BUILDING A FOUNDATION
After Jesus finished His Sermon on the Mount, He concluded with the story of a wise builder and a foolish one. The person who listened to Jesus’ Words and obeyed them was like one who built his home on solid rock; and when the heavy rains and storms came, the house still stood. However the one who listened and did not obey was a foolish builder who built upon shifting sand and when the storms came, the fall of the house was devastating! The point that Jesus was getting to His audience and to us was that it was not enough to just hear His commands; they had to be obeyed and applied. To be consistent in obeying God is to have Christian integrity. When it comes to raising children, it is imperative that families and the church partner together to build this foundation of integrity in the next generation of believers.
Integrity: What is it?
Why is it important to develop integrity in children? Families build clear boundaries and limits to protect their children, but it is integrity that holds those boundaries in place. It is the process of keeping a child accountable for his/her actions when there is no one watching them. President George Washington was quoted in saying: I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man. With this in mind, how does one develop integrity?
To understand what integrity is, let us examine what happens inside an individual who is taught integrity. It is not something that a parent can simply pass on to their kids. It requires a consistent practice of the moral values which God has given to His people to live by in order to grow spiritually. Nor is it limited to just a series a rules of regulation. Due to man’s depravity, whenever we are given a set of rules to follow, we tend to break them as it is written in Romans 7:5. Even Jesus Himself said in Matthew 23:25-26 that is was more important to have pure heart than to obey a list of rules.
Which leads to the final characteristic of integrity; its power lies not in man but in God. As followers of Christ we are called to be sanctified, to be set apart, before God. It could be said that a part of the sanctification process requires a development of Christian integrity. The more people consistently follow the commands of God, the more they draw closer to the heart of God and develop an awareness of what He loves and what He hates. Therefore, we begin to love what He loves and hate what He hates. It is this awareness that must be taught to our children.
Children See, Children Do
Now the question must be asked, how does a child develop Christian integrity? The answer can be found in Deuteronomy 6:5-7:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
The ones responsible for developing the integrity in a child are the parents. The parents are with their children a great duration of their lives and they learn everything that they need to learn about surviving in this world through watching their mother and father interacting in it. With that in mind, parents ought to take caution in how they act, because their child is always watching. For example, if a parent teaches their kid not to lie, but then lies in front of them, it creates in the child the statute that it is okay to lie, regardless of what the parent said. A parent must therefore recognize those areas in their life where they are failing to show Christian integrity to their children and ask God to work in their heart.
Tools to Build the Foundation
For some parents, who may have had parents who were not active in modeling integrity when they were young, the task of building such virtue in their children may appear too daunting. Fortunately, parents are not alone in this challenge. They have a formidable ally in the body of believers, the Church. The church has the resources available in order to equip parents to teach integrity. However, what is more important is the fact that the church is also there to provide accountability to the parents, to help them practice what they preach to their kids.
I wish to note that I am not suggesting that parents hand over the reins of building integrity in their kids to the church. The church is not designed to be a substitute for parental teaching. Even if the church does build integrity in the kids, all that progress would be undone when they come home to parents who do not encourage what their child has learned or helped them to be accountable. Therefore, the church’s role is to provide the tools to help parents first develop integrity in themselves and then teach them to their children.
So what is integrity? Christian integrity is the process of developing an awareness of the heart of God and being consistent in following His will regardless if anyone is watching or not. Children learn how to live life with or without integrity through their parents; therefore, parents must be aware of their own actions and ask themselves if they are modeling integrity before their children. There is a great variety of tools available to parents to help them in teaching consistent integrity; one of them is the Church. However, these resources are just tools; they can only be effective if the one using them is putting forth the effort to use them the right way. Therefore a parent must ask themself, do they really care that their child has integrity?