We’re thinking about the paradox of requiring unregenerate children to demonstrate fruit of the spirit.
Let’s consider the fruit of the spirit:
Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faith, meekness, self-control
I regularly require my unregenerate children to be patient: we have younger children who come visit, and I require my own children to be patient when guests want to play with the best toys. Waiting is especially hard for the little ones. I require them to be kind to their siblings when one says “please stop.” I require them to have self control when they are hungry and I tell them to wait until after we have prayed to eat. I don’t know that I “require” some of the other fruit like faith or meekness, but I see embryonic evidence of something resembling those things.
It’s helpful to note that these qualities are present in good unsaved homes, to some degree. Most parents, even in unsaved ones, want their children to be kind and loving to their siblings. They want a house of love and joy. These qualities can also be evidenced to some degree in our own lives when we are not consciously following Christ or walking in the spirit. Some adults have developed habits of self-control and patience by nature of their training or personality, and give no thought to Christ in exercising these qualities.
This is one of the blessings of being reared in a Christian home. Certainly, it allows for the possibility of Pharisaic actions, but that doesn’t mean we are destined to be Pharisees. Having the externals established as habit allows us to spend greater attention on our hearts. In some ways I am reminded of a smart person who gets As on a test in school; the A shows he knows the material, but it might not reveal any meritorious character on his part.
The danger is that we start to think that those blessings of habitual character strengths are personal merit badges. I think that danger is true for our children as well. In their case, there is a danger that they equate those merit badges with evidence of salvation. Why, then, do we require the fruit of the spirit in children who don’t have the Holy Spirit?
First, as Laura said in the comment section, we require some things just for order and pleasantness. In our family, we are kind to each other. Period. If an unsaved adult were a guest in my home, and began to berate me or my children, I would ask them to stop or leave. These are common courtesies, enabled by the common grace of God (that is, available to all people, regardless of their spiritual status)
Second, we require these things in faith ourselves, expecting that God will save our children in the future (I’m not positive we have a guarantee of this, but I do think it should be our expectation until we know for certain otherwise). I know that when God saves my children, it will be good for them to have developed habits of meekness (as evidenced by obedience, for example) and joy.
Tomorrow we’ll think about this some more.