It costs a lot to correctively discipline our children. It requires time, forethought, interruptions, prayer and the continuing hard work of actual confronting. Because it’s so costly, we need motivation in order to do it. There must be a payoff, a sufficient reward to make us willing to tackle the endeavor. Otherwise it’s too daunting. Why bother?
Let’s consider the benefits and blessings of properly correcting our children. The wise, corrective discipline of our children glories the truth-speaking God of the Bible, honors parents (all parents, as well as the specific child’s parents), protects our children, strengthens the church, serves society, and gives hope to the nations.
The Rewards of Faithful Correction
As a demonstration of our genuine love, faithful parental discipline assures our children of belongingness. This is one of the supreme benefits and blessings of discipline, and it’s crucial to every child’s identity. It’s a belongingness that points to the fatherhood of God, as this profound passage indicates: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:7–8). (Emphasizing belongingness as a demonstration of the fatherhood of God in your loving discipline is important for adopted children.)
Far more than simply molding their behavior, our corrective discipline makes our children wiser as they better grasp God’s fatherly love, guidance, and purposes for their lives. Even before a child experiences a transformed heart through Christian conversion, disciplinary correction awakens him to the stark reality that he’s not the only person in the universe, and his will is not the only will. There’s a thing called others.
As our children are disciplined, they learn that the universe is designed with cause-and-effect relationships pointing to a Designer. Children start to discover this when their own violations of parental instructions are followed swiftly and consistently with correction. This cause-and-effect relationship is a pillar of their own self-discipline (which is what we’re aiming for). Actions have consequences. Your child may be a sinner, but he should learn early that he cannot sin with impunity.
Parental discipline, writes pastor and missionary Wilbur Bruinsma, “is a necessity in the life of a child because it teaches him what sin is, and that sin will be punished. The child is trained by discipline to understand that God holds man accountable for sin and God will punish it in His justice.”
The pain of correction can awaken a naughty child to the reality of his naughtiness—no excuses, no buffering. Even before heart transformation occurs, effective parental correction can help a child learn to recognize a standard, so that later, after conversion, he’ll marvel that he now wants to behave righteously (thus honoring his parents).
No child can be “disciplined” into Christian faith. We’re all saved by grace, not discipline. But discipline can subdue defiance that prevents the child from sitting still long enough to hear the gospel. Listening to the words of the gospel isn’t sufficient on its own to produce faith, but faith won’t spring up in the absence of hearing. So we teach our children to listen. Waffling on our commands teaches children to not listen.
Teaching immediate compliance builds children who are not only wiser but also safer. In the backyard where his son was playing, a father shouted, “Drop to your hands and knees and crawl to me right now!” While this may at first seem harsh, the dad could see what the son could not: a poisonous snake slowly lowering himself from a tree branch just above the boy.
Prompt obedience to proper correction builds trust in you and your word. Obedience first, discussion about snakes later.
Our Children Become a Blessing to Others
Corrective discipline—which leads to a child’s self-discipline—opens the door to more freedom and more accomplishment for that child. It helps children to achieve what can be gained only through inner desire, self-restraint, and personal behavior governed by voluntary, self-willed commitment.
The Olympic athlete voluntarily exercises his body strenuously without anyone threatening him with punishment. The musician keeps practicing and practicing, not because someone is standing over him with a stick, but because he has an inner desire to let that piece of music lift the spirit through his trained fingers. One of my heroes practiced the cello until his fingers bled; no one forced him to do this.
The child’s self-discipline is therefore a significant goal of the parent’s enforced discipline. Along the way, our children will grow in getting along better with the rest of society. After all, people respond more readily to a cooperative child than they do to a Tasmanian devil who won’t take direction. That fact should be a reminder that we discipline a mouthy and defiant child not because we’ve had our personal sensitivities offended, but because it’s not good for the child’s sake to go on being that way.
Throughout childhood, children become increasingly fixed in their attitude toward authority—all authority. Consistent, loving, firm parental correction in the early years will pave the way for the child to have good working relationships later with teachers, coaches, employers, government officials, store clerks, and anyone else having a position of legitimate authority.
In training a child, we aren’t merely shaping a particular behavior in a particular moment. We’re shaping lifelong habits that help the child build a good name—even before he becomes a believer. Solomon tells us that a well-disciplined child “will give delight to your heart” (Prov. 29:17). Cooperative children, trained to be that way by their parents, will also become a delight to others.
 Wilbur Bruinsma, “Martin Luther: Training Children in the Home” in The Standard Bearer, 78/2002, no. 2 (October 15, 2001), https://standardbearer.rfpa.org/index .php?q=node/46091.
Content taken from Parenting with Loving Correction by Sam Crabtree, ©2019. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.
Sam Crabtree is a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he has served for over twenty years. He is a former public-school teacher and is chairman of the board of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He is the author of Practicing Affirmation. Sam and his wife, Vicki, live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and have two daughters and six grandchildren.