Discipline Equals Discipleship
Adapted From Visionary Parenting by Rob Reinow
The world tells us discipline is correcting bad behavior. Stop that. Start that. But for the Christian, discipline means far more than changing outward behavior. The root of the word discipline is disciple. Discipline is something God commands parents to do for the purpose of forming their children into disciples. The word disciple means “devoted follower.” Therefore, the purpose of biblical discipline is to help children become devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
“For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is
light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). The corrections of discipline are “the way to life” for your child. If discipline means “fixing bad behavior,” this Scripture would make no sense. Being good is not the “way to life.” Discipline is helping children become disciples, helping them become followers of Jesus, and that is the way to life.
Proverbs 19:18 puts it this way: “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.” What an intense verse! Again, if discipline simply means behavior modification, this passage would be an extreme exaggeration, because no one would suggest that failing to modify a child’s behavior is analogous to putting him or her to death. It is true, however, if we fail to disciple our children, if we fail to help them follow Jesus, we are a willing party to their spiritual death.
God’s plan for your children is to learn obedience and submission to loving parents they can see, so they are ready to learn obedience and submission to a loving God they cannot see. Ultimately, we seek to transfer obedience in our children from us to God. Our goal is that when they leave our homes, they will hold themselves under God’s authority and under His Word. We want them to do this eagerly and willingly.
Our call to our children is, “Follow me, as I follow Jesus, so that you will follow Jesus.” This echoes the words of the Apostle Paul who said to the Corinthians, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11: 1). If this vision does not humble you, I do not know what will. This is not a requirement to be perfect parents, but to be humble parents seeking to follow and obey God with all our hearts.
Change Your Vocabulary
The dictionary defines discipline as follows: 1) control obtained by enforcing compliance or order, or 2) a systematic method to obtain obedience. Once again, we see the world’s understanding of discipline. Get those kids in line! Stop the bad. Start the good. If only it were that simple.
The biblical call to discipline is far more important and much more difficult. Every single discipline situation you face is an opportunity to lead your child toward being a more devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps we can change our vocabulary. Instead of discipline situations we have discipleship opportunities. A discipline situation demands we fix it and fix it fast. A discipleship opportunity demands our heart, our parenting, and presses us to think beyond immediate behavior to our child’s relationship with Jesus.
The Goal of the Heart
The ultimate goal of discipline is to impress the heart of the child. Everything a child does is made up of two components. These two things can be expressed in different ways:
Behavior and attitude
Actions and heart
Fruit and root
What? and Why?
Worldly discipline only cares about the outward component. As long as the child cleans her room and does a reasonable job, she can grumble and complain all she wants. But as Christian parents, we need to consider the key Scripture in Deuteronomy 6, which calls us back to the priority of the heart: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart.”
The ultimate goal of godly discipline is to shape your child’s heart. The correction of outward behavior may be the starting point of discipline, but it must not be the ending point. If your child punches his brother in the mouth, something in his heart caused him to do it. If your child is cheating at school, heart reasons drive the behavior. If your child is using drugs and alcohol, he has a reason in his heart for doing it.
If our discipline (discipleship) does not reach into the heart of the child, we are all but guaranteeing long-term behavioral problems. Consider this purely hypothetical scenario. Let us imagine for a moment that due to your rigorous, consistent, and effective system of consequences and punishments, your children always behave properly. (We told you it was hypothetical.)
We know this sounds great. But consider this question. Why are your kids so well behaved? They are totally obedient because they want nothing to do with the punishments that will come their way if they are not. What will happen to these angelic teenagers when they head off to work or college, where the threat of consequences can no longer reach them? There are two possibilities. First, with their newfound freedom they will break every rule they can find. The other option is they will live like Pharisees. They will continue to follow the rules and be proud of it. They will be content to be clean on the outside, even though their hearts are far from God.
If we do not reject the world’s version of discipline and embrace a biblical view of discipleship ultimately focused on reaching the hearts of our children, we are preparing them for rebellion or legalism. Biblical discipline addresses both the negative behavior and the reason for the negative behavior—the what and the why. Biblical discipline considers both the negative choice and the feelings, thoughts, and motives that came together to create that choice.
About the Writer: Rob Rienow is director of Visionary Family Ministries, offering Bible-driven resources for families and marriage and parenting conferences for churches. Purchase this book and others by Rob at www.RandallHouse.com.