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.

The fact that the outside is a delayed response to the inside works both ways. Sometimes you can have a person who is right on the inside, but not all of the outward behavior has changed yet to be what it ought to be. But if the inside is truly right, then those outward things will, in time, begin to change. In the same way, you can have someone who looks great on the outside, but they’ve got sin on the inside that will eventually show up on the outside in some way. By the time sin gets to the outside, it has already been growing and worsening in the heart. You could look great to everyone around you, and yet there could be something going on deep down inside. There could be a cancer that is eating away in your heart, a cancer that is ready to destroy you and destroy those around you if you let it go long enough.

When God looks down today, He doesn’t just see the outside. He’s looking at your heart. What does your heart look like?

Now, would you like to be able to see what someone’s heart looks like? The Bible tells us, in Proverbs 27:19, that you can actually see what a person’s heart looks like. This is one of my favorite verses. “As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.” This verse is describing the effect of a mirror. When you look in a mirror, you’re seeing what you really are. The mirror doesn’t lie. The writer of Proverbs makes a comparison in this verse. When you see two people talking together, having a good time together, and enjoying each other’s company, you can see that those two people have some things in common. In some ways, they’re mirror images of each other.

You may look at your teenage son and say, “Oh, he’s doing well. I know he doesn’t hang around the best crowd, but he’s doing just fine.” No, he’s not doing fine—there’s something in his heart that is attracting him to the wrong kinds of friends. When we look at a person’s friends, we’re seeing (at least in some ways) a mirror image. There may be some outward differences, but their hearts are a reflection of each other. When you see a person’s friends, you see a reflection of what that person really is. The heart is what matters.

Repentance Without Replacement is Not True Repentance

There is a theme of repentance that goes through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Repentance means that I have changed my mind about something. For the unbeliever, it means changing my mind and turning away from whatever is keeping me from turning to Jesus. Jesus said, “I tell you nay, but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

If someone says he has repented in some area, but his life is the same as it was before, there hasn’t really been repentance. When someone has truly repented, his heart and life is going to be filled with something different.

I’ve had people ask me, “Well, if I was a Christian, what would I do?” One thing is for sure: they would do some things differently than they did before. They would replace some of their wrong attitudes, habits, and actions with right attitudes, habits, and actions. They would replace the bad with good. Repentance without replacement is not true repentance.

There are Christians who allow sin to creep into their lives. They aren’t happy about the sin and don’t want it to be there, but for some reason they can’t seem to get past it. They can be tired of the wrong things, wanting to get rid of them, yet still not be able to do so. Why? Because life isn’t a vacuum, and you can’t just take something out. You’ve got to not only take out the bad, but immediately replace it with something good.

For example, if you have a problem with saying wrong, hurtful things to people, you can’t just stop talking altogether. It won’t work. Instead, you must purposefully, deliberately replace the hurtful words with kind, uplifting words. Instead of cutting down, you need to build up. You can’t just remove the bad. You’ve got to intentionally and deliberately replace the wrong with right.

One of the key pursuits of my life has been trying to understand why young people rebel and what needs to be done to solve the problem of rebellion. One of the most important things I’ve learned about how to turn a rebel around is this principle of replacement. Your teen can’t live in a vacuum any more than you can. You can’t just take away the bad things—bad friends, bad music, bad television or videos—from his life. You’ve got to replace them with something good.

There Is No Such Thing as Neutrality

There’s a song I like entitled “What Will You Do With Jesus?” It includes the phrase “neutral you cannot be.” That is a very true statement. But I would add to that and say, “neutral you dare not be.”

Going back to the passage in Matthew 12, we read that the demon who had gone out of the man said, “I will return into my house from whence I came out.” When he went back, he found 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.”

You cannot just keep on not doing bad. The life of the man in this passage had wrong in it. But when the wrong went out, his life was empty, and he didn’t fill it with anything good. When the demon came back, the man’s life was still empty, and the demon was able to go back into the man. Neutral you cannot be. You will either be controlled by God’s Spirit or by the Devil’s spirit. (That’s not to say that everyone who isn’t living for God is literally demon-possessed, but it does mean that if we’re not allowing God to have control over our lives, Satan will take control in some way.) You cannot long remain with a heart that is empty of both good and evil.

I remember a young man who came into my office one Monday carrying a container of filthy music tapes. He had come to church the day before and had gotten right with God. When he came in carrying that box of tapes, he said, “I’ve got to get rid of these.” I said, “Praise God! But could I tell you something? If you don’t put some good music in its place, you’ll be right back into the garbage within a few days. Get some melodious, uplifting music and listen to it instead. You’ve got to have something right or else it will be too easy to go back to the wrong.”

Dad and Mom, do not expect your child to live in a vacuum. If your child has wrong friends, don’t just take the bad friends away. Make sure instead that your children have the right kind of friends. There is a hunger in the soul of man for a friend. Jonathan needed David, and David needed Jonathan. But you’ve got to make sure your children have the right friends instead of the wrong friends.

If you or your child has a problem with bad books or magazines, don’t just get rid of them. Replace them with something good. Build a library of good, wholesome reading material. This same principle is true with any bad habit you can name. If you quit something bad but don’t replace it with something good, it won’t be long before you’ll find yourself back into the bad. And the addiction the second time will probably be stronger than it was the first time.

Failure to understand this principle is one reason why so many Christian families have a hard time getting rid of bad television viewing. They make a commitment to change, but then they walk into the living room and stare at a blank screen. You can’t do that for very long. It will draw you back in. You’re either going to have to find some good videos you can watch, or, if you want to give up television and videos altogether, you’re going to have to find some other good activity to take its place.

I know some godly men who read aloud to their children from great biographies every evening. The children love it and sit in rapt attention. You know why? Because that’s what they’re used to doing. Their appetites have not been spoiled by the “sweet” things of this world, so they’re glad to have the “meaty” things.

Rebellion must be replaced with respectfulness. Disloyalty must be replaced with loyalty. Gossiping must be replaced with uplifting conversation. Intentionally, deliberately, think of only good things to say. Replace words of criticism with words of gratefulness.

If you’ve got a problem with selfishness, you’ve got to replace it with selfless acts of service. If you’ve got a problem with anger, you’ve got to replace it with love and kindness. You’re going to be filled with something. Lust or purity. Envy or trust. Hatred or love.

I’ve seen parents who just try to protect their children. That’s great. We need to protect our children. But that can’t be all we do. We can’t just keep them away from the dangerous, bad things of the world. We’ve got to give them good things.

Don’t try to put yourself or your children in a vacuum. Only when we take active steps to replace bad with good and wrong with right can we and our children live in true spiritual victory. 

Published on March 13, 2009


Dr. S. M. Davis has been the pastor of Park Meadows Baptist Church for 33 years. He and his wife, Rae Jean, have been married for 39 years and have four children and 11 grandchildren. He also speaks widely in churches and at homeschool conventions on family-related issues. For more information about his ministry, visit www.SolveFamilyProblems.com or call 800-500-8853.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally preached as a sermon by Dr. S. M. Davis and was specially edited and adapted for publication for the Jan/Feb ’09 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Learn more at http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com