Once a child has been trained in the gospel-driven obedience to God through human authorities, a child should be trained in righteousness. This does not mean there is a perfect moment of “gospel-driven obedience,” after which parents begin training in righteousness. Many times, parents are teaching gospel-driven obedience while training children in righteousness at the same time, especially when a child is young.
But as children grow older, parents need to make sure to 1) build on the foundation of enjoyment of God and ministering to the hearts of their children (priestly role of parents, see pt 1 in this series), 2) provide continual and comprehensive Christ-centered instruction (see pt 2 in this series), 3) and upon these foundations train their children in righteousness. If the priorities are not in this order, training in righteousness can easily turn into legalism, and end up with parents merely exasperating their children.
This also means that parents 1) need to be honest about their own failures in living a God-centered life, 2) and strive to set an example in living a life of living in obedience to God’s laws. Again, living according to God’s laws is not merely about do’s and don’t, but more about how to enjoy God in the best way possible. Here are the positive aspects of each of the Ten Commandments.
Thou shalt not have any other gods before. Positive: Enjoying undivided love from God.
Thou shalt not make any graven image. Positive: Being free from idols that enslave us.
Thou shalt not take God’s name in vain. Positive: Honor God in speech, especially in public.
Thou shalt keep the Sabbath holy. Positive: Resting, finding a rhythm of enjoying God
Honor your parents. Positive: Enjoying multi-generational flourishing of a Christ-centered culture
Thou shalt not kill. Positive: Enjoying the miracle of life.
Thou shalt not commit adultery. Positive: Enjoying the intimacy of God's love in human love within biblical bounds.
Thou shalt not commit steal. Positive: Helping others who are in need, thereby fulfilling true social justice
Thou shalt not bear false testimony. Positive: Speaking the truth in love, building up the community of Christ
Thou shalt not covet. Positive: Loving others to the point of death.
Training your children to do the positive aspects of the Ten Commandment is possible, with God’s help. The negative aspects set the boundary, and the positive aspects are the purposes of the law of God that is fulfilled by Christ, and which can be lived out by believers. This is expanded in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
You may think these positive aspects are impossible goals. But they are fully possible in Christ! Here are several training tips:
Training must be based on the gospel. This cannot be overemphasized. Practicing righteousness is the goal, but the child must be motivated by God’s love and grace, and understand the value of the training.
Belief and Repentance. In our quest for right living, parents need to train their children in the two internal acts of believing and repenting. The problem with not living out according to God’s standard is first and foremost because we do not believe (which includes understanding) and we do not repent. We, both parents and children, must believe and repent continually, by the help of the Spirt.
Lead by Example. Children learn from examples. Even if we as adults fail and falter, when we strive to lead by example, children will follow.
Read Examples. Reading historical examples of great men and women of faith opens the eyes of our children to what is possible in God. In many cases, reading historical examples help our children to respond with faith in specific circumstances and challenges.
Training requires mentorship and accountability. Training, by definition, requires a mentor, in this case a parent, who takes time to identify an area of life that needs to be trained, help the child understand the purpose of God’s law in that area, set specific goals, and help the child to discern how they might not be walking according to God’s law, help the child to repent (sometimes parents should repent with the child) and help the child to walk in the right path, with patience, reminders, and sometimes consequences.
An excellent resource is: For Instruction in Righteousness: A Topical Reference Guide for Biblical Child-rearing.
The Christian Classic Pilgrim’s Progress is an excellent allegory that is all about training in righteousness. Here is a good version in animation.