Parents And The Apostasy Of Covenant Children

There is nothing more amazing than the grace of salvation conferred to those who are afar off. And although conversion of covenant children is no less a matter of grace, pious parents ought not to doubt the election and subsequent conversion of their children.

Because covenant children are not among those who are afar off but are holy in Christ and members of his church, they are rightful recipients of the sign and seal of engrafting into Christ. Indeed, discipleship begins at the font.

Believers who are mindful of their vows and careful to do the commandments, statutes, and rules that God commands may have confidence God will visit their seed with the grace of salvation. (Exodus 20:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:9,11; Nehemiah 1:5) These same covenant blessings may not be anticipated by believers who are not diligent to pursue Christ and his precepts. Whenever God saves out of obscurity it’s always amazing; yet when God grafts out covenant children, it’s not nearly as surprising.

Grace begets more grace:

Believers have broken all God’s commandments. On a scale of the faithful – from the least at one end to faithful-Christ at the other – believers are compressed toward the least of the faithful relative to Christ. In that respect, all believers are indistinguishable when compared to Christ. Notwithstanding, because God causes one to differ from another, we may not deny that one indeed does differ from another! In other words, obedience wrought in faith is a peculiar grace that we may expect to culminate in everlasting reward in Christ. (Mark 10:37,40; 1 Corinthians 4:7)

Sowing and reaping and spiritual adultery:

God is not mocked and is often pleased to operate according to a sowing and reaping principle with respect to spiritual blessings. Accordingly, when God saves the children of believers, he is often pleased to grant positive spiritual influences (usually parental) resulting in the training up of covenant children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Sadly, these formative influences sometimes come by way of examples of church members denying the faith. As tragic as that is, the grafting out of the seed of believers can be the pedagogical means by which God gets our attention and teaches parents to protect their own from the harmful influences of this present age. The manifestation of Scripture’s warnings culminating in the apostasy of covenant children works for the good of those who love God, those who are called according to his purpose.

Examples and warnings of a perishing seed are replete in Israel’s history up to this present day. Yet such examples of apostasy are often needful for faithful Christian parents, for without which they can lose motivation to persevere and not be as intentional about avoiding covenant curses for their own households.

All believers will be tested for steadfastness and perseverance; yet those who seek but do not receive are valued by God as having wrong motives. Moreover, believers are regarded as spiritually adulterous when their pursuits entail friendship with the world and behavior that is becoming of the enemies of God. (James 1:3-4; 4:3-4)

God’s decree and our responsibility:

We must be careful as we reconcile God’s predestinating grace with parental responses to God’s covenant promises. God’s covenant of grace cannot fail for it is established with Christ and the elect in him. (Genesis 17; Romans 9; Galatians 3; WLC 31)

The faithful who run in the ways of the Lord can expect their children to be fed with the heritage of Jacob as they grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful parents can expect their children are indeed elect, will come to faith in Christ, and persevere until the end. Whereas those who as a manner of life seek their children’s interests more than God’s can claim no greater than God’s abandonment of their offspring.

God’s covenant blessings are often released by the means of parental faith and obedience, though they are not ultimately based upon faith and obedience. When God sets his sights on visiting the future generations of believers with salvation, he is often pleased to grant the commensurate parental responses to receive the promises and blessings that the covenant of grace contemplates. Although not a quid pro quo, wisdom is nonetheless vindicated in her children.

Calvinism, not fatalism:

Because God’s decree cannot be thwarted, only those chosen in Christ will be saved. From that premise, Calvinists often wrongly assume that the non-elect could not have been saved had other gospel influences come to bear. That’s fatalism, not Calvinism. It is to miss that God’s ends do not fall out apart from their appointed means. God, according to his own purposes and most wise and inscrutable counsel, has withheld the election of some covenant children accompanied by the ordaining of unfaithful parents (and spiritual overseers) whom God will hold accountable along with those who have fallen away.

We must not confuse God’s decree with God’s assessment of human culpability.

  • The apostle Paul was innocent of the blood of all because he faithfully declared the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:26-27)
  • Jesus warns that we can cause others to stumble into sin. And although sin will come to pass as God has determined, woes are preached to those by whom it comes. (Matthew 18:3-7; Romans 14:21; 1 Corinthians 8:9-13)
  • Lastly, Jesus would have gathered the children of Israel as a hen gathers her brood under her wings if not for the sins of their parents. (Matthew 23:37)

All that to say, election and the predestining of one’s sanctification presuppose how the chosen are led to Christ and further influenced.

The principle of not growing weary in well doing pertains all the more to parents who have been charged (even vowed) to lead their children to Christ.

For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. And then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Galatians 6:8-10

Although one cannot lose his salvation, the branch of future generations is often cut off and thrown into the fire because of spiritual neglect, over confidence, and even willful disobedience. (John 15:5-6; Romans 11:19-22)

Because being careful to keep God’s commandments is the way of grace, parents play a prominent role in leading their children to close with Christ. That God is pleased to save the children of Godly parents should induce parents unto Godliness, not complacency. Conversely, it is God’s prerogative to graft out those born of believing parents whom God has not seen fit to ordain unto the grace of parental diligence and fidelity.

