Parenting in hopes of “good” and moral kids seems like exactly the right thing to do. How could it not be? Don’t we want others to say of our children, “He is such a good boy,” or “she has been a good girl.”
Seems harmless, even healthy. But in the end, does it lead to death?
It is often difficult to both interpret as well as apply the Proverbs. What is not difficult is to recognize their wisdom. The wrestling with them into our lives is hard but beautiful when the Spirit uses it to bring “on earth as it is in heaven” into our daily rhythms, even into our homes.
Proverbs 16:25 is a popular proverb.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
(Proverbs 16:25, HCSB and ESV)
There’s a way that looks harmless enough; look again—it leads straight to hell.
(Proverbs 16:25, the Message)
I have heard teachings based upon this Proverb exhorting the ways of self-indulgent living. But think about it. When I converse with people even in the midst of a season of extreme self-indulgence, almost every single time they admit to a knowledge of how empty and destructive this living has become. Even when they pursued it at first, there was a feeling of “I want it and I want it bad,” but not a feeling of “This is right.”
Of course, the great philosopher / singer Luther Ingram supports my above hypothesis with the confessional, exposing words regarding a secretive, scandalous affair:
“If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”
So what might this Proverb be insinuating? What did the author intend?
Might he be suggesting that the ways that do seem right, that do seem good, that do seem healthy, should be examined and held up to Christ’s teachings and possibly reconsidered? Could it be that the evil one has fooled many people, many parents, into believing that “living FOR God” and developing our own goodness is the right thing to do?
I confess I can’t assert with confidence the author of this Proverb’s exact intentions, but I will speculate based upon three New Testament Scriptures that seem, at least to me, to relate to the takeaway from this Proverb.
On that day many will say to Me, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?” Then I will announce to them, “I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!”
(Matthew 7:22, 23, HCSB)
Possibly the most disturbing Scripture in all of Matthew’s Gospel, it is clear that many who consider themselves right and good will be more than disappointed.
Summoning the crowd, He told them, “Listen and understand: It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” Then the disciples came up and told Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard this statement?” He replied, “Every plant that My heavenly Father didn’t plant will be uprooted. Leave them alone! They are blind guides. And if the blind guide the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
(Matthew 15:10-14, HCSB)
Jesus challenged His hearers NOT to measure their spiritual worth (or spiritual poverty) by what they are and are not practicing / partaking of. Rather, He warned them that what comes into their minds and out of their mouths is a significant indication of their spiritual poverty and desperate need for the Gospel. Those who give so much attention to their own efforts toward goodness are actually blind leading the blind. These blind leaders were the Pharisees.
In Matthew 5:20, Jesus said that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees or we would never enter the Kingdom of heaven. Based on His other teachings, even in “the Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5 to 7), Jesus does not mean in this declaration that we must be better behaved than the Pharisees. He must have been speaking about their understanding of righteousness, that it couldn’t come in their lives from keeping the law, that it wouldn’t be based upon their personal goodness. If this is the case, then why does the church so often train people to become like the Pharisees? Why are parents so often pushing their kids toward self-righteousness?
So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important.
(Colossians 2:20-23, the Message)
Paul confronted “the way that seems right to a man” in this letter to Colossae, exhorting his readers to look for their worth and identity in Jesus alone, not in their own religious efforts toward goodness (you can read on into chapter three of Colossians to see this is where Paul is going with his instructions to them).
So why are do so many parents seem fine with raising “good” kids rather than gospel-believing kids and quick-to-confess kids and love-compelled, sent kids?
Maybe because we have assumed this is the “right” thing to do. But is it?
What path are we actually leading our kids down when we parent them toward moralism? What direction are we aiming them in preparation for the day when we let the arrow of their lives go?
We might want to ask Jesus for some wisdom on this one. We might want to confess our own poverty of spirit and seek Him for help.
Lord, have mercy.
Friday, I will clarify what I am NOT suggesting here and offer three warnings for parenting toward goodness rather than from grace.