There are many negative influences in our world that threaten to overwhelm and destroy our families. If we want to live in spiritual victory—and if we want our children to live in victory as well—there are certain key principles we need to understand as Christian parents.

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to counsel many parents of rebellious teens. Many of these families have been able to experience God’s deliverance from devastating situations by following sound biblical principles. I have seen other families, however, that seemed to have victory for a time, but then began experiencing the same problems all over again. In many of these cases, the parents had failed to understand or implement the principle I call “The Spiritual Law of Replacement.”

This principle is a key ingredient not only to building stronger families, but also to living in spiritual victory on a personal level. The foundation for this principle is found in Matthew 12:43: “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.”

I’d like to share three key thoughts based on this passage which will hopefully help you in understanding how to live in greater victory in both your personal and family life.

The Heart Is What Really Matters

We aren’t told anything about the outside of the man Jesus talks about in Matthew 12:43. Instead, Jesus gives us a glimpse into what was happening on the inside of this man. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the importance of the heart, in passages such as Proverbs 23:7 and Mark 7:20-23. Jesus tells us that it is what comes from within—from the heart—that defiles us. When you see somebody whose life is messed up outwardly, you know the mess started inwardly.

A wise lady once said to my wife and me, “Find out what your children are thinking, then find out why they are thinking it.” Ask your children, “What have you been thinking about? How do you feel about this?” Somehow, someway, worm your way down into your children’s hearts until you know what is going on inside your children. And young people, recognize this: there’s something wrong when you’ll share your heart with a friend, but not with your parent or some other godly adult.

The heart is what really matters. As far as we know, the man in Matthew 12 looked great on the outside. How do we know that? Because he was an example of Israel as a whole. Notice the last phrase of verse 45, “Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.” Jesus is talking about the nation of Israel.

If you study through the Old Testament, you’ll notice a theme that shows up over and over again: idolatry. From the time Israel left Egypt and worshiped the golden calf in the desert until the time when Judah went into captivity, the children of Israel had problems with idolatry. And yet, by the time of the New Testament, idolatry was gone from Israel. Outwardly, Israel looked good. But on the inside, the nation of Israel was empty.

In Matthew 23, Jesus looked at the Pharisees and said, “You are like whited sepulchres.” They were like graves that looked beautiful on the outside and on the inside were full of dead men’s bones.

The heart is what really matters. It’s not what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside that counts the most.

1 Samuel 16:7 says, “For man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” God cares more about what we’re like on the inside than what we’re like on the outside. I’d like to offer a caution, however. We need to be careful, because there are some who read this verse and claim that the outside doesn’t matter at all. Even though the heart is the most important part of us, the outside is still important. Why? First, because the outside is a delayed response to the inside. Also, as this verse points out, people around us do look at the outside, and we need to be careful about what we communicate to others through our outward appearance and behavior. What you have on the outside declares something about what is happening on the inside.