I have a three-year-old son who, every day it seems, becomes a little more willful, a little more challenging. We have just begun to navigate the waters of discipline. Some days, after disciplining him for the same thing numerous times, it can feel fruitless and wearying. On these days, I need a refreshed vision for discipline.
In order to have a right vision for discipline, we must first have a right view of humanity. The world tells us that mankind is basically good and rational. Left to his own devices, he will generally make good choices. The Bible, however, has a drastically different view. It tells us that folly, not reason, is bound up in the heart of a child (Proverbs 22:15). By nature, we are all prone to live like fools. Because of the sin we inherited from Adam, we live disconnected from God, and therefore, from reality itself.
“The world tells us love draws out the natural goodness in us. The Bible tells us love drives out the folly.”
This folly is not a moderate influence we can choose to forego. God says it is bound up in our hearts. Folly has a deep, viselike grip on us. It will not be removed in a day. It cannot simply be put out with a nudge. It must, God says, be driven out with a rod.
So, when we discipline our children, we are not merely trying to produce model subjects. We are trying to save them, by God’s grace, from themselves. The foolishness that is so deeply planted there must be rooted out.
Discipline Is Love or Hate, Life or Death
The current cultural notion of love is as confused as the cultural notion of the nature of man. Because we believe we are all basically good, discipline seems too harsh. The world tells us that love draws out the natural goodness in our children. The Bible tells us that love drives out the folly in them. With a rod, it imparts the wisdom they so desperately need (Proverbs 29:15).
When we grasp this, we grasp that disciplining our children is a matter of life and death. The Bible calls it nothing less. In the proverbs, Folly is personified as a seductive woman (Proverbs 9). She preys on the simple, counterfeiting the call of wisdom while leading her victims into death.
Thus, if children are naturally given to folly, they desperately need our correction. If we fail to give it to them, we are not loving them. We are being a willing party to their death (Proverbs 19:18). Indeed, “whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24). Godly discipline, then, is not harsh or unloving. It is life-giving. It imparts wisdom that will save them from the snares of the woman Folly and the depths of Sheol itself (Proverbs 9:18).
Discipline Takes Faith
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).
The problem and the struggle is that discipline is hard work and it is slow work. It is painful for them, and it is painful for us. Sometimes, it can be incredibly wearying. After disciplining for the same thing again and again, we might wonder, Is this producing anything? Are we getting anywhere? Will he ever learn?
“No matter how fruitless our efforts as parents seem at present, there is a harvest coming.”
So often, it can be tempting to take the easier way out, to let things go. It can make us feel like we are being more loving by being more lenient. The truth I find though is that this is usually nothing but my selfishness masked as love. In the short term, it can be easier for me to forego discipline. When Proverbs 13:24 says that we must be diligent or careful to discipline, it means quite literally that we must take great care. It requires much of our time, commitment, patience, and faith.
Faith tells us to be sure of a reality that has not yet come to pass (Hebrews 11:1). It tells us that our labors as parents are not in vain. No matter how fruitless they seem at present, there is a harvest coming. Just as a farmer sets to work on a wild, untamed field, believing that tilling, planting, and watering will produce good fruit, so the parent lovingly disciplines his son, believing it will produce something good. Faith assures us that what is sown in pain will be reaped in “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
Of course, none of this is formulaic. Disciplining does not guarantee salvation. Just as the farmer needs God to send the rains and create life, so parents are dependent on God to save souls. We can teach our children to say please and to share, but we cannot change their hearts. We cannot bring them from life to death. All we can do is bring our faithfulness, believing in faith that God will not fail to bring his.
Moreover, we must again remember that the goal is never simply modified behavior, but malleable hearts. We don’t want our children to just always strive to do better. We want them to be brought to brokenness and contrition when they can’t do better. We work not only to root out folly; we work to plant seeds of the gospel of grace which say, “On your own, you can never be good enough, but there is One who was good enough for you. Only he can save you from your own folly and melt your heart of stone.”