Last month I began a two-part series on fathers as forerunners for the Lord. If you missed last month's Chariot of Fire, you can read it at www.spiritofelijah.com/chariot. Although my target group is dads, there is no question that moms play a significant part in the ministry of preparing children for a relationship with Jesus Christ. I hope both dads and moms will be encouraged as you read this article about the importance of being a forerunner for the Lord .
You Must Lead Them to Jesus for Sanctification
The forerunner has a very important responsibility to be God's agent in leading his children to deal with sin. To effectively deal with sin requires a work in the heart by the Holy Spirit producing a humble surrender of one's self to God. This inner work is referred to as a circumcision of heart by the Apostle Paul in Romans 2:29. The Old Testament circumcision typifies a New Testament spiritual reality: It was the sign in the flesh of covenant blessing from God. If a father did not circumcise the foreskin of the flesh of his son, there was no blessing. In the New Testament we find there is no blessing (salvation) if the heavenly Father doesn't circumcise the fleshly heart of His children.
Paul told the Colossians that salvation is available because God circumcised the flesh, with all of its sin, in the body of Christ at the cross (Colossians 2:13-14). Having been united with Christ and our salvation secured, the Father and Son sends the Holy Spirit to circumcise the hearts of the sons of God. This heart change becomes the fountain out of which sanctification flows. Notice how Paul identified those who are sons of God in Romans 8.
So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God [to put to death the deeds of the flesh], these are sons of God (Romans 8:12-14). [Brackets are mine.]
God's children therefore cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the sanctification process. Just as the circumcision was evidence that a Jew was in covenant with God, so the cutting away of sinful deeds of the flesh is a sign of a son of God adopted in Christ. It is the sign that God has circumcised the heart by His Spirit. It's another way of saying the Holy Spirit leads the believer in the sanctification process of cutting away the fleshly attitudes and actions which hinder the believer from fulfilling God's calling in his life and seeing God. Without the pursuit of sanctification, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
The father as a forerunner is God's agent for leading his children in putting to death the flesh just as it was the father's responsibility to circumcise the sons under the old covenant. Perhaps you remember that Moses neglected this duty and the angel of the Lord came to kill him. He was spared because his wife, Zipporah, circumcised their son. Although her act saved Moses, he was dishonored and despised for it (Exodus 4:24-26). The same is true today if a mother tries to lead her son to cut away the flesh. The father is dishonored, the son reacts, and the mother disrespects her husband.
Obviously, you can't circumcise your son's heart, that's why you continue to lead your son to the "River (Read Part 1)." If you are a loving father, then you will discipline your son as mentioned in Part 1. If you don't do it, then your son might as well be illegitimate, as the writer of Hebrews declares (Hebrews 12:8). However, once God has revealed Christ to him and he has the Holy Spirit within, the sanctification process progresses to the glory of God. Then you must decrease, and He must increase.
What is your part in this process? It is your job to point out what needs to be cut away, lead him to follow the Holy Spirit's guidance, and put the sin to death. Your son must learn this powerful spiritual truth: life comes out of death. The cutting away of flesh feels like death because it is! However, God gives life as a result. Jesus taught this (Luke 9:23-24, John 12:24), and Paul emphasized it repeatedly (Romans 8:12-14, 1 Corinthians 9:27, Galatians 5:24). Sanctification of the flesh is the sign in the flesh that a person is in covenant with God.
How does a father do this? First, by example. Has God removed your old heart of flesh and given you a new heart? Your children should see the sanctifying work of the Spirit in your own life. When the Holy Spirit uses others to point out a fleshly hindrance to fruitfulness, you take decisive action to cut it away. Second, when you, your wife, or others see a fleshly hindrance in your child, you have the responsibility to lead him or her to take decisive action to remove it. However, this must be done with gentleness and wisdom. If your child has yet to be born again, then dealing with sin in the flesh is part of preparing them for the Lord's coming in a saving way. If faith in Christ has come, then you lead them to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. The purpose of discipline is to accomplish this circumcision of the flesh.
If You Love Them, You'll Discipline Them
Have you ever considered what occurs in the hearts of children if fathers don't take the lead in administering loving discipline? Let the following scriptures speak to you. They reveal God's plan for fathers to take the responsibility of the discipline of children.
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:7-11).
He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently (Proverb 13:24).
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him (Proverbs 22:15).
The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother (Proverbs 29:15).
The Hebrews passage implies that no father would forsake this responsibility, and to do so means the son might as well be fatherless. The passages in Proverbs (of which there are more) reveal God's wisdom for a father to use the rod and reproof to teach and train his children. Until a child has wisdom, the rod must be used more frequently. Once they have a new heart, quite often a reproof is sufficient.
No father enjoys this aspect of fatherhood, or at least he shouldn't. However, according to Prov. 13:24 above, to neglect it is to hate your child. God's forerunner must understand his purpose: preparing the child for the future. If done in the Spirit of the heavenly Father, both the rod and reproof will be testimonies of love to your children.