Practice to reflect reality:

Scripture and life-experiences teach that God delights in saving the children of faithful parents who strive to live out the reality of their children’s positional holiness in Christ. Because covenant children are set-apart in Christ and members of the visible church, faithful parents seek to nurture a home-life that’s commensurate to the spiritual reality that covenant children are born into.

Because Christian parents are to protect the deposit of faith, parents who believe their children are set-apart can have that gospel conviction vindicated by providing a well guarded home suitable for spiritual flourishing. Parents who recognize that a child’s heart is soil for the word of God will treat it ever so tenderly and do all within their earthly power to make it fertile. This includes vigilant prayer and helping to keep one’s child unspotted from the world with all appropriateness.

Faithful Christian parents have a sanctified vision for their children and strive by grace to raise them according to their biblical convictions. The pious parent loves his children by loving God more than them. He is single-minded, and sometimes the object of extended family and Christian ridicule. (Such a parent’s reward is great!)

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Matthew 6:33

The prophet Malachi proclaimed that God had cursed the offspring of the priests for not honoring his name. Judah profaned God’s covenant, yet wonders in tears and groaning as to why they have fallen out of favor with God. They had fallen out of favor with God because parents did not pursue the one thing God was seeking, a Godly offspring. (Malachi 2)

Eli honored his sons above God, which resulted in his household being cut off. His failure as a father was that he esteemed his sons more than God. This resulted in Eli’s sons being counted as worthless men for they did not know the Lord. (1 Samuel 2)

Jesus taught that anyone who loves their child more than him is not worthy of him and his inheritance. (Matthew 10:37)

Among what these principles teach is that when a parent loves his family first and foremost, he neither loves God nor his family aright. One loves his children above God by pursuing their happiness rather than their Godliness, their respectability rather than their need for righteousness in Christ. Even to seek equally both happiness and Godliness is to deny God. It is to deny the primacy of a biblical pursuit of God, and that all blessings beyond knowing Christ are incidental to seeking first the kingdom of God. It’s to pursue God’s favor apart from thirsting after Christ. What can be more subtly idolatrous for the Christian than pursuing the gifts more than him, the giver?

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.

Philippians 3:10

A parent’s vision is sometimes a big pill to swallow:

Children are neither here to make their parents proud nor to pursue their personal pleasures. Children are here for God’s service and none other. To find that burdensome is to disbelieve that Jesus’ yoke is easy and burden is light. It’s to miss out on the abundant life that Christ offers! (Matthew 11:28-30; John 10:10)

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my discipleSo therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14:26,33

Children are on loan to their parents from God. Because parents are the stewards of God’s heritage, they must instruct their children to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, (and that the additional abundant-blessings of life, which God promises to bestow, are to be received with thanksgiving as a kindness from the Lord).

Only by glorifying God will children enjoy him now and forever. Pursuing the good gifts of God apart from enjoying God himself will result neither in enjoying his good gifts nor enjoying God. Both the gifts and the giver will become empty idols that will ultimately disappoint and eventually get discarded.

A parent will always weigh decisions for their children’s future against either future Godliness or temporal bliss. Yet a parent who self-consciously desires the blessings of God to a thousand generations hammers the stake out on the horizon and measures life’s decisions against it. Consequently, earnest desires for our children’s future must result in corresponding parental decisions for them now. In essence, for the faithful parent all else pales insignificant to Christ being formed in their children. (Galatians 4:19) Accordingly, the prize of a Godly seed will dictate the types of decisions a parent makes on behalf of his household.

Faith that pleases God is a faith that works. It always results in action:

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?

James 2:21-23

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:6

When God grants heart felt conviction over biblical truth, the believer does not merely assent to God’s precepts but instead obediently lives out what he knows is true. He can do no other than live by his convictions! Biblical conviction sacrifices sight for faith and the world for Christ.

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Galatians 6:14

Theology put into practice produces disciples by grace. With that in mind, below are a smattering of verses accompanied by some diagnostic questions.

The Bible has hard hitting words for believers who do not make it a priority to love the Lord and despise evil by growing in the grace and knowledge of God:

Jesus commands his disciples to love God with the totality of their being, including their minds. We are to offer ourselves a living sacrifices to God by diligently renewing our minds so that we might present ourselves approved to God. (Matthew 5:22:37; Romans 12:1; 2 Timothy 2:15)

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.

Hosea 4:6

Needless to say, to pit a tenacious pursuit of theology against Christian living, even against the salvation of our children, is to put asunder faith and practice.

What is it to separate knowledge of God from sanctification? How is it not to trade the spirit for the flesh?

I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still in the flesh.

