian parents, just love to quote Commandment 5, when disciplining our kids. Here’s a quote from that blog, of the same title:

“We suddenly become great expositors of scripture in such moments. Spurgeon would be impressed. I’m sure that Luther and Calvin would be given pause at our acumen regarding scripture recall.”

We do this because, let’s be honest, we hope that quoting scripture to our kids will cause them to suddenly become respectful, little, image bearers. Such is as effective, in an edifying sense, as a husband quoting the New Testament to his wife regarding submission, when she has lost all respect for him.

(In another blog, Is Christ Worthy?, I write about what ought to prompt Biblical authoritative order in and out of the home. It also touches upon Christ’s worthiness as being the proper motivation for our children’s submission to our parental authority, as opposed to our own prideful worthiness.)

Some close friends and I were just discussing a book that one of them was reading, which encourages prayer as being a key factor in heart change, when it comes to our children’s obedience to us. The friend who is reading the book said:

“In the book, “A Praying Life”, Paul Miller suggests that instead of trying to force our kids to fall in line, we pray for them. So instead of trying to exert our authority through coercion and intimidation, we should pray for God to work on them.”

Amen! (I haven’t read it, but it sounds edifying.)

As the conversation continued, another thought had hit me, which I wanted to share:

There is a fine line between our pride or the provoking of our kids to anger, and edifying our children, when attempting to discipline them. It is a line that we must always be sensitive of, and we must be very careful of not crossing this line during the disciplining process.

Scripture tells us (Christians) that it is important to establish authority at the young ages, and that the “rod of discipline” will keep them far from folly:

Proverbs 22:6
“Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Proverbs 22:15
“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.”

The “rod” can mean many things. It could mean corporal punishment (a spanking), but it can also mean a calm discussion. There is a wide spectrum of appropriate measures in disciplining our children, and we must always be wise as to how to go about correcting our kids, depending on the circumstances. Paul warns us about going to far. There is a definite line which we should never cross:

Ephesians 6:4
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

During our conversation one friend got to the heart of the matter… repentance:

“Just my opinion, but if you talk to your kid and there is repentance, is discipline necessary? I don’t think so… Because the purpose of discipline is to drive repentance. If discipline comes after there is repentance, it can easily turn into punishment.”

I believe that my friend’s observation, that we are to “drive repentance” through discipline when raising our children, is exactly the point of Paul’s advice in not provoking our children to anger when raising them in the instruction of the Lord. Repentance is always the underlying thrust of the Christian walk, and it is our job as parents to ensure that our kids are without excuse with respect to their awareness of how God sees them without Christ. So, why does Paul warn against our provoking them to anger?


It’s embarrassing for any parent when their child has done wrong. As a result, they can become susceptible to abusing their role as parents, in order to mask potentially bad parenting. In other words, we parents must be careful about using discipline to satisfy ourselves, as opposed to using it as an opportunity to better our kids. Our discipline, in such cases, thus becomes about us and our pride. Such is a grave error.

When God disciplines His children, it is about conforming them to His Son’s likeness. It is about their sanctification. Such is what the disciplining of our children should be about. It should not be about our pride or our appearance as parents to those looking on, but it should be about how our children become more Christ like. In other words, our disciplining of our children is not about us. It is about Christ and Him being glorified.

Hebrews 12:3-11
“Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by Him.
For the Lord disciplines the one He loves,
and chastises every son whom He receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Our parenting must be about pointing our children towards the Savior, whether we are discipling them, or evangelizing them. Either way, we need to always attempt to lead them to repentance.

I admit that I have been guilty of using the “rod” in order to either stroke my own ego, or to feed my pride. Meaning, I have provoked my children to anger. Provoking them to anger is not guiding them to repentance. It’s a potentially further enhancement of their being blinded from God’s calling of all people to repent. It’s sin.

However, over the years, God has graciously allowed me to recognize my short comings and He has granted me repentance in this area. I have now learned (and am still learning) that when I discipline my children, with their sanctification in mind, and not my prideful defense of the respect that I thought that I was not getting or deserved, the discipline was way more effective and edifying for them (and for me). The point is, I really hope to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to be honest with themselves when disciplining their children. We should always consider this question, when disciplining our kids, as a reminder to our God given assignment as Christian parents:

What’s the goal here?

Provoking our children to repentance.

1 Peter 1:14-15
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct”

This includes our parenting.

Godspeed, to the brethren!