Objection: But my father abused me as a child and I will not and cannot use the rod on my child for fear that I will do the same thing.
Answer: Abuse comes when a father trusts in the rod rather than the power of God to make a change in his child. God never tells us that the rod will break the will or change the child. He simply instructs us to use the rod in love and trust Him to change the child. This liberates us from an angry application of the rod. Your father didn't know this truth, but that doesn't mean God's Word isn't wise or to be followed. Decide on the number of times to spank with the rod on the rear end (I suggest 2-3) and use enough strength for it to be memorable. Then do the same thing every time and consistently. If we trust in God, there should be no increase in intensity or force when we use the rod. The child can tell the difference! One application is interpreted as abuse and control and the other communicates that you believe God's Word and love him or her.
Objection: I get too angry when I use the rod, so I think it is better to use some other form of punishment.
Answer: Anger is a symptom of idolatry. When we idolize someone, we're looking to them to provide what only God can provide. In the case of child training, obedience and the ability to understand come from the Lord, not the child. For instance, if God isn't giving your son understanding or obedience by leaving him to himself, then He's training you to understand and obey His Word! Anger comes when you are frustrated with what God is giving you and looking to your child to make you comfortable and happy. Repent of idolizing your child, and you remove the source of the anger. Thank God for training you through your child! Then give the spanking in love as a gift from a loving and faithful Father.
Objection: The world considers spanking to be child abuse, therefore we may risk losing custody of our children.
Answer: The world has always been anti-Christ, and always will be. We should not allow the world to determine whether we will obey God's Word. That doesn't mean we should not exercise wisdom and discretion as to when and where we use the rod. I recommend all discipline be done privately out of love for the child. Using a flexible rod and one not so large as to appear cruel also is wise. Refrain from using your hand because you always want your child to come to an open hand. Furthermore, a belt may be associated negatively with the father. We must trust God to protect us if we do what is right, and if we suffer for it, we are to consider ourselves blessed (Matthew 5:10). God will honor us if we will honor His Word.
Objection: My wife is more skilled at disciplining the children, so I let her do it.
Answer: God's Word does not recommend that the most skilled parent administer the discipline. God has written it in the hearts of children and in His Word that the love of a father is shown through his discipline. Of course, often times the mother is the one having to deal with the child. If a father teaches his children that their mother acts in his stead when he is absent, then a powerful message of love is communicated through the parents. However, if the mother disciplines the children when the father is present, do not be surprised if the child harbors disrespect for both parents. There is blessing from obeying God's Word and consequences for ignoring it.
There are probably other objections some might raise, however, these are the most common excuses I've heard for fathers not disciplining their children. Whether we use the rod or reproof, both constitute a "surgery" with a sanctifying purpose. Perhaps thinking of it in the term of circumcision highlights the delicacy and gentleness required.
With sons (12 and older) this "surgery" affects a very delicate part of the man, his pride. If the father tries to strong arm the circumcision and force his son to put away sin without the power of the Holy Spirit, the son will naturally react. Successful "surgery" can only be done by the Spirit's power. I've found the best way to lead in this process is to tell the son there is a hindrance in his flesh (don't tell what it is at this time) that must be cut away if he is to be fruitful for God and not suffer destruction in the future. Explain the destruction to come if this sanctifying work isn't completed. Then set an appointment with him a few days later giving him time to go to his heavenly Father for the sanctifying work. During those days, the son is to seek God as to what displeases Him. You may find that by the time you meet together, the Holy Spirit will have done the work. The wisdom in this approach is that the father walks with the son and prays for him during this time of exposure and suffering.
This ministry of a father to his children requires humility. A child will only allow his father, who has his heart, to see him vulnerable. If the son hasn't seen the sign of the covenant in his father (putting to death the flesh) and isn't convinced that his father's heart is turned to him, he will react to the father's attempts to correct and instruct him. This is also true of a daughter. If a father attempts to remove the flesh in anger, his children will also run from him.
Tragedy usually results when a father doesn't realize his responsibility to lead his children in the sanctification process. As the father neglects this responsibility, the mother, who is more in tune with the children's fleshliness, feels compelled, like Zipporah, to do the job. With a compliant son, this may seem to work for a while. But in most cases, the son especially will react–just like you do when your wife comes at you to cut away the flesh. You run and hide! It's what you did as a boy when your mother tried to circumcise you. What is your wife doing? She's trying to deal with what your father didn't deal with. Remember, if you don't lead your children to confront fleshliness, their spouses will be faced with it. This typically doesn't work very well because it isn't God's plan.
