Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:17-18)
And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Eph 6:9)
My kids are growing into adults. I stand by with some amazement as they change and develop into what I hope is the people they are meant to be. The people that God created them to be. My job is to help them reach that goal. It's not always easy to know how to do it, especially during the teenage years. Christian parents in today's world have a difficult challenge, trying to impart values and Christlike character to their children. These things count for little, in the world at large. Some parents throw in the towel early, letting their kids run wild, swept along with popular culture and the media which drives its values. On the other side are those who impose strict rules which leave their kids feeling beaten down and controlled. If the child experiences harshness, control, and arbitrary legalism, they might yield to force and comply, but otherwise live in contradiction to the parent's values, hiding their true behavior and abandoning the parent's values the first chance they get.
The Bible gives us a model, though, for parenting. It is the perfect model. It is the guidance which comes from love. It is the thing that changes not just behavior, but hearts. It is not external rules by themselves, but internal transformation. It's not just the case for children. We are all in the process of becoming the people we are meant to be.
For me personally, it didn't come from rules, though rules can be helpful, when correctly understood. I've always had a tendency to rebel when rules have been forced on me. That isn't how I arrived at the place I am at. I got there by the transforming work of the Spirit within me. Obedience and a desire for holiness are things that came later on because He changed me. They are things I have come to long for, not something pressed on me from the outside.
This has been the impact of Christian belief across cultures over the last 2000 years. People have changed not because they were told to comply, but because something happened within them. A case in point is slavery. Once a broad multi-cultural institution at the center of the world's economy, it has largely been extinguished because of the power of Jesus Christ in the hearts of men and women. I think of William Wilberforce, a Christian whose efforts resulted in the elimination of the slave trade in England. He followed the convictions of his heart—convictions rooted in love. Not because the Bible has a rule to eliminate slavery (though it does in Exod. 21:16; also see Gal. 3:28), but because we must oppose it when we share the heart of Christ. In Ephesians 6:9 Paul gives instructions to slave owners. Some have taken this to indicate that Paul is in favor of slavery. But if you read his words, you know that the values he impresses on them, if they take root in their hearts, will lead to its abolition. And that's exactly what happened—first in England, then here in the United States. Not because of external rules, but because we received new hearts. Hearts which have been changed by His power. Hearts which have become like His heart.
Paul talks about it in 2 Cor. 3:17-18. The law of Moses was filled with rules, but those rules didn't make people long for the things that God yearns for. They only led to rebellion. In Christ, we don't have a law; we have the freedom of the Holy Spirit. We don't have a veil separating us from the presence of God, as they did in the Old Testament; we have His presence within us. But the freedom we have apart from the law is not a freedom to sin; it's the freedom to choose holiness because we yearn for it, the way He does. It's the freedom to be the people we were meant to be, because he changes us from the inside out, to become that person.
As a dad, I provide boundaries for my kids, but that's not my core mission. My mission is to love them and lead them closer to Christ. It's not to make them conform to certain rules, but to become people who are like Jesus in their hearts. When I see them raise their hands in worship, to imitate me, I know that something is happening within them. I know because it happened in me. And it continues, until the day I am with Him. It will happen within you also. Trust in the Lord; invite the Spirit into your life. Ask him to change your heart, to make it like his. To make you like Him. It's what you were always meant to be.