A little girl looked at her mother and said, “Mum, you have more strands of white hair now.”

Mum replied, “Yes, every time you disobey me and make me unhappy, one strand of hair turns white.” The girl replied, “Is that why Grandma has a whole head of white hair?”

This light-hearted anecdote illustrates an undeniable fact: parenting is challenging!

Yes, we may want to parent according to God’s way, but we’re tired. We’re defeated. Raising godly kids is so complicated that sometimes, we may feel like giving up.

I call this article “How to Raise Pagan Kids”. It’s a tongue-in-cheek title, but I thought it’d be good to consider the question: How do you raise a child who hates God—who doesn’t obey Him, or doesn’t believe in Him?

1. Don’t Spend Time with Your Kids

Sure, buy toys, sweets, and chocolates for them. Sure, send your kids to enrichment classes and tuition lessons. Sure, provide your kids with the best in life—but no matter what you do, don’t spend time with them.

Some of us may be chuckling uneasily as we read this, because our reality may not be far from what I’ve just described. Many parents work hard in office and struggle to spend time with their kids.

Many parents—myself included—have fallen into the trap of giving our kids things, but not enough time.

Christian author and psychologist James Dobson once discussed the results of a study that examined how much time fathers spend with their young children. The fathers estimated that on average, they spent 15 to 20 minutes a day with their kids. Using recording equipment to verify this estimate, the study discovered that the real figure was only 35 seconds per day: three conversations of 10 to 15 seconds each.

Have you eaten? Have you studied? Have you brushed your teeth? That might be your 35 seconds right there.

Kids today are crying out for time with their parents. And many parents—myself included—have fallen into the trap of giving our kids things, but not enough time.

However, Proverbs 22:6 (ESV) instructs parents: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Training up a child takes time.

So, if you want to raise pagan children, don’t give them what they really need: time spent with you.

2. Don’t Discipline Your Kids

Not only should you not spend time with them, tell yourself: “Disciplining children is very old-fashioned. It’s passé, especially if I’m already on bad terms with my kids. I don’t spend much time with them to begin with, so I don’t want to strain the relationship by punishing them. It will just make things worse. Anyway, my kids are quite all right. They’re little angels. They will grow up to be fine people. I’ll just give them time to mature.”

All of us have heard such arguments before. Maybe we’ve even used them ourselves. But what does God say? The Bible is very clear: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them” (Proverbs 13:24).

Throughout Scripture, we find instructions charging parents to discipline their children, for these reasons:

  • Discipline drives folly away (Proverbs 22:15). While our children might look like adorable angels (remember how pinchable their baby cheeks were?), they’re actually cute monsters—because their hearts are wicked by nature. Jeremiah 17:9 points out: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” We need to discipline our children to save them from their own sinful foolishness.
  • Discipline brings wisdom (Proverbs 29:15). Satan wants us to not discipline our kids, so that they can grow into their sinful nature. When I discipline my kids, I always tell them why. They might not believe it at first, but I think they will eventually realise that although punishment may hurt, it’s meant to help them grow in God’s wisdom.
  • Discipline brings hope (Proverbs 19:18). If we don’t discipline our children, they may end up destroying their lives. When I think about how tiring or difficult it is to discipline my children, I remind myself that this is an opportunity for me to do so while there is still hope in these early years for them to repent and change. And that strengthens me to say, “Let’s do it for their ultimate good.”
  • Discipline brings righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). While discipline is necessarily uncomfortable and even painful, it eventually “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (v. 11). Because I love my kids, I want them to grow in righteousness and godliness. I want to shape their hearts and direct them towards Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that later on, they will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

3. Don’t Teach Them the Gospel

Aside from never spending time with your children or disciplining them, don’t ever teach them the gospel if you want them to be unbelieving kids. After all, that’s what Sunday school is for, right? Tell yourself to focus on your career and on providing a better material life for your kids. Everything else, you can delegate.

Some parents may think this way. However, the truth is, the responsibility of teaching the Word of God to our children belongs to us parents (Deuteronomy 6:6–7). I’m not saying that other people can’t teach our kids, but we cannot abdicate this responsibility.

