By Marcus Omdahl
When my wife and I started having children we talked a great deal about the important lessons we wanted them to learn before releasing them into adulthood. We are convinced that the goal of parenting isn’t to raise good kids but is to raise good adults!
Along the way we’ve read a book by Ted Tripp called, Shepherding a Child’s Heart. In Ted’s book he uses the image of a funnel to illustrate the fundamental shape of successful parenting. Kids should start out in the narrow part of the funnel with very little freedom. They should have clear boundaries, be taught 1st-time obedience, and should have clear disciplinary procedures in place. As they mature, obedience is still required, but children should be given more responsibility, freedom, and space to make decisions and to suffer the consequences of decisions for good or for ill. The point is to prepare kids so that when they emerge from the funnel, they will have taken on the basic nature and character of the parents, but are free to be adults and to live wisely and well on their own.
I not only find this image helpful for parenting, but also for understanding a fairly difficult passage in one of Paul’s letters to a group of churches in southern Galatia. Paul is trying to show that God has been on a parenting project himself, having conceived his people in his call to Abraham in Genesis 12, nurtured them through infancy by giving his law to them through Moses in Exodus 20, and released them for freedom by standing in the faithfulness of Jesus as displayed in the gospels. The primary question Paul seeks to answer in this letter, is “How does the law part…the middle part…’the funnel part’ fit into the maturing of people and preparing them for freedom?
Paul’s two part answer (Galatians 3:15-25) is that the law prepares us for freedom first by taking it away (3:15-13) then by pointing beyond itself to provide freedom (3:23-25). The law takes away freedom by providing boundaries that differentiate good and evil. This isn’t bad… but terribly good! For life to function individually, and in a community, everyone needs to know the rules. The problem is, nobody follow them…at least not all them. Because of this Paul sees that laws, even divine laws exist to imprison us in our sins, closing off every other route to freedom, except through standing behind in faithfulness and full obedience of Jesus to the cross. In other words, by receiving God’s grace!
That’s exactly where the second function of the law comes in. Paul sees the law as a tutor (vv. 24-25), entrusted with the task of teaching us that as children can’t rescue ourselves through law keeping (because we’re actually law breakers) but need to look beyond the law to be rescued. We don’t need less than laws, we don’t need more laws, we need more than laws… we need Jesus! What we have in Jesus is incredible – God loving us not in the midst of our obedience, but in the midst of our disobedience. That’s the big lesson that God wants to teach us! He loves us, even in the midst of our disobedience.
When we’re loved in the midst of our disobedience, something weird happens – we actually become more obedient…out of love! It’s the difference of doing what our parents say because we know they love us (and want what’s best for us) verses doing what they say to make sure we can stay in their house and eat their food and not get punished. One is driven by love, the other is driven by fear.
If you’re raising a family right now I want you to reflect on the following question: “What’s the best thing I can do to help my kids obey me?” I would challenge you to consider that the best thing you can do to help your children obey you is to love them deeply, even sacrificially in the midst of their disobedience. You might win your child’s heart for the rest of their lives!