Raising Holy Children
By Kim Butts
When we think of those we know who live holy lives, we generally don’t think of children. Perhaps it is because we have generally accepted the passage from Proverbs 22:15, which states: "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him." We naturally assume that all children will be prone to foolishness and disobedience until they reach adulthood and begin to demonstrate responsible behavior born of years of corrective training at the hands of their parents.
Perhaps a different mindset is in order. What if parents, by their godly example, set the bar of their expectations higher? Perhaps adults expect less of children because they expect less from themselves. What if families were to begin living like Jesus Christ each and every day, in every encounter – every word, action and thought? What if we were to take seriously Proverbs 20:11, which asserts, "Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right"? One could assume from this verse that God thinks children have the capacity to live holy lives. If God has this expectation, why shouldn’t we?
Children need two important things: example and opportunity. If holy living is not demonstrated to them, we cannot expect that they will grow up with a desire to be holy. Likewise, children need instruction based on the Word of God, as well as opportunities to grow and walk in holy behavior, knowing that their lives will be pleasing to Christ.
A note of caution: children will still act like children. Therefore, they should NOT be expected to act like "holy adults" – just holy children. They should be lovingly challenged and encouraged to be a living example of Christ on this earth, but parents must realize that this is a process that will take time – as with any of us! As children mature, they will learn to take seriously Leviticus 20:7: "Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God."
The Lord has always expected parents to teach their children His ways: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads" (Deut. 6:4-8).
It is not easy to be an example of holiness in an age where the ways of the world have such a profound influence on young and old alike. Perhaps the exhortation from Paul to young Timothy can give some guidelines as we seek to raise up a godly generation of young people to honor Christ: "Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity" (1 Tim. 4:12). Paul was expecting Timothy to live an exemplary life – to walk in such a way that he would not be looked down upon by his elders, because the example he was setting for others was Christ-like. Can you imagine encouraging our young people today to set examples in these areas: speech, life, love, faith and purity? God desires this to be the rule rather than the exception. Let’s look more closely at some practical ways, based in Scripture, that we can raise a holy generation.
Pray Attributes of Holiness into Your Child’s Life
Prayer is the most powerful and effective way to raise a holy child. Perhaps 1 Timothy 4:12 (quoted above) would be a good place to start. Pray that your children will set a good example for others of Christ-like behavior even though they are young. Pray that they will be holy in their:
Speech...Lord, I pray that my child will speak the truth from his (or her) heart and have no slander on his tongue. Help him to cast no slur on others (Psa. 15:2-3). Help my child to love a pure heart, and may his speech always be gracious to everyone (Prov. 22:11). Please watch over my child’s ways and keep his tongue from sin. Guard his mouth and tongue from evil, and keep him from speaking lies (Psa. 39:1a; 34:13; Prov. 21:23). Help my child’s lips to overflow with praise as You teach him Your decrees. May his tongue continually sing of Your Word, for all of Your commands are righteous! (Psa. 119:171-172).
Life...Father of Life, help my child to obey his parents, for this is right. May he obey us because it pleases You, and so that he will enjoy long life on the earth! (Eph. 6:3; Col. 3:20). I pray that my child’s walk will be blameless, and that he will only do what is righteous. Help him to love his neighbor, to honor and fear You, and to keep his word, even when it hurts. May he make every effort to live in peace with others and to be holy because in Your own purpose and grace You have called us all to a holy life (Psa. 15:2-4; Heb. 12:14; 2 Tim. 1:9). May my child work hard with his own hands as an example to others. May he bless those who speak unkindly to him, and answer kindly. Help him to endure persecution and to conduct himself in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 4:12-13; Phil. 1:27).
Love...God of love, may my child love You with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength. As You have commanded, may he always love his neighbor as himself. Help him to hate what is evil and cling to what is good. May he be devoted to others in brotherly love, honoring them above himself. May he owe only one debt – the debt to love others (Mark 12:30-31; Rom. 12:9-10; 13:8). Help my child to do everything in love: to speak the truth in love, to love his enemies and to pray for those who persecute him. May he be completely humble, gentle and patient – bearing with others in love (1 Cor. 16:14; Matt. 5:44-45; Eph. 4:2; 4:15).
Faith...Heavenly Father, help my child to be on his guard, to stand firm in the faith, to be a young person of courage, and to be strong. May his faith never fail, nor rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power! (1 Cor. 16:13; 2:5; Luke 22:32). Help my child to live by faith and not by sight. I pray that he may be worthy of Your calling and that by Your power every good purpose will be fulfilled, and every act will be prompted by faith. I pray this so that the name of Jesus may be glorified through my child’s life (2 Cor. 5:7; 2 Thes. 1:11-12). I pray that my child may be active in sharing his faith, so that he will have a full understanding of every good thing he has in Christ because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Phlm. 1:6; Heb. 10:14).
Purity...Dear Father, my child can keep his way pure by living according to Your Word. Help him to seek You with all of his heart, and to hide Your Word in his heart so that he might not sin against You. Would You create in him a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within him? (Psa. 119:9-11; 51:10). Help my child to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy! May he be pure just as You are pure, because he is Your child (Phil. 4:8; 1 John 3:3). Teach my son to confess his sins quickly and regularly, so that You will forgive and purify him from all unrighteousness. Help him to realize that You have not called him to be impure, but to live a holy life (1 John 1:9; 1 Thes. 4:7).
Pray "Holiness Blessings" into the Lives of Your Children
Whether your children are young, or older, you can begin to daily pray the blessings of God over them. A blessing is a wonderful benediction to end each day, or an encouraging way to send a child off to school. It is a special gift to give a child in a lunch box, or to do over the phone when you are separated. Pray the blessings of God into your child’s life, and he will be impacted far beyond anything you can think or imagine. Here are some examples:
"Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Rom. 12:11-18).
"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light" (Col. 1:9-12). Other examples include 1 Peter 1:13-16, Philippians 1:9-11 and Colossians 3:12-14.
Be a Holy Example
Demonstrate holiness to your children in real and tangible ways in your daily walk. Teach them what God expects – discuss ways you can live holy lives as a family, and as individuals. Help them, by your example, to learn to recognize and reject anything that doesn’t please and honor God.
Keep short accounts with God – teach children the importance of confession by not being afraid to say, "I made a mistake. Please forgive me," to your children.
Pray and study God’s Word diligently – as an individual, and as a family.
Give Your Children Opportunity to Practice Holiness in Every Day Life
Give children the opportunity to recognize character traits which demonstrate holiness – first in others and then in themselves. Help them to recognize the qualities in Jesus that make Him holy so that they can follow His example.
Help children to see the fruit of holiness. For example, if they have made a right choice on the side of holiness rather than sin, what does God’s Word say? Knowing that God approves of their actions as well as their parents is very rewarding to children.
Fasting – teaching children about fasting, and practicing it as a family will reinforce the need for humility before God. Please be careful and reasonable as you introduce fasting to young children. Take medical considerations into account. Missing one meal periodically, or even weekly, to spend time in prayer may be a good beginning for your family.
Reverencing God – "…Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God" (2 Cor. 7:1).
A Final Exhortation for a Holy Generation
"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…" (Phil. 2:14-16).