"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23 NASV

[We have quoted one portion of Galatians 5 above, but we would highly recommend that you read the entire chapter (even the whole book!) to gain a sense of context for this article.]

As Christian parents who deeply desired our children to love and follow God, we found ourselves praying often for help in training and disciplining our children. Galatians 5:22 was a synopsis of exactly how we wanted our children to act. We diligently searched Scripture and all available help from books, articles, seminars, Sunday school classes and more to find out exactly how to accomplish this. We tried more than one parenting method and child training program - and yet our children were not exactly what you would call well-behaved (in the early years). We had read a ton of material on dealing with strong-willed children - since we had five of them! We often referred to our children as being Teflon - no discipline seemed to stick!

One day Laurie went to the Lord in complete dismay over our failure to be able to get our children to conform. She said, "Lord, I'm doing everything I know to do and it isn't working! What can I do to make my children obey?" She was surprised as she understood the Lord to answer, "I don't know, I couldn't do it either." Now think about it folks - if the Lord Himself could not (or would not) compel His children (Adam, Eve, etc.) to obey, how is it we think that we can do it!

As it turns out, we found that Galatians 5:22 contains good news and bad news for parents. The bad news is that no matter how hard you try to get your children to conform to a standard of behavior through parenting techniques, it can't be done. (I realize that for some of you this is good news, as it was to us.) Of course you might get a compliant child (and if you are really exceptional, a non-compliant child) to conform to your standards of behavior and to "look good." You cannot, however, conform your child into being born of the Spirit. Remember, man looks on the outward appearance, while God looks at the heart (I Samuel 16:7).

Please understand we are not advocating that you abandon all attempts at training and discipline - rather that you understand what these methods will and will not do. You as a parent are expected to train your children in right and wrong, and to constantly teach God's law to your children (Deuteronomy 6). But don't ever confuse this with true discipline. True discipline comes not from conformity to outward standards, but submission to the Spirit within. In our home we were not interested in raising Pharisees - adults who knew and lived by the rules - we wanted to raise children who were born of the Spirit.

Unfortunately, we find that parents are often looking for the safety of a system. They think if they can follow someone's prescribed method for disciplining that they can shorten the process, and keep it in their control. Yet, the Scriptures are more than clear, those born of the Spirit will produce the fruit of the Spirit, those who attempt in the flesh to conform to law will never make it. If God had a prescribed way to produce this effect through a formula, we are sure He would have clearly outlined it - and yet it isn't there. Or is it? The key is that your children must be born of the Spirit. Don't expect children who are unregenerate to produce the fruit of the Spirit. Rather, do everything you can to work with our Loving Creator to draw your children to Him. This isn't very precise - but there are things you can do to cultivate the Spirit in your children - read them Scriptures, show them God's creation, teach them God's law, pray for them, and mostly - pray for wisdom. God promises us wisdom if we ask (James 1:5), and frankly this is the only place you can be sure to find real help. Live by the Spirit yourself and the fruit of the Spirit in you will draw your children to Christ. This is the good news, of course. It is the heart of the Gospel.

You might be wondering whatever happened to our five ill-behaved children. Thanks be to God, each of them has dedicated their life to God. They aren't perfect, but the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in their life is very prominent. Since we know we couldn't produce this fruit in our children, we are ever grateful to our faithful God for giving us wisdom in parenting that allowed Him to work in them. He has blessed us beyond measure with children that seek to follow Him. We're really glad our efforts at conforming our young ones didn't work; the work of Jesus in them gives us joy beyond measure. What an awesome God we serve.