We have all heard the expression, “Do as I say, not as I do.” It is often used humorously in the context of parenting. Let us face it. Parenting is a very tough gig. Just as we know that are no spiritual experts, there are also no parenting experts. There are only learners. And what works for me and my children may not work for you and yours. However, there is one thing that we can all strive to accomplish in the journey of passing our faith to our kids: We can model Christ-like character on a daily basis.
More than what we say, our children will remember us for who we are. Yes, our words have tremendous value and impact. In fact, they have the power of life or death (Proverbs 18:21). But over the course of our lifetime as parents, our kids will remember most what they saw in our example.
If I am honest, this truth terrifies me. But I found some encouragement from a man in the Bible whose name was the Apostle Paul. He was responsible for writing most of the New Testament (no small order, for sure). He made two statements to a church that we need to draw from as parents. First, he told them, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection (Philippians 3:12 NLT). Secondly, he told them, “Pattern your lives after mine” (Philippians 3:17 NLT).
Paul’s first admittance was the fact that even though he was used by God to start churches and write much of the Bible, he still did not have it all together. But this admittance did not stop him from making the second statement, telling the church to pattern their lives after his. Paul knew the power of example.
So, let’s talk about modeling Christ-like character for our children. But before we look at how Christ-like character is produced in our lives, we need to understand some basic realities that influence this topic. Here are four to consider.
1. We do not have an ‘out’ for this. No matter how inadequate we may feel as parents to model Christ-like character, this cannot be used as an excuse to not give it our best effort. Not coincidently, it was the Apostle Paul to whom God said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT).
2. You and I will fail. Miserably at times. We cannot help but to pass on at least some of our sinful character traits to our kids, which is why we need a Savior to begin with. We need to make it our habit to return to our Heavenly Father for forgiveness and grace to help in our times of blundering and redos as He continually shapes our character into His.
3. When God uses His heavenly sandpaper on our lives, we can trust it is always for our good. And when responded to correctly, it will produce lasting fruit (see Hebrews 12:11).
4. Character is a moment-by-moment thing, and must encompass every part of our lives. For example, if we want our kids to embrace the Christ-like character trait of being honest (which we all do), we must be people of truth (they can smell a white lie from a mile away). If we want them to fess up when they mess up, we must be the first to model what it means to humble ourselves and admit our mistakes when we blow it. If we want them to be faithful in giving to the local church and to people in need, we need to let them see us modeling faithful giving.
How is Christ-like character produced in our lives?
First, it is produced more and more each time we learn to respond rightly to the situations and circumstances in our lives that otherwise would bring out our worst. Think about this for just a minute. What were the things this past week that brought out your worst? Or, what were the things that have brought out your worst in the past, but you recently responded in a Christ-like manner instead? This verse in Romans 5 helps bring the point home. “And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation” (Romans 5:4 NLT).
Second, His character is also produced as we allow ourselves to be led by and influenced by people who have a passion for God and for doing His will. Back to what Paul said about believers patterning their lives after his, he goes on to say “Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example” (Philippians 3:17 NLT). “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17 NLT).
Developing Christ-like character is essential in our ability to pass on our faith to our children. May we be very sensitive to the working of God in our lives, so that we can reflect His character in front of the most important audience we will ever stand before—our own family.