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Awe Before Law

Written by Pastor Eric Risner

“We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.”

Psalm 78:4-7

The past month has brought quite a few changes to our lives. Chances are, your family’s weekly schedule looks drastically different than usual. More movie nights, more dinners around the table, and, in general, more time together. For parents, this time should prompt us to consider how God expects us to steward parenthood. We are being reminded of who God ultimately holds responsible for the spiritual formation of our children—us.

This surplus of time together brings to mind how impactful our daily lives and decisions are when it comes to the discipleship of our kids.

Passing the faith on to the next generation doesn’t simply happen on Sunday mornings.

Given the present situation, this seems like an appropriate time to consider a subtle distinction concerning how we approach the spiritual growth of our children. And after twenty-some days into quarantine, you could probably use some encouragement too.

Right from Wrong

Our kids need taught right from wrong; they need law. Children who do not receive such instruction tend to grow into adults who leave a trail of destruction and selfishness wherever they go. They not only need help in discerning right from wrong, but ultimately need to know God’s wisdom and commands. But there is something they need to know before law.

Psalm 78 gives us a helpful and effective approach for teaching our kids the Word of God. Before our children will consider the law of God important, they need to know God himself. They need to know the glorious deeds of the Lord before the commands of God will matter to them. Our children need to be in awe of God as the Creator. They need to be shown how loving He is; to have their jaw drop at how creative, gracious, and powerful He is. Our children need taught to be in awe of God, and this will not come from simply teaching them the commands of God.

Where Legalism Comes From

When children are taught law before or disconnected from the awe of God, it often leads to legalism. They end up trying to serve God out of fear and will find little joy in obeying Him. They will base God’s love for them on their performance—a mindset that leads to either self-righteousness or despair. They may end up living moral lives, but they will not treasure Jesus and the gospel in the way they were created to.

Point Them to God

Teaching children to be in awe of God means we must point them to God as often as we can. Point out how God made the clouds, the sun, and the water they love to swim in. Tell them how God gave them the capacity to enjoy their favorite games; how God is responsible for laughter, joy, and fun. If they love donuts, point them to God as the one who gave them the taste buds to enjoy those glazed circles of sugary goodness. They need to know God is the Creator who gave them eyes to see rainbows, noses to smell flowers, and ears to hear songs. They need taught how their desire to do certain activities—such as communicating and having friends—comes as a result of being made in God's image. Help them see God as the One who provides all good things and cares for them more than they can imagine.

Take marginal moments, that are a part of the daily routine, and use them to point to the glory of God (which is the purpose of all creation).

When children’s hearts and minds have been prepared in this way, it produces the proper soil for the law of God to be planted into.

The Pattern of Scripture

Psalm 78 is not the only place we find this concept in Scripture. Genesis shows God providing awe, His work of creation, before giving a command—don't eat from that tree. Exodus details how God rescued His people, in an awe-inspiring manner, then delivered the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Paul structures his letters to the Ephesians and Romans in the same way. He points them to the majesty of God before giving instructions regarding Christian conduct and behavior.

The gospel message itself has the same structure. We first find ourselves in awe of the One who would die in our place, rise from the dead for our salvation, and offer us the gracious gift of eternal life. Out of this awe flows an eagerness to obey and follow Christ.

You Need It Too

Our children and the next generation are not the only ones who need to marvel at who God is—you need it just as much. If we desire to lead our children to be in awe of God, our instruction must be motivated by the awe that we experience when considering the glory and greatness of our Savior. If we ourselves wish to remain faithful and grow in obedience to Christ's commands, our awe of God is not something we can afford to have diminish or disappear.

The gospel of Jesus, the good news of how His sacrifice reconciles sinners to God, must remain a vibrant and central part of our lives.

It needs to inform how we view everything—relationships, jobs, family, hobbies, speech, thought-life, how we spend money, and what we sacrifice for.

The gospel should motivate our worship, giving, and Christian duty to others. "How does the gospel teach or lead me to navigate this part of my life?" This is a question we should ask ourselves frequently.

When we keep the gospel central, our sense of awe regarding God will grow. The gospel message doesn't lose its glory the more we focus on it. We have the tendency to become bored with things that are familiar to us, but focusing on the gospel will not lead to boredom. It is a message that is capable of handling all our focus and problems. There is no area of life where the gospel message will be insufficient to sustain and guide you.

Sing the gospel. Pray the gospel. Write the gospel message out. Bring every sin and weakness in your life and lay them at the foot of the cross. Preach it to yourself and meditate on it daily; watch your awe of God grow. From there, you now find yourself equipped and ready to impart that same sense of awe to your own children (and others) in the next generation.


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