4 Min Read

No text of Scripture speaking to discipleship deserves more attention than the Great Commission. That commission, or commandment, is given to disciples (Matt. 28:16) to make disciples (Matt 28:19–20). And Jesus gives the how: Christian baptism and biblical teaching. Before a parent does anything to discipline a child, he does well to pay attention to Christ’s plan for making disciples. Christ’s discipline must characterize our homes. That surely involves the discipline of children in the terms we often think (Prov. 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13–14; 29:15–17), but it also demands much more of parents.

Without a thoughtful reading of Proverbs in the context of the whole of Scripture, we can (and often do) fall into behaviorism, a secular psychological approach that views human learning as merely a matter of conditioning responses. But Christ teaches us that we and our children are more. We have hearts, spiritual centers of our being, from which our behaviors flow (Prov. 4:23; Matt. 12:33–35; 15:10–20; Luke 6:43–45). The Bible also teaches that our hearts are born in corruption (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12), thus the members of the family—both parents and children—ultimately need to have their problems solved from the inside out.

That brings parents back to the Great Commission. The fundamental need of discipleship is a new heart cleansed from sin. Only Christ can accomplish this work. The Lord, speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, declares, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, . . . give you a new heart, . . . and I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek. 36:25–27). The connection to baptism in the Great Commission is obvious. Whether someone affirms credobaptism (believer’s baptism) or paedobaptism (infant baptism), everyone agrees that baptism is something done for you, not something you do for yourself. It’s an outward sign pointing to the necessity of the Spirit’s work. Christian parents must know this: no true discipleship comes apart from heart change. The starting place of discipleship for our children can’t be separated from baptism.

Discipleship came as a corporate command, and it’s best fulfilled in a corporate context.

With the expectation of the Lord’s working a heart change in their children, parents can then proceed to the work of “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). Again, this is not mere behavioral conformity in young children. Parents rightly discipline their children with appropriate consequences for disrespect, unjust violence, sexual immorality, theft, lying, and discontent; and such will also include the word of reproof (Prov. 29:15). But the law also has a God-centered first table (the first four commandments, Ex. 20:2–11).

Parents must embrace the “all I have commanded you.” That includes Christ’s call for unwavering loyalty (John 14:6; Luke 10:27) along with self-denial and love for others (Matt. 16:24; 22:39), the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3–12), prioritizing spiritual over material prosperity (1 Tim. 6:17–18), and church-centeredness (1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 4:7; 2 Tim. 2:22). Discipling in these areas is not mere rod and reproof, but fostering self-restraint, cultivating wisdom, seeking opportunities for service, encouraging of risk-taking, comforting in discouragement, reorienting when misguided, and granting rest. In the training of the Twelve, Jesus incorporated each of these as an aspect to His program. It was not one-size-fits-all. Instead, it involved situational and circumstantial mindfulness of the capacities, sinful tendencies, commitments, and conversion of those whom He was training up in the way they should go.

That’s a lot to ask from parents. Realistically, it’s more than they’re capable of on their own. But God has graciously supplied for what they lack in His church. Holistic family discipleship means a radical church-centeredness that prioritizes the ordinary means of grace: the preached Word, prayer, and the sacraments (as well as church discipline). A father who does not prioritize church for his household is depriving those in his care of the life-giving Word and a blessed space for sanctification. He makes a mockery of all the “one another” commands of the New Testament in letters to the churches. Whether he does so because he’s too lazy or too “wise,” he should know that he has no right to hope for blessing for himself or his family through separation from the godly. By his choice, he’s producing something less than a disciple of Christ, who loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:2, 25).

Of course, no church is perfect, but some churches are better than others (Rev. 2–3). A reasonably well-chosen local body with corporate worship on the Lord’s Day provides both baptism and the preached Word, as well as numerous occasions to serve God and neighbor, to die to self, and to have priorities redirected. Through Christian education, the whole family will hear truth from additional voices saying, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isa. 30:21). Sunday fellowship helps those attempting to walk with Christ in this world feel a little less crazy and makes discipleship feel a lot more normal. Discipleship came as a corporate command, and it’s best fulfilled in a corporate context. The spiritual discipline of life in the church is not the only part of family discipleship, but it is the most essential.