If we don’t teach our children who God is, the world will teach them everything that He isn’t.

Fathers, in particular, are charged to bring up their children “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). The Greek word “instruct” is nouthesia, from which we get the word nouthetic, or counselling. It means to “put into the mind”. This means that fathers are responsible for putting into the minds of our children the teachings of the Lord.

If we don’t teach our children who God is, the world will teach them everything that He isn’t. Yet our children need the gospel. They need to know that the law condemns us as guilty before an absolutely holy God (Galatians 3:10–11). They need to know that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, died and gave himself to save us from our sins (1 Peter 2:24). And they need to know about God’s redemptive plan for sinful humanity—for them (Romans 1:16–17).

As parents, we need to take it upon ourselves to know the gospel well. We need to learn how to handle Scripture. And we need to link anything and everything in our lives to God, so that we can lead our children to the gospel with every opportunity we get. That’s what parenting is all about.

4. Be Obsessed with Worldly Success

On top of not spending time with them, disciplining them, and teaching them the gospel, there’s one more thing we can do to raise a pagan child—to be obsessed with worldly success.

In fact, we must be addicted to it. We may not smoke or take drugs, but we must inject the drug of worldly success into our soul.

The devil may tell us: You’re doing well in your career. You should put in more time to please your boss, so that you can get promoted. Then you can make more money and provide for your family better. Your family needs a bigger house, a better car, nicer clothes. All their friends have these things, and you don’t want them to feel inferior, right? So, work hard and give your children the good life.

When parents believe the devil’s lies, they sell themselves to their careers and sacrifice their families. Without knowing it, they teach their kids this lie of worldly success: they make them study hard so that they can get good grades, enter a good school, land a good job, make good money, and enjoy a good life.

When parents believe the devil’s lies, they sell themselves to their careers and sacrifice their families. Without knowing it, they teach their kids this lie of worldly success.

And so they raise very smart, educated, successful, pagan kids. These kids may look like Christians when they go to church: they know what to wear, how to sing, and what verses to recite. But their hearts are far from God. Why?

Because they only come to church once a week. The rest of their time is spent swimming among the sharks of the world. Their whole mindset is centred on worldly success.

With God’s Help

While this article takes a tongue-in-cheek approach, I hope to highlight these four deceptions so that we can take care not to fall into the devil’s traps.

Susannah Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley, the English leaders of the Methodist movement, once said:

“The parent who studies to subdue [self-will] in his child works together with God in the renewing and saving a soul. The parent who indulges it does the devil’s work, makes religion impracticable, salvation unattainable, and does all that in him lies to damn his child, soul and body forever.”

We are part of the devil’s work if we indulge our children’s self-will. But we’re doing what God wants when we seek to subdue their self-will, and to align it to His will. And we can do that by spending time with our children, disciplining them, teaching them the gospel, and living for Christ and striving for Christlikeness in all that we think, do, and say.

We’re doing what God wants when we seek to subdue their self-will, and to align it to His will.

As we prayerfully seek to do so, we may be encouraged by these words by Kevin DeYoung, a theologian and father of four:

“The longer I parent the more I want to focus on doing a few things really well, and not get too passionate about all the rest. I want to spend time with my kids, teach them the Bible, take them to church, laugh with them, cry with them, discipline them when they disobey, say sorry when I mess up, and pray like crazy. I want them to look back and think, ‘I’m not sure what my parents were doing or if they even knew what they were doing. But I always knew my parents loved me and I knew they loved Jesus.’”

Perhaps, raising godly kids is not that complicated, after all.


This article was adapted from a sermon by Jason Lim and is used with permission. Check out Jason Lim’s second article in this two-part series, How to “Gospelize” Your Child.
Jason Lim is a former medical doctor who has heeded God’s call for full-time pastoral ministry. He has been the Senior Pastor of Gospel Light Christian Church in Singapore since 2007. He has been blissfully married to Winnie since 2000 and God has blessed them with two sons, Shawn, 11, and Matthias, 7. His passion is for making the gospel central in the lives of God’s people, and he equips his church to lead future generations into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.
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