9. Spiritual Training


From Luke 2:52 we learn that ‘Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.’ Thus Jesus grew in four ways. He grew mentally, physically, socially and spiritually. We might think of this as balanced growth.

It would be ideal if our children today could have this kind of balanced growth but unfortunately, this is not always the case. For many parents, the spiritual growth of their child ends up being the most neglected aspect of their child’s rearing.

We become alarmed if they do not develop mentally, physically or socially. We are willing to spend long hours, money, and almost anything to see them develop in these three areas. We do not seem to be nearly as alarmed if a child does not progress spiritually. Yet, this is the most important part of their growth.

If they fail, this is this aspect then we have lost the meaning of life and our purpose here in this world. Parents must be actively involved in a child’s spiritual growth. It cannot be left to others, even to the church.

Yet, later on, after their children become teens and show little interest in spiritual things parents will often point their finger at the church as if it was its responsibility and it has failed. A congregation can have an active program for the youth and have a youth minister but still, this does not take the place of what parents must do.

We recently read the comments of a man who is a member of an anti-Sunday school church. It was not because of their beliefs but because he was afraid, his parents would turn over the spiritual training to the church and feel this would suffice.

Nothing influences a child more than his home and what he is exposed to there. If there is no spiritual emphasis there it will offset everything the church does.

In Ephesians 6:4 Paul commands, ‘and you fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord’.

Thus a direct obligation is placed upon the father to oversee a child’s spiritual development. Yet for the most part, the task of spiritual training is left to the mother. When a father fails in this task a mother has to assume the role of spiritual trainer and many have been very successful at it.

Timothy’s mother and grandmother did a good job in the absence of any training from his father, 2 Timothy 1:5. So it can be done but God’s plan is for the father to take the lead in spiritual development.

A Basic Principle

A child remembers feelings more than facts. They will remember how they felt in a particular situation better than the details of what they were taught. If their learning experience was pleasant, their memories will be pleasant and this will be incorporated into their personality.

A child in a Sunday school class will remember how they felt long after they forget what was said or taught. However, they will remember the details of what was taught better in a pleasant situation than in an unpleasant situation.

This is important also because if their learning situation is not good then they can associate unpleasant things with religion and God.

If a child does not feel loved, they can develop a bias against religious teaching and consider church people hypocrites. Children and teens are quick to see hypocrisy.

A church that goes through a lot of fussing and fighting among the members will have a detrimental effect on a young person. A congregation that is very negative in its outlook will have a telling effect on the children in that congregation.

So it comes down again to a principle stressed in this series. Unconditional love must attend to a child’s development including their spiritual development.

Attitudes Toward God

How we felt about our parents has much to do with how we feel toward God. Also how our parents felt about us has a lot to do with how we feel toward God. Regardless of the lofty thoughts, we may have been taught we tend to feel toward God as we did toward our parents.

This is especially true with how we felt toward our father. Is it any wonder then if the Bible places the spiritual training of a child primarily upon the father. Ephesians 6:4 sets this forth. The father is a role model for our concept of God.

If we learned our father was too busy to pay attention to us, then we project this same feeling onto God that He too is too busy to be interested in us. If our father was stern and harsh, then we likely will feel this way toward God. If our father showed conditional love toward us, then we will project this onto our Heavenly Father.

For a child to have a close relationship with God we must make the child feel unconditionally loved because this is the way God has loved us. It is difficult for a person to feel loved by God who has been conditionally loved by their parents.

Children raised primarily by punishment instead of unconditional love seldom have a healthy loving warm relationship with God.

This does not mean it cannot be achieved but it is very difficult. Some little folks feel so inferior they cannot believe God could love them. The same is true of teens.

A survey of some young Christians revealed that 12% believed they were saved and 33% believed they were lost. The remaining 55% did not know. This is tragic. This is the result of poor spiritual training.

Acceptance Of Parents’ Values

The most valuable thing a parent can give a child is to instil a genuine faith in God. What greater security can a child grow up with than the satisfaction of knowing that the Creator of the universe is acquainted with me personally?

That He values me more than the possessions of the entire world, that He understands my fears and anxieties, that He reaches out to me in immeasurable love when no one else cares, that His only Son actually gave His life for me, John 3:16.

But where is He going to get these concepts, the child must see this in their parents. The way their parents feel about God will impress them more than their Sunday school teacher and their feelings toward God. If they see their parents relying on God, then they learn to rely on God.

Remember that nothing influences a child more than their home and what they are exposed to there. Many of us did not grow up in a home where devotions were conducted. We did not hear prayer offered at the dinner table expressing thanks for our food. Thus it is difficult for us to do this with our families.

Yet it is in such situations a child learns of his parents’ dependence on God. Thus they learn to depend on God. Solomon’s wise advice to ‘train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,’ Proverbs 22:6, involves not only teaching but also demonstrating.

Jesus demonstrated as much as He taught His disciples. A parent’s example is one of the most powerful influences we have. This is why the home wins hands down over any other influence.

Must Teach Principles

It is quite simple to give a child basic scriptural facts such as who the different characters were and what they did. However, our ultimate goal is to get them to understand what meaning these characters and principles have for them personally.

There are always similarities and applications to what is going on in your child’s life with what went on in the life of different Bible characters. Thus we not only teach facts but how to apply them in daily life. Bedtime is a good time to teach children the Bible as children are eager to interact with their parents at this time.

A very important principle we must teach children is forgiveness. They must understand that God forgives. But to accept this, they must see their parents as forgiving. So many Christians today have a problem with guilt. They have never learned to feel forgiven.

This may be because parents have never conveyed forgiveness after discipline has been administered. After punishing a child always follow this up by hugging them and letting them know you love them and they are forgiven. When they see this in you, they can then accept the fact that God forgives too.

Paul admonished, ‘bearing with one another, and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ has forgiven you, so you also must do’. Colossians 3:13.

Children then must be forgiven and must feel forgiven. Later on, they will feel God has forgiven them.


"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."