In the months leading up to my daughter’s birth, I contemplated what it would be like to raise a child. I thought, if I can barely remember to put deodorant on in the mornings, how could I possibly steward another life? More importantly, how will I lead her to cherish Jesus? What if she one day rejects the gospel? I felt the enormous weight of Deuteronomy 6 where God commands his people to teach his statutes “diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:7). Raising an eternal soul was, and still is, terrifying.
The Bible tells us that the home is the most immediate context for discipleship. I am called to love God with all my heart, soul, and strength and to teach this diligently to my little girl. My wife and I have the unique mission of raising our daughter in a gospel-saturated home, reminding her about what God has done when we sit, when we walk, when we lie down, and when we rise. This is a beautiful calling, and totally beyond me.
When thinking of raising my daughter, I’m reminded that Jesus’s call for us to make disciples of all nations can also feel like a daunting task (Matt. 28:18–20). We wonder, how could I tell another sinner about Jesus when I myself am a sinner? What if I don’t say the right things? What if my own imperfections and foibles deter them from believing the gospel’s power?This calling, too, can be terrifying.
Beware the Obsession
I love being a dad. I thank God for my little girl every day. But as with any great blessing from God, the blessing of a child can make us want to squeeze too tight and never let go.
I have already been tempted to shirk the “prefab parenting models” in an attempt to raise my daughter the “right” way. There’s both an internal pressure within my own heart and an external pressure from the world to have a child who turns out perfect. I want her to love Jesus and to desire the supremacy of God above all things, but these pressures, and my inordinate concerns, often command me to focus on her conduct more than her heart. I hear others complain about unruly, bratty kids and I think, “That won’t be my girl!” This can be consuming.
When we invest ourselves in the lives of others, this tension is no different. We experience the extreme joy of God’s call to show them the ways of Jesus. Discipleship is wonderful. We feel responsible for their souls, and we long to see their lives radically transformed by the gospel. One of the greatest phenomena in God’s creation is watching the caterpillar become a butterfly, and this type of spectacle is beautiful to witness in the heart of an unbeliever.
The dangers lie in basing your own worth on the actions of those in whom you invest. It is tempting to allow our self-esteem to rise and fall based on another’s failures and successes. If the person you’re discipling fails morally, it is easy to blame yourself. If they show impressive growth theologically, it’s easy to congratulate yourself on the extraordinary ability to relay the deep things of God. This, too, can be consuming.
Certainly, there are many ways we can go wrong in discipling others. The sin that corrupts our hearts can lead us to dark places. Yet when we look to the cross, the hope we find in Jesus can take away all the anxieties and dangers of placing the results of discipleship on our own shoulders.
Pointing to Christ
In any discipleship relationship, whether our children or our neighbors, it is imperative that we continually point them to Jesus. And when we find ourselves getting rusty in this work, that’s when we need the gospel all the more.
Eugene Peterson says that “discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention to our own.” We were saved by grace through faith that was not, and is not, of our own power (Eph. 2:8). In the cross we see our need, how desperate we are, and the ultimate display of God’s love for us. The cross that we proclaim is also the cross that frees us from mistaking discipleship to be about us. This is the good news that we must keep at the center.
If we’re not seeing this glory, we cannot expect to lead anyone else to see it. At least, not in a way that will truly matter. However, Paul reminds us that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). If we recognize this, the shackles of self-affirmation will no longer weigh us down. We can joyfully disciple others with the expectation that Jesus’s life-changing gospel will prevail regardless of our shortcomings.
Whether I’m holding my daughter or talking to my neighbor, I’m freed to make Jesus’s name famous rather than my own.
Brandon D. Smith serves in leadership and as an adjunct instructor in theology and church history at Criswell College, where he is also associate editor of the Criswell Theological Review. He recently edited the book Make, Mature, Multiply and is a contributor to Designed for Joy (forthcoming from Crossway, 2015). Follow him on Twitter.
Adapted from an article originally posted at Desiring God.