When it comes to training and influencing your kids, it’s true that “more is caught than taught.” Especially in the formative years, your children are going to learn at least as much from what you do as what you say. You’ve no doubt seen this in the way your children mimic your mannerisms, habits, and (painful as it is to admit) your sins. Knowing the importance of our example in shaping our children, we’re going to continue our look at hermeneutics for parenting—taking truth from God’s Word and apply it to your children—by turning our attention to the crucial step of obedience.
As we’ve done throughout this brief series, we’ll look to the model of Ezra: "For Ezra had set in his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel" (Ezra 7:10).
We’ve already seen the importance of following Ezra’s example by setting your heart on the task of studying Scripture. We’ve also covered the basics of how careful study can lead you to the right meaning of Scripture. Once you’ve discovered the God-ordained meaning of Scripture the temptation—especially for parents—seems to be to move directly to teaching it to your children. However, doing so overlooks the vital step of obedience, and can undermine your teaching efforts. Before Ezra taught the Scripture, he committed himself to practice it.
Simply put, teaching your children the truth of Scripture without applying it to your life will only lead to failure. The old adage, “do as I say, not as I do,” does not work. It will likely lead to your children resenting your hypocrisy and rejecting your teaching. If you’re not applying the truth of Scripture to your own life, you will fail in your attempts to help your children apply it to theirs. In his book Being a Dad Who Leads, John MacArthur highlights the importance taking every opportunity to live out the truth of Scripture before your children.
At all times, make God’s Word a part of your speech, your attitudes, and your actions. Share the principles found in the Bible and live them out. Let your children see that your life is dominated by God’s truth. All of life is a classroom; everything that happens is an opportunity to point your children to the Scriptures.  John MacArthur, How to Study the Bible, 2009 ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009), 72.
With that in mind, let’s consider a few guidelines in your thinking that will assist you in applying biblical truth to your daily life. We’ll briefly look at three errors to avoid and three applications to look for.
Beware of Mixing Description and Prescription
One of the most common errors in applying Scripture occurs when the student takes a narrative passage of Scripture, tries to mimic the action of the biblical character, and expects to get similar results. Fasting for forty days won’t make your face glow like Moses’ did. Acts 2 isn’t a step-by-step plan your church should follow to add 3,000 new members. You certainly shouldn’t follow Abraham’s example and send a coworker to a faraway land to find a spouse for your son or daughter.
Those might seem like silly examples but the truth is, confusing the descriptive nature of biblical passages exposes you to the danger of undermining its veracity and faithfulness, especially to your watching children. You’ll also be instilling in them a model of poor interpretation. Be careful of the error of taking descriptive passages in Scripture as prescriptions for your life.
Beware of Spiritualizing
A similar mistake is made when students of Scripture allegorize or over-spiritualize passages of Scripture in order to make personal application. It’s a hermeneutic failure to read about David and Goliath, then go about looking for five figurative stones to slay the spiritual giant in your life. If you find yourself putting out your version of a “Fleece” to get guidance like Gideon did, you’re not only misusing Scripture, You’re likely setting an example that could cripple your child’s ability to rightly discern God’s will in his or her life.
Be careful of finding spiritual-sounding applications that rob Scripture of its intended purpose and meaning. Doing so will only produce frustration and disobedience in your own life and confusion in your children who are watching to see how you live.
Beware of Ambiguity
Another common error in applying Scripture is to make applications that are needlessly ambiguous. Avoid setting vague goals like “I’m going to do better at,” “I’m going to work harder at,” or “I’m going to try.” Make specific applications then hold yourself accountable and track your progress. Of course, you want to avoid legalism; you also want to avoid laziness, where you leave your study with vague applications that never lead to actual growth in righteousness. John MacArthur speaks poignantly on this error in his book, How to Study the Bible. He says:
Scripture knows nothing of theories. It knows nothing of the intellectualism of the Greek “wisdom” (sophia, or theoretical knowledge). The Hebrew idea of wisdom was always in the context of behavior. In fact, to the Jews, if you didn’t live knowledge in accord with God’s law, you didn’t really know it. Wisdom wasn’t just a thought; wisdom was practical walking. How to Study the Bible, 80.
Theoretical application is not application. Don’t let thoughts of obedience serve as a substitute for actual obedience. Such errors will undermine your own progress in sanctification and set a poor example for your children.
Now, having looked at common errors to avoid, let me offer a few helpful tips for making solid, biblical applications.
Look for Truths to Embrace
The most basic way to apply Scripture to your daily life is to embrace the truth that it teaches. This is the path to a renewed mind. When you read Scripture, ask yourself if the passage highlights an error in your thinking and be willing to submit your thoughts to the teaching of Scripture. Embracing what a verse teaches about God is key to embracing the totality of Scripture’s truth claims. As you study and when you discover truths about God—His character, attributes, person, nature, and will—accept and embrace the truthfulness of God’s revelation. Be quick to let go of your errant ways of thinking and accept correction from the Word. You will not be able to accurately teach your children about God if you don’t have an accurate knowledge of Him.
Look for Sins to Put Off
This may be the most obvious way to apply Scripture but it is often the most difficult. When you study Scripture, it will reveal to you sin in your life. Affirm in your mind that what Scripture calls sin is, in fact, sin. Then, endeavor faithfully to put that sin off. This is critical, not only for your own walk with the Lord but also for effectiveness as a parent. Don’t teach your kids about a sin, then undermine your teaching by practicing that sin. That’s the definition of hypocrisy and it will set a devastating example for your children. Put off sin, but remember, that’s only half of repentance.
Looks for Righteousness to Put On
True biblical repentance involves putting off sin and putting on righteousness. Don’t just stop lying, start telling the truth. Don’t just stop stealing, start working, earning, and being generous. It bears repeating, repentance involves both putting off sin and putting on righteousness. Ephesians 4:17-32 and Colossians 3:5-17 paint this picture very clearly, urging believers to consider the members of their body dead to sin and alive to righteousness. Following this pattern will set the most biblical, God-honoring example for your children.
If we are going to teach our children—or anyone else we might be discipling—the truth of Scripture, we must make sure we are first applying that truth to our own lives. We must not undermine our teaching with a hypocritical life.
Next time we’ll wrap up this series by taking a look at how, once we’ve read, understood, and obeyed Scripture, we can bring that truth to bear in the lives of our children.