Many mothers, to their credit, like Zipporah, recognize that the messy job of cutting away the flesh has to be done. Courageously they face the task, but no woman can realize what this does to the son or husband because they can't relate to the pride in a man. Perhaps she can remember when her son didn't mind her seeing him bathe, but there came a time when the boy began to feel ashamed to be naked before his mother. When this occurs, it is the sign that the forerunning must be done by the father. Most boys determine they will do everything they can to hide their fleshliness from their mothers (husbands will do the same with wives) to avoid shame and dishonor. But what's a mother (wife) to do with obvious destructive fleshliness in the boy (man) who was neglected by his father? Most mothers and wives will pull out the machete and attack! Isn't this true?
Have you ever had your wife tell you about some concern she has with one of your children? What happens if you don't deal with it immediately? She considers your delay as a weakness that needs to be circumcised and out comes the knife, and off you run! Men understand the delay. Having been there before, we realize this surgery is delicate, and we're waiting for the teachable moment (although we can be guilty of putting things off as well). No surgeon upon diagnosis forces the patient onto the surgery table. He knows there must be mental preparation, study, and careful strategy laid for the surgery to be successful.
The wise forerunner takes the lead in this sanctifying process in his children. However, he may get tremendous assistance from his wife as to what needs to be dealt with. Just like John the Baptist led the people to prepare for the Lord by cutting away their sins, so a father lovingly, gently, consistently guides his children to discover the spiritual truth: unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24).
When Jesus is Revealed, You Must Decrease and He Increase
"He must increase, but I must decrease." John 3:30
"The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand." (John 3:35)
The last responsibility of a forerunner may also be seen in the life of John the Baptist. Because relationship with Christ is the ultimate objective, there comes a point when the forerunner must relinquish his control. When John's disciples were pointed to the Lamb of God, off they went to join him! When Jesus' disciples began baptizing more people than John, he knew what to do. His influence must yield to Jesus' influence. John's wisdom came from the Holy Spirit. He longed for his disciples to turn their hearts to Christ. Isn't that what we want as fathers for our children?
Once we see our children walk in relationship with the heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, then the wise forerunner backs off and serves as a pointer to Jesus. This is especially important during the "circumcision" process with his children. Also when his children ask questions, perhaps instead of giving them the answer, he may lead them to study and seek the answer from God. He models, teaches, and encourages them to listen and live by the Holy Spirit.
I've seen fathers destroy their relationship with their children because they didn't know this responsibility of being a forerunners. They were more concerned about their children giving them a good reputation than learning to walk by the Spirit. Sometimes it seems easier to continue to command, apply pressure through rejection, accuse, criticize, and shame them into compliance to our desired goals for them. But it isn't easier or loving. Once they have met Christ, our goals and agendas must be surrendered. We must lead them and leave them to Jesus. We walk with them, not lord it over them.
It was my son's wedding day and the groomsmen stood in the vestibule waiting for our cue to enter the sanctuary. He was 18 when Jesus showed up at the "River" for him. Since then I had decreased and Jesus had increased. I was about to decrease again, I thought. Standing behind Micah, excited for him, I was wondering what was going on in his mind, as he was soon to see and take his new bride. Just before we walked out, he turned to me and said, "Dad, I don't want you to walk behind me. Please walk beside me just like you always have."
Tears come to my eyes as I remember that moment. I'll never forget it. I thought my forerunning days were over, however, I was wrong. Forerunning has a new look to it. He still comes to me for advice and direction on life, marriage and parenting. And what a privilege it is to continue to walk by his side. We are brothers in Christ, men walking with our Father in heaven, both forerunning for another generation. What an exciting privilege it is to be God's forerunners.
What Kind of Forerunner Are You?
I hope this lesson has given you more vision for what it means to be a father to your children. I realize that in asking the question above, there may be some that feel an immediate heaviness and conviction because your answer isn't a good one. This may be the first time you've heard these things. Perhaps your forerunner didn't know how to lead you. It doesn't do any good to be consumed by condemnation or find someone else to blame. Instead, I encourage you to thank God for not leaving you in the dark and giving you a new vision for your role as a father.
Have you considered the importance of your children watching their forerunner respond to God and to others when he discovers something new in God's Word? How should a sincere person respond when he realizes he's failed, been wrong, or misguided? What does humility look like in such a case? They surely are going to face the same in their lives. Will you humble yourself like that child at Jesus' feet and surrender yourself to Him for His use and purpose? I hope so. The blessings to come are unimaginable. Today, if you hear His voice, don't harden your hearts, but ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in rising to His call to be a forerunner to the next generation.
Have you experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit? I'm not talking about speaking in tongues; I'm talking about God's filling you with His Spirit, transforming your heart, and empowering you to live in relationship with the heavenly Father. If not, then I implore you to join the "Hanging-out-at-the-River" club. Look for God, in faith, believing He will reveal Himself to you as you prepare the way for Him through confession, repentance, and surrender.
Perhaps as you studied this lesson, you have many reasons to praise God for His guiding you as a forerunner. You've done many things simply because the Spirit guided you, not because your father taught you what to do. Praise God for His indescribable Gift! The Spirit of the Holy Forerunner lives within you. Press on with confidence and humility in Christ.