Discipleship 101: God’s Commands and Promises

For I have chosen [Abraham], so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice. Genesis 18:19
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction / And do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Proverbs 1:8
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

The Bible repeatedly tells us in both the Old and New Testament that the family household is the primary location for discipling our children. 

What is discipleship?
By discipleship, the Bible refers to the process of making disciples, which is related to the word discipline. In New Testament times, adisciple was a learner or scholar, who adhered to the teachings of their master. In this case, discipline doesn’t refer merely to punishment, but to training.
The biblical principle that discipleship is a parent’s responsibility – especially fathers – is very clear in both the Old and New Testaments.

Deuteronomy 6 is a core text instructing parents on the purpose and process of training children in the Lord.

Background
Moses has been told that he will not be entering the Promised Land (Num 20:7), and God commands him to remind the Israelites about God’s deliverance and promises (covenants) to them, and to give instructions for life. In the big picture, this passage gives a command, its purpose, and some specific and practical instructions to fathers especially, and all parents and grandparents by implication, about training children in the Lord’s ways. In future posts, I will write about those practical instructions, but for now I am going to look at the big picture of this teaching from Moses preparing the first generation of Israel to occupy the Promised Land.

1“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, 2so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. 3“O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. (NASB)

What is the nature, purpose, and instruction of this teaching? [vv.1-3]
1.It is a commandment.
This is the commandment of the LORD [v.1]. That means this whole passage is a single command with lots of application. That it is a command means it isn’t optional for the faithful parent. As with all of the Lord’s commands, we ignore them at our own peril; that we can be forgiven for our failures (thanks to Christ’s substitutionary death for us) does not mean we will avoid the consequences of our sins.

2.What is the command and its purpose?
To see God’s intended purposes for giving the command, we look at the clues in the text; in this instance, we see the word “that” repeated several times. This is a point of clarity for us.

  • v. 1 “that you might do them”
  • v. 2 “so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God
  • that your days may be prolonged”
  • v. 3 “that is may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly”

In the style of ancient covenants, expected behaviors are followed by promises for complying with the terms of the covenant. The expected behavior is to “do them” (ie, follow the statutes and commandments of the Lord) and “fear the LORD” (ie, reverence Him for His holiness and just nature).
The instruction is to do “the commandments, statutes, and judgments” passed on from God through Moses; to “keep all His statutes and His commandments…all the days of your life;” and “be careful to do it.” Thus, the instruction is clearly stated: it communicates clearly the LORD’s expectations for behavior, so that the covenant’s promises can be kept.
Three promises are made, contingent upon the Israelites’ obedience: (1) their “days would be prolonged;” (2) “it may be well with you;” and (3) “you may multiple greatly.” The connection between the Israelites compliance and their reward is unmistakable, as are the implied consequences of disobeying the commands and statutes: their days would not be prolonged, it would not be well with them, and they will not multiply greatly.

3.The instruction is multigenerational.
Verse 2 states that the expectation for obedience is not about the present generation, but is for the next two generations (“you and your son and your grandson”). This is an important point about discipling your children in the Lord—there are multi-generational consequences. Think about it this way. When you disciple your own children, you are training your grandchildren’s parents; if that’s hard to grasp, the passage also reveals this: You are training your great-grandchildren’s grandparents (“your grandson”).

Application to us
The commandments of the Lord are hard to ignore, wherever they occur in scripture, so let’s apply them to where we are today.
First, the expected behavior is the same today as it was then. We are given instructions, commands and statutes, and we’re supposed to conform our lives to them. A helpful way of thinking about the law as Christians rather than ancient Israelites is to remember that we are redeemed for a purpose—we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph 2:10); because he has delivered and redeemed us, our grateful response is striving to live lives pleasing to him in the imitation of Christ. We don’t earn our salvation this way; rather, we make changes to our lives out of love and gratitude.
Second, the promises still hold. We are promised blessings when our behaviors match the Lord’s expectations. Does this mean we will live a long time in The Holy Land? Of course not, but our lives will be prolonged, and we and our descendants will be better off, by and large, by conforming our lives to the instructions and commands of God.
Third, in the US we have a hard time grasping the passage’s multigenerational concept because we are, frankly, pretty self-centered. We think primarily about our own comfort and convenience and temporary happiness, rather than thinking through the consequences of our actions for future generations. But God promises that following His commands will prolong your (and your descendants’) lives, and you will live well. There is no guarantee of what future generations will do, of course, and each generation in Israel had to choose whether to obey the commands.

So it is with us—we make choices that have consequences, even though there is God’s promise, but each generation has to make its own choices, and each can break the cycle of promise. BUT, each generation can choose to re-start the cycle of promise as blessing as well. We also can’t simply blame our parents for their bad choices and their effects on us, we have to choose to claim the promises for our and our children’s and our grandchildren’s generations; how do we claim the promises? By living lives in conformity to God’s principles, rather than the flawed and deceptive philosophies of this world (Col 2:8; Rom 12:2). Choosing to disciple our children biblically is one place to start.