Tim Challies

I trust God with my soul. I do. I have no other hope in life and death but the confidence that I am in Christ for all eternity. I trust God with my soul, but for some reason have a much tougher time trusting him with the souls of my kids. I wonder if you can identify with the struggle.

I am convinced that God saved me by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I did nothing to merit this salvation. There is nothing in me that turned God’s eye in my direction. There is no vestige of goodness that compelled him to look my way. I was not seeking him when he began seeking me. It was all of his grace without even the smallest bit of my merit. I added nothing to my salvation but the sin that made it necessary.

I believe all this about myself, but somehow find it more difficult to believe when it comes to my children. Now it’s not quite as simple as you might think: I have seen enough of my kids to know that they suffer from the same total depravity as their father. I know they have no merit to bring before the Lord. No, my problem is deeper than that, and a little more difficult to root out.

When it comes to my kids, I seem to want to believe that God’s action is dependent upon my action. I believe that for God to save my kids, I first need to do the right things. If I want God to save them, I need to cross the spiritual t’s and dot the spiritual i’s. And if I don’t, well, their salvation may just be questionable. When it comes to their eternal destiny, it’s like he isn’t looking to their good deeds, but to mine, as if they will be justified by my merit or condemned by my lack of merit.

I don’t actually articulate this, but I see it trying to manifest itself in my life.

I see it when family devotions subtly switch from a time of worshipping God to a means of twisting God’s arm: If I do family devotions every day, will you save them then? Or perhaps more clearly: If I don’t do it for a couple of days, are they still savable?

I see it when my decisions come from a place of fear rather than a place of confidence and when I determine that what is best for the kids must be what looks safest for them: If I choose this school or that league, could that somehow remove them from your grace? Will it all be my fault?

I see it when I ask them how they are doing with their personal devotions and realize I am not asking out genuine concern to see how they are pursuing the Lord and what they are learning from him. Instead, I am asking them because personal devotions are one more way that dad ought to be nudging God toward my kids.

I see it when I pray for them and I am almost tempted to tell God why he owes it to me to save them: God, I’ve done what I can and I’ve done pretty well; won’t you save them now? What more do I have to do to know that they are saved? What do I need to do to set them up for salvation?

In those ways and many more I seem to think that I can earn my kids’ salvation. And if I can’t earn it through my good deeds, surely I can at least negate it by my negligence. Can’t I?

Centuries ago a man named Isaac had two children, one of whom loved and followed the Lord and one of whom rejected and abandoned the Lord. There must have been someone who looked at Esau, and then looked at Isaac and Rebecca and said, “I wonder what they did wrong? What did they do that messed up that boy?” But God said, “Isaac I have loved and Esau I have hated.” It was all in God’s hands and it was all part of his good plan. It wasn’t what the parents did or didn’t do. It was God’s good will. The good and kind and loving God ruled over it all.

And the same is true for my children. They can’t earn their salvation and I can’t earn it for them. I believe the Lord has saved or will save them and they will be saved not by their father but like their father—by trusting in Christ and Christ alone as he opens their eyes to see him and as he opens their hearts to receive him. Their souls are in the good hands of the good God. And I, of all people, can testify that there is no better place for them to be.

by Dan Phillips

The Masculine Mandate, by Richard D. Phillips
(Harrisonburg: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2010; 174 pages)

As I began teaching a 30-week course on marriage and the Bible, it was with some apprehension.

Any reader could pitch a number of accurate guesses as to reasons for that feeling, but the specific niggle was this: what is Biblical manhood — specifically, malehood? How do you textually ground and express the specific difference between God's intent in creating male human beings?

I had read a number of books and articles, and they hadn't helped much. Most of them simply gave popular opinions — popular evangelicaloid opinions — without much bothering to ground them directly in Scripture. Others were some fun, but in the final analysis just nuts. One had a lot of Bible — but it was almost all irrelevant. For instance, it went on and on about what Genesis 1:26-28 teaches us about being a man. The problem? Just read it. “Male and female.” Oopsie. Is that the best we can do?

Then came this book by Richard Phillips (no relation, except in Christ), and it flicked the switch for me.

In a very solid, very readable, very Biblical, very theological, very engaging, and very practical way, Phillips leads us to Genesis 2 which, after all, is the narrative of the creation of the first male, in distinction from the creation of the first female. Phillips focuses on and develops Genesis 2:7, 8, and 15. Man's distinctive, pre-Eve task: to work and to keep the garden (8). These are expressed in service and leadership (9).

Phillips develops work as meaning “to cultivate as a gardener” (12ff.), and keep as “to protect as a sword-bearer” (14ff.). He then unfolds these ideas in the categories of man's calling to work (17ff.), man as the image of God (31ff.), and man as shepherd-lord (43ff.). These all focus on the conceptual aspect, getting the ideas Scripturally validated and illustrated.

Then Phillips turns to the practical application, with three chapters on marriage, two on training children, and one each on men in friendship, in the church, and as servants of the Lord.

This was one of those books that just turned on the floodlights for me. I took Phillips' basic idea, and went at the text hammer and tongs. I found in the Hebrew text and context even more clues, verification, and opening of the ideas, thanks to the fundamental pointer Phillips had given me. From what I found, I could probably write another book complementary (see what I did there?) to Phillips' My development of these ideas particularly began with session 23, and went on for several additional studies.

At the end comes a section of questions for reflection and discussion, making the book usable for group-studies; as well as indices of Scripture, subjects, and names. Unfortunately, endnotes also come at the back of the book, a reall bad decision on the publisher's part that is a disservice both to author and reader.

This is just a really terrific book. I don't for the life of me know why it isn't better-known and more widely-discussed. Instead of Driscoll, big Gospel sites ought to be promoting Phillips. I don't know another book that does what Richard Phillips does here at all, let alone so well.

I recommend it to everyone: boys/men/husbands/fathers/pastors, for obvious reasons; girls/single ladies to know what to look for in a man; moms to know how to raise their boys.

Get, read, review, recommend.

UPDATE: I just got word that the book will be on sale for $5 this Friday, November 29, via Ligonier's Black Friday sale.

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