We are quite familiar with the Lord Jesus giving his great commission to his Church to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them to obey all his commandments (Matthew 28:19–20). We are also aware that fathers are called to instruct their children in God’s Word (Ephesians 6:4). Those of us with children soon realize that the call to make disciples begins in the home!
Christian parents know that they have been entrusted with children to make known to them who our great God is and what he has done to save us through Jesus Christ. But how far back can we go in Scripture to understand our calling to raise our kids to know the Lord? Genesis 18:19 is the first place in the Bible where the Lord explicitly says that parents should teach their children about God’s character and ways.
The Initial Call
In context, the LORD has just appeared to Abraham and Sarah to confirm his promise to miraculously give barren Sarah a son (Genesis 18:1, 10). Even though she and Abraham are very old and her body is physically unable to have children, the LORD has the power to do the impossible (Genesis 18:11–14). After this repetition of the promise comes the following passage:
The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (Genesis 18:17–19 ESV)
In verse 18 God rehearses his plan of salvation for the world, a plan that goes beyond the supernatural birth of Isaac. Through Abraham’s greater offspring, Jesus Christ (Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:16), all the nations of the earth shall be blessed through faith in him (Galatians 3:8). But God not only has the end goal in mind; he has also given the means by which that goal will be accomplished: “so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” And what are those means? Simply put, they are what we call “the means of grace”—Word and sacrament! Abraham must teach his children God’s ways and Word, so that they may know his plan of salvation and righteous standard of living (Genesis 18:19). This is the pattern of parenting for all future generations of God’s people (Deuteronomy 6:4–7).
“For I have chosen him in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice . . . ” (Genesis 18:19, emphasis added)
In the prior chapter, God commanded Abraham to circumcise his children, which was the Old Testament sign and pointer of God’s promise to circumcise and cleanse their hearts—and the hearts of their offspring (Deuteronomy 30:6). That sign was coupled with the command to teach them God’s ways, so that he will bring about what the sign points to—a heart cleansed by the Word! That sign of God’s promise has been fulfilled in the New Testament through baptism, which also symbolizes God’s promise to a purify our hearts (Acts 2:38–39; Colossians 2:11–12; Ezekiel 36:25–26). Iain Duguid says,
Abraham must train up his child in the way he should go, calling Isaac to faith in the Lord and a love for his ways. In the mysteries of providence, one common way in which the Holy Spirit works is through the influence of godly parents on their children and through their teaching and discipline. As Abraham sought to lead and direct his children, the Lord would also use those means to change their hearts.Iain M. Duguid, Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality: The Gospel According to Abraham, 99.
The Call for Us Today
God calls us parents to bring our children to church and to teach them “the way of the Lord”—who is Jesus Christ himself. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6). All of God’s saving righteousness and justice is embodied in Jesus’s person and work (Romans 3:24; 1 Corinthians 1:30). Indeed, “the righteous one” gave himself on the cross, in order to “make many to be accounted righteous” (Isaiah 53:11).
What great encouragement there is for us parents to teach our children the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection! We can do so as we trust God promises to put his Word and His Holy Spirit in our mouths and in the mouths of our children:
“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children's offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.” (Isaiah 59:21)
The Acrostic of Jesus: A Rhyming Christology for Kids
By giving children an alphabetical list of the names and attributes of Jesus written with a rhyming beat, Jonathan Gibson and Timothy Brindle make The Acrostic of Jesus fun to read and simple to memorize. Each characteristic, A to Z, weaves together a beautiful picture of who Jesus is and why he came to earth.