1 Corinthians 3:2-3a

We are masters of many things. The modern day knowledge of sports, science, finance, technology, politics, culture, music – you name it – is astounding. But are the people of God nearly as diligent in the study of God and his ways? If not, then how does that not presume upon grace for ourselves and our children, if not even put God to the test?

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:11-14

How is it possible not to become ensnared in our faith and family life if we aren’t weaned off spiritual milk and growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord? If a parent who lives on milk is a spiritual child, then how aren’t spiritual children raising their children?

There are some things in [Paul’s writings] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 3:16b-18

If parents cannot defend the faith against the attacks of this world, how will they not be duped by the world or be able to help their children to discern the light of God from Satan’s deceptive light?

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Colossians 2:8

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

1 Peter 3:15

Does the ability to leave for dead the philosophies and ideologies of this world count for anything? Does it have anything to do with our obedience to Christ and the spiritual safety of our families?

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

2 Corinthians 10:4-6

Can we say with the apostle with the same exuberance:

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

1 Corinthians 1:19-20

Sunday discipline and our choice of church:

Do we come to God with our non-negotiable will-worship already in place and expect (even require!) God’s approval? Or do we humbly seek God’s will for our worship and Sunday practice, and then submit our wills to God’s commands, believing he loves us and wants the best for us?

In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.

Genesis 4:3-5

If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Isaiah 58:13-14

How can parents expect God’s covenant blessings upon their households if they won’t strive to turn from their own pleasures on the Lord’s Day? What better day to withdrawal from the world, entertainment and the internet, and bask in God’s love along with the joy of one’s family, which is the fruit of a parent’s labor in the Lord!

Our children and their place in the world:

Is our number one priority for our children their discipline in the Lord, or do we exasperate them by prematurely exposing them to the world while expecting them to live as children of light?

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

1 Corinthians 15:33-34

Parents must make it a priority that their children honor them for their children’s sake and God’s glory. How is that charge not made even more difficult, resulting in provoking children to anger, if parents enable early worldly indoctrination from outside the home?

“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise). Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Ephesians 6:2,41

Parents hate their children by not training them to see the sin of dishonoring their parents. It is to drive their children from the kingdom of God by withholding correction and the gospel of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation for all sins and particularly the first commandment with a promise.

In a word, parenting is gospel ministry to our children. It can seem laborious at times but it’s the way of life. The reward is Christ and life everlasting. It’s what it is to love our children!

Back to basics:

For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.

Proverbs 6:23

How will children ever move toward the light of spiritual maturity if they’re not also protected from the darkness of the present evil age?

Parents who do not believe that children from non-Christian households and unbelieving school teachers are the devil’s mignons have been deceived. Without a healthy fear of the world, how can parents avoid exasperating their children when they tacitly invite antithetical influences upon their children prior to them having developed a more mature Christian worldview? And how might children develop such a worldview by which they can learn to “hate every false way” if their parents haven’t first studied to present themselves approved for Christ’s sake? (Psalm 119:104; 2 Timothy 2:15)

Because God is not interested in converts but in making disciples, the conversion of covenant children apart from God ordaining the parental means by which they’ll become true followers of Christ ought not to be seen as normative. Parents who aren’t diligent in nurturing and protecting their children from the world may expect their children to be devoured.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

1 Peter 5:8

Child rearing entails much more than learning “the elementary doctrine of Christ.” We are to “go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” Christians are to mature in the faith, which is a divine charge to strive for completeness, even perfection. (Matthew 5:48; Hebrews 6:1) This goes beyond merely being trained to regurgitate the shorter catechism. We are to grow in understanding spiritual things for which we would otherwise have no appetite in the flesh – points of doctrine we haven’t yet imagined because of weakness, ignorance and our own deliberate fault. “And this we will do if God permits.” (Hebrews 6:3)

Just imagine:

What might child nurturing look like when the results are little ones who grieve over displeasing God and their parents, and desire nothing more than parental closeness and peace with the Lord? Add to that parents who are broken over being severe with their children. Such other-worldly tenderness can only be the result of biblical, Spirit-filled means. It is attainable but only by the grace of God, and must be pursued God’s way. The narrow way that leads to life is not hidden but there are many alluring paths that cross it, which lead only to death.

In closing:

These thoughts will undoubtedly be received by some and not by others. On that front, I’ll say just a few things.

If all the members of one’s household are walking with the Lord, the parents have been blessed either in spite of, or to some degree in accordance with, their faithfulness, which is all of grace. Be encouraged and give all glory to God.

If one has lost a child to the world yet claims surprise, then seek God’s face on how tenderly and protectively you shepherded your child’s heart and receive God’s forgiveness. Also, consider seeking your grown child’s forgiveness.

To those of us who understand to some degree our parental failures or have even lost a child to the world, I offer these words from our Lord:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

To those with young children, or hoping to one day raise up a Godly seed, I offer these words from our Lord:

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Matthew 6:33

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