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The Risk of Raising Good Children

By Dr. Lee Button

Have you ever considered the risks of raising good children? Did you know that raising good kids was perilous?

What do I mean by risky? Is it the danger of setting our children free into a world where they may suffer hardship because they are different? That may happen, probably will happen, but that’s not what I am talking about. I am talking about the prohibitive aspects of being good. Being good may exclude our children from something much better than goodness.

Isn’t good, good? There are two words for good in the New Testament. Let’s define them.

First there is the word kalos. This means good in the sense of appropriate or proper. Something that is good because it fits the occasion or need. Jesus said in His parable of the soils that some seed fell on ‘good’ ground and yielded fruit. The seed fell in the right place. In Matthew 15:26 He says “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” That means the message of the kingdom should be for Israel, not the Gentiles. The word ‘good’ here again has the idea of being appropriate.

At the marriage of Cana the master of the feast said that the good wine was saved till last. That was most unusual. It was fine wine indeed.

Jesus calls Himself the “Good Shepherd.” He is the right and proper ‘pastor’ of the sheep. Paul sailed near a place called Fair Havens, kalos- shelter, a beautiful place. And why don’t you look at a few verses in Titus with me.
Titus 2:7 first. In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity. Titus is to do this. Model this pattern of good works? Now go to verse 14.  “Jesus gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”

We are to be zealous for good works.

Titus 2:8 “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.”

3:8 “Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.” And 3:14 “And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.”

See there is a need for God’s people to do the right things. We must do what is good for the particular need. It is good to do good. In fact James says for the man who knows the good thing to do but does not do it is a sin.

Being good doesn’t sound so perilous or risky, does it? But that’s just one kind of good. There is another good in the NT. It is the word agaqos. This good is a little difficult. It has to do with moral goodness. Or we can say it refers to good which is inherent. Something which is good because it was born good, created to be good. Here we have a real problem. Do you know what it is? We are inherently evil.

Consider Mark 10:17,18. A rich young man approaches Jesus with this question. “And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

Which good does he use? The right and proper, the useful good? Or the word for inherent good? You’re right, inherent good. You know that from the reply in verse 18. “And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.” Kind of takes us out of the equation doesn’t it? Not forever.

Look at Matthew 12. Both words are used here. And it really gives us a better understanding of the terms. See verse 33. “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.” Appropriate, proper good. The good tree produces useful fruit.

Then this scathing rebuke to the Pharisees. Verse 34. “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” You evil snakes! You cannot speak good things. Now Jesus changes to the other word. Your speech is not inherently good because you are rotten to the core. But verse 35. “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.”

A man who is naturally good, born that way, will speak inherently good things. But how can we who were born in sin, not seeking good, ever accomplish that? Verse 33. God makes the root good. He makes the heart good and capable of producing good which is good through and through.

This means that we can overcome that which is evil at its core with that which is good. Romans 12:21. “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”

And remember this one? Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

We can do the best kind of good works. We can be fruitful in every good work, Colossians 2:10 says. And this kind of goodness that comes from the heart is part of the fruit of the Spirit.

So what is the problem with raising our children to be good? Don’t we want them to do the right things? Don’t we want them to be useful and proper? More importantly don’t we want them to respond with good because it has become part of their nature? I would say yes to all these questions. But having accomplished that there is still a risk in being good. Are you ready to hear it? There are actually two perils in goodness. Intrinsically related but distinct in themselves.

First of all, goodness may become a substitute for godliness. It is nice to have good kids; what we should yearn for are godly kids. This idea occurred to me many years ago when I was talking to a pastor friend. He was complimenting me on the behavior of my children. He said I had good kids. I knew them better than he. And although I would say they are good, usually do the right thing, can be useful, what I really want to say is that my children are godly. You see if we are satisfied with good kids, we will never see godliness.

I believe this is a great danger in the American church today. Christian kids go to church, Sunday School, youth group. Many are even educated at home. They participate in church activities. They learn how to do the right things, the proper things. They even show flashes of heart-responsive goodness. And we applaud their efforts and praise their performance. We do have good kids, don’t we? But is that enough? Are we settling for less than God expects? Didn’t Jesus once say that we should be holy as He is holy?

Here is where I erred in the past. It is so nice to see our children being good, doing good. I thought I was accomplishing my role as a parent. But good kids can go wrong. Godliness is what we must encourage. Don’t let goodness stand in the way.

Timothy was told to work at godliness. 1 Timothy 4:7,8 “But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.”

Godliness covers all the bases. This life and next. Look at 2 Peter 1:2-3 “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue”

God’s divine power has given everything we need for life and goodness? Wrong! Godliness. The worst sinners may sometimes do good. God wants His children to be godly. Keep reading. Verse 4 “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

God’s promises are related to godliness. Godliness is our help for shaking off the world’s corruption and becoming like Jesus. Not doing good.

Verse 5  “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.  For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

See, right in the middle of this chain of attributes is godliness. And if you have these things you will be fruitful. Make the root good and the tree will produce good fruit.

Beware that goodness does not become a substitute for godliness. The second risk is that goodness is performance based. This is why I spent so much time on defining what good means. Those references all pointed to good being something you do.

We must certainly encourage our children to do the right things, obey our commands, follow the rules, etc. But we must not give the impression that therein is success. Rewards for good behavior may serve as effective motivation but we must be careful. Our highest praise must be reserved for godliness. And godliness is its own reward. Because God is in it.

Since goodness is performance based the standards are inconsistent. You call one thing good, another person calls it bad. Children may think that Dad’s desires based solely on his preferences may be the gospel. Godliness is good for all parts of life.

Goodness is performance based. Godliness is spirit based. I think this is what Paul is driving at in 1 Timothy 3:16. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.” These things relate to what you believe not what you do.

We must be building in our children a desire to be like Christ. We must look between the lines of their behavior and examine their attitudes. Are they doing good just to please us? Or on the other hand is their hesitation really rebellion? Let’s look passed the performance of good to the spirit of godliness.

I am aware that I have just scratched the surface of this topic. It would be helpful perhaps to offer a game plan, a ‘steps toward godliness’ guide. But the danger here would be that then we have another performance-based system to evaluate an attribute that is spirit-based.

One final thought. Maybe the reason we could be prone to settle for goodness in our children is because we pretty much live performance-based lives ourselves. We set our standards and live by them and call it good. How can we expect our children to go beyond that?

God asks for, hopes for, prepares for and provides for something far greater.

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)

Where godly lives exist good works prevail.

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