[God gave me] to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. —Romans 15: 16, NIV
There is an incredible concept that we need to grasp found in the writings of the apostle Paul and elsewhere in the New Testament. Paul calls it the “sanctification of the believer” (see Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). “Sanctification,” simply means that little by little I become “set apart” from my old way of responding to life by the slow, powerful, determined work of the Holy Spirit in my daily experiences.
Sanctification occurs over a long period of time. You see, the idea is that every day after my baptism I am to let God show me parts of my life that need to be changed from my character to His character. When I see my weaknesses, failures, and sins, I go to Him for empowering grace and forgiveness by confessing and repenting of wrongdoing. I let God put the fruit of Christian character in its place (see Galatians 5:22-23).
Living It Out as Fathers
Fathers, as a man before God you can cooperate with the Holy Spirit as “Supreme Mentor” to your son or daughter. You need to trust that He will give your believing son and daughter insight on a regular basis, both through the Bible and through his or her conscience (see John 14:25-26; 16:12-13). He will cause your son and daughter to ask, “Is it wrong to do this?” “What is the right thing to do?” or “What should my Christian attitude be?” In these instances the Holy Spirit will bring insight — maybe a scripture or a memory of what you, their dad, would say or do — to help lead them down the right path.
Though you and I can be spiritual coaches, it is the Holy Spirit then, and no one else, who will give your son and daughter the power to live a life that’s different and godly. If we teach our children to yield to this process and not ignore the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, then God will mold them into strong men and women of good character.
The familiar illustration is that of a molder in a foundry who sits by a crucible of molten metal that is not yet fit for use. As the molder watches the crucible, he occasionally removes some of the dross as it bubbles to the surface. He knows the job is done when he can see his own face perfectly reflected on the surface of the molten metal as in a mirror. So it is with the work of the Holy Spirit. God continues to cleanse and change us until He sees the image of Jesus Christ reflected in us, His sons and daughters.
The key is to help our children see the parallels and, likewise, yield to the work of the Holy Spirit (often depicted as a flame) instead of simply exerting their own will over sin. Paul the Apostle knew well the tactics of mere legalists, who were trying to force Christians to abstain from wrongdoing: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (Colossians 2:21). He knew, however, that “such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom,” but lack any power “in restraining sensual indulgence” (vs. 23).
Discipline as a Tool
Paul likened the Christian life to a race. He talked about disciplining himself much the same way an athlete trained for the Olympic Games in Rome. Teaching your sons and daughters some simple, spiritual disciplines is important. Disciplines like a quiet time, study of the Word, prayer, and fellowship—will help our sons and daughters yield their lives to the heavenly Father on a daily basis so that He can guide and change them.
Richard Foster writes in Celebration of Discipline:
“Picture a narrow ledge with a sheer drop-off on either side. The chasm to the right is the way of moral bankruptcy through human strivings for righteousness…. The chasm to the left is the way of moral bankruptcy through the absence of human strivings…. On the ledge there is a path, the disciplines of the spiritual life. This path leads to the inner transformation and healing for which we seek. We must never veer off to the right or the left, but stay on the path…. As we travel on this path, the blessing of God will come upon us and will reconstruct us into the image of His Son Jesus Christ. We must always remember that the path does not produce the change; it only puts us in the place where the change can occur. This is the way of disciplined grace.1
Remind your children that that surviving the crucible difficulties or trials is the way of disciplined grace.
Put It into Practice:
Invite your son or daughter to go with you to a place of serenity — preferably, outdoors. Have a quiet time together; study God’s Word together; pray together. Help your children understand that you take such discipline seriously as a part of discerning and hearing the “still small voice of the heavenly Father” and better grasping God’s will for your life as a sanctified man of God.
1. Celebration of Discipline (New York, N.Y.: Harper & Row, 1978), p. 7.
Fr. Michael A. O’Donnell, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, researcher, and international lecturer best known for his Adolescent Wellness Research Project. He is a former Professor of Family Studies and Department Chair of Psychology & Behavioral Sciences at Rochester College. And he currently serves as Rector of St. John’s Church in Ogdensburg, N.Y. Michael’s eight books include A Question of Honor and How A Man Prepares His Sons for Life, which was nominated for Christianity Today and Gold Medallion book awards.