What Christian parents are told to teach their children?

When Christians are parents, we have a particular passion and responsibility to share Jesus with our children. After all, he is our number one priority, and our source of hope, joy, peace, salvation and eternity.

All big things!

But how do you do it?

Well, the Bible tells us.

In Deuteronomy 6, God’s people are being reminded about their primarily allegiance to the Lord. This is especially important at this point in their history because they have been freed from slavery, have been wandering through the wilderness, and are about to enter a new land where they will encounter and interact with many different kinds of peoples and priorities, and who have many different “gods” and customs.

But they are to be distinct. They are to be God’s people if they are to be his light, enjoy true freedom, and share his hope, truth, love and healing not only with each other, but with the wider world.

Here is the seminal text. Jews call it the Shema, the Hebrew word for “Hear”:

“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 on 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. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
-Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NIV

First, they are told that God is “one.” There aren’t multiple gods.

Second, they are commanded to love God with their whole being—“with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” In this context “love” isn’t a feeling. Love is closer to what we think of as loyalty or faithfulness. They are to be absolutely loyal and faithful to God regardless of the circumstances. And it’s for their own benefit: A life focused on Who matters most is a life focused on what matters most.

Third, they are to “impress” these commands on their children. It is addressed to the entire community generally, but to parents specifically. They are to do this in their daily lives: “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” In other words, teaching children to be loyal and faithful to God is to permeate their daily existence.

An Ongoing Priority

This continues to be instructive for Christians today.

In Mark 12:28-31 when Jesus was asked to identify the most important commandment, he replied by quoting that very same passage from Deuteronomy 6. He also tied it to Leviticus 19:18 by adding: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

So, are Christian parents told to teach this to their children?

Let me put it this way. Christians are hungry to learn Jesus’ teachings because he is their gracious Lord and Rescuer who has given them forgiveness, life and purpose.

In addition to that, he told his (original) disciples to teach his (subsequent) disciples everything he had commanded them (see Matthew 28:18-20), and this definitely includes what Jesus himself called the most important commandment (Mark 12:28-31). The ancient wisdom to “impress” this on our children is never weakened, only strengthened.

Since God wants the best for his children, why wouldn’t we want the same for ours?

To me, there is no greater confirmation that, for Christian parents, teaching our children to be loyal and faithful to God is of prime importance, and that we should also teach our children to love the people around them as they love themselves.

There are other important passages too. But focusing on this one is an eternal non-negotiable.

But how do you do it?

There’s an old saying that ‘Children aren’t very good at listening to their parents, but they sure are good at imitating them.’ That certainly applies here. Why? Because we are to teach our children to be loyal and faithful to God not only by saying it’s important, but living in a way that shows it’s important.

Children, no matter how young or old they are, can smell a fake from miles away. They know when you’re giving lip service to something, and they know when you actually mean it.

So what does it look like to live out this command?

  • It means speaking openly and honestly about your faith.
  • It means knowing, and then teaching, Jesus’ words.
  • It means living them out yourself.
  • It means explaining the reasons for your actions.
  • It means being the hands and feet of Jesus to the people around you.
  • It means admitting mistakes, knowing you’re broken, calling on God for help, and journeying together.

You can’t outsource discipleship to a third party. And if you truly love Jesus, why would you want to?

  • The best way to teach your children how to love God is to love God.
  • The best way to teach your children how to love their neighbours is to love your neighbours.
  • The best way to teach your children how to follow Jesus is to follow Jesus.
  • The best way to teach your children how to be different is to be different.
  • The best way to teach your children how to live by faith is to live by faith.

“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 on your hearts. Impress them on your children…”

The best way to teach someone to trust and follow Jesus is to trust and follow Jesus.

Don’t feel overwhelmed. This isn’t a burden; it’s a joy and a privilege. And it’s helpful to remember that it’s not all up to you. When it comes to parenting, we can all recall both successes and failures. But in the end, God is the author of your child’s faith, not you. I don’t think God expects parents to be know-it-alls, just know-it-somes.

You don’t need to be perfect. But you do need to be a disciple.

  • Sign up for my free daily 1-minute email devotional called ‘Up!’ here.

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