Biblical Parenting vs Gospel Parenting

image courtesy of ortonesque via
It's easy to tell the difference between good and bad; what's harder is to move from good to better.  In my experience, a lot of "Christian" parenting resources (books, conferences, Bible study material, etc) are really good, but I think they often fall short of where it needs to be.  How?

These resources tend to focus on things like discipline, values, behavior, character, and so on.  And these ARE good things, and we as parents need to be intentional to train our children in these areas.  But if we stay there, we miss a huge part of what it means to make disciples.

What we need to make sure we do, above all, is center our parenting around the Gospel.  (The Gospel, briefly, is the message that Jesus, fully God and fully man, came to earth to die as the way to redeem us from our sin, to pay the price and absorb the wrath of God that we deserve, and that we have new life through repentance of our sins and through faith in His life, death, and resurrection.)  In our parenting, we need to continually point our children to these Gospel truths, not for mere head-knowledge, but for the goal of Spirit-directed heart change. 

Biblical parenting is about using scripture and godly principles to guide us in how to parent and how we live.  Gospel parenting is about helping our children realize their need for a Savior and leading them towards a life of dependence on Him.  Biblical versus Gospel parenting is not clearly defined, like crossing a line.  It's more like a spectrum, so it's difficult for me to draw clear distinctions that are over-reaching and cross-cultural.  But here are some general examples of the difference:
  • When a child is upset and frustrated because he failed at a task or goal, Biblical parenting focuses on teaching him to persevere, try their best, and be encouraged.  Gospel parenting instructs him to not put his hope in his own abilities, but that his hope must rest in the Gospel.
  • When a child is sad when her friends hurt her feelings, Biblical parenting seeks to manage the pain and find friends who will love her.  Gospel parenting reminds her to worship Jesus, in that He experienced complete rejection and laid down His life for all those who hated Him, including us.
  • Biblical parenting teaches that children should love others because that's how they would want to be treated and because the Bible commands them to do so.  Gospel parenting motivates children to love others by pointing to how God has shown us love and grace through His Son's death on the cross.
  • When your son boasts over some accomplishment, Biblical parenting teaches him to be humble and not proud.  Gospel parenting calls him to repent of his pride and know that when he boasts he is exalting himself instead of glorifying God.
  • When your daughter considers herself unattractive, Biblical parenting encourages her by pointing to inner beauty.  Gospel parenting preaches that God made her exactly like He intended, in His image, and with such infinite value that He sent His Son to die for her; rejecting how God made her may actually be a rejection of Him.
Don't get me wrong, Biblical parenting is very important; we must teach our children values, godly attitudes, and character.  However, we can't be satisfied with that.  Outside of the context of the Gospel, the danger of Biblical parenting is in producing moralists.  Our children need more than just knowing that God loves them and that they should have certain character traits and actions.  They need to know that all our actions must stem from a proper worship of our Lord.

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    1. I am "an example" person! If you tell me something "in theory", I'll try to get it, but examples help me so much more. I love these examples between Biblical vs. Gospel parenting. They really help to distinguish between the two and provide a good language for me to further share with my children. Thanks!

    2. thanks, joey! i LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your examples! if you ever need some examples for the other end of the spectrum (as in, sin-based parenting) i could probably help you know, just for some perspective...

    3. Thanks, friends. I'm glad the practical examples helped out. Unfortunately, Joanna & I all too experienced with dealing with sin in our kids' hearts. And our own hearts, too.

      Brateon -- I'll let you know when I need some of those examples. :)

    4. I dig the examples, too! Thanks for taking the time to think through those scenarios!

    5. Awesome post. Great perspective and really encouraging. It's so easy to fall into the easy way of Biblical teaching and not taking it into the gospel and heart. Thanks JE. Keep em coming.


    6. Excellent examples! So true. Found your blog via Kevin DeYoung's parenting post @ The Gospel Coalition. So glad that you took the time to share! While I understand DeYoung's article, it is an important distinction...we just need balance.

      Ultimately, the difference between Biblical parenting and Gospel-centered parenting is grace. Biblical parenting points kids to the law whereas Gospel-centered parenting says, "Here is the law that you cannot obey" and holds out the hope of the Savior. Biblical parenting tends to urge kids to look to themselves whereas Gospel-centered parenting urges the child to embrace Christ and be changed by the Spirit.

    7. P.S. I don't think DeYoung necessarily disagrees with this distinction. ;)

    8. Thanks. I think that is a really great connection between law and grace. So often in evangelical circles I hear the law denigrated. As someone of Jewish background, I get defensive about the Law! :) Even Paul wrote that the Law is good, but, as you said, only is as much as it is a tool that God used/uses to point to a Savior.

    9. Such a good reminder this morning before we start our day...thanks so much.

    10. You're welcome! And I need this reminder very often, too!

    11. Being a parent is really very hard. But let us not forget that actions speak louder than words.. if we parents are really rooted to God's word.. and we do what the Bible says, our children will definitely see it to us. So let us not forget that while we're reading them the word of God ...let us all be a good example to our children and Give all the glory to God.


      1. Great points. I talk about that more in the "Passing On Your Faith" article linked above. Our kids need, most of all, to see us live out a dynamic faith in Jesus Christ.