Teaching our Children How to be True Disciples
My oldest child is finishing up his junior year of high school. As my thoughts turn toward his senior year, there is one thing at the forefront of my mind. I have one more year with him under our roof to teach him what it means to love God and live for Him. I look back on the years God has given me with my son. Have I stewarded my time with him well? Have I taught him the important things about life? Have I grounded Him in the word of God? Have I modeled for him what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ? These are good questions for mothers to ask. How do we teach our children to be true disciples? It begins by being a true disciple ourselves.
In John 8:31-47 Jesus teaches “the Jews who had believed in him” (v. 31) what it means to be a true disciple. First, Jesus says that a true disciple will “abide in my word” and “will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (vv. 31-32). Later in John’s gospel we learn more about what it means to abide in Christ and His word (15:4-10). It means to be in Christ and to know the Father (v. 1); to produce godly fruit (v. 2); to recognize that we are clean because of Christ (v. 3); to depend upon Christ to bear good fruit (v. 4); to recognize that apart from Christ we can do nothing (v. 5); to glorify God as we bear fruit (v. 8); to abide in the love of Jesus (v. 9); and to keep God’s commandments (v. 10). Such a life of trust and obedience is freeing. No longer enslaved to sin and Satan, we are free to grow in knowledge, righteousness and truth (Col. 3:10). Since freedom only comes through receiving Christ as Savior and Lord, we need to first instruct our children in what that means, then invite them to do so, and when they have, encourage them to walk in His ways.
The second mark of a true disciple is holiness. In contrast to “everyone who commits sin” and therefore “is a slave to sin” (John 8:34), the believer practices holiness because he or she is a child of God. The Son has set them free to serve God for all eternity. Every true disciple of Christ will both hide God’s word in their heart and strive to live a holy life. Are we hiding God’s word in our hearts, so that we can help our children hide it in theirs? Are we striving to live a life of holiness, so that our children will see our example, and follow it, by God’s grace?
Like many today, the Jews failed to understand the importance of these qualities. They also failed to see that being a physical descendant of Abraham did not automatically render you a spiritual descendant of Abraham, much like a regular church attender today fails to understand that attending church doesn’t render you fit for the kingdom of God. The true test was not ancestry, but obedience to God (John 8:39). Sadly, since the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus, “a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God” (v. 40), they revealed that they were children of the devil. In stark contrast, true disciples will love Jesus and delight to hear His word (vv. 42-43).
True disciples don’t become that way on their own. Jesus had earlier taught, “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65). Because the Jews who were seeking to kill Jesus were not “of God,” they could not hear “the words of God” (8:47). Instead, they were children of the devil, whose “will is to do your father’s desires” (v. 44).
We must teach our children that the devil’s desires are always opposed to the truth. This is illustrated in Genesis 3 when Satan tempts Eve, and then uses her to tempt Adam, to eat of the forbidden fruit. The devil “was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (vv. 44-45). The only way to “stand against the schemes of the devil” is to “put on the whole armor of God,” which includes truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, and prayer (Eph. 6:11-18). Thankfully, this liar and murderer has already been “put to open shame” and his power “disarmed” through the cross of Christ (Col. 2:15). And there is coming a day when he will be “thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur” where he “will be tormented day and night forever” (Rev. 20:10).
But in the meantime, we (and our children) are not strong enough to stand against the devil’s schemes. We need God’s sustaining grace to live as true disciples of Christ. Let us know the truth and teach our children the truth. Let us strive for holiness and pray for our children to desire holiness of life. And let us love Jesus and delight to hear the word of God, especially taking our children to a gospel-centered church, so that we may together hear the preaching of God’s word. Although we cannot save our children, we can strive to teach them what it means to be a true disciple, even as we, by God’s grace, model what that means by loving God, learning His word, and living for Him.
Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, homeschooling mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina, and is a member of Christ Covenant Church (PCA). To learn more, please visit www.sarahivill.com.