The Holy Spirit and Our Kids’ Behavior
Steve & Denise Olsen are 2002 graduates of Rhema Bible Training College, where Denise worked full-time for many years in the Children’s department of Rhema Bible Church and taught Children’s Ministry courses at RBTC. Meanwhile Steve maintained his career in software development. Denise has been in Children’s ministry for over 3 decades, and Steve joined her in ministry 18 years ago.
Their heart in Children’s ministry is for kids to form a close, trusting relationship with their Heavenly Father early, so that they’ll be well-established in their faith as they begin their teen years.
Steve & Denise founded Snow Shack Media to create Spirit-filled, faith-based Children’s Church curriculum focused on kids’ relationships with God. They’ve partnered with some great teaching and worship video artists and producers and released FAITHkids curriculum for elementary-aged Sunday School classes and Children’s Church services. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our primary mission with FAITHkids curriculum has always been to foster an environment where we allow God to change kids by His grace from the inside out rather than us attempting to change them by focusing on outward behavior.
There are, of course, exceptions to that—times when we need to provide timely redirection to a child to correct deficient behavior. Our oldest grandson has a habit of ripping things out of his little brother’s hands when he decides he wants to see them. It’s a scenario that plays out in Children’s Church all the time, and requires immediate correction. But when a behavior issue isn’t urgent, or as a means of teaching for preventive purposes, take the time to teach about the believers’ perspective of virtues—the Fruit of the Spirit according to Galatians 5:22-23.
But Isn’t My Child Too Young to be Led by the Holy Spirit?
There comes a time in every child’s life when they become capable of understanding what it means to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior; to have a meaningful, saving relationship with Jesus Christ. We call it the age of accountability. The specific age varies for each child. But before a child reaches that age, they’re alive to God according to Romans 7:9-10 (NLT):
At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, and I died. So I discovered that the law’s commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead.
Of course, Paul wasn’t referring to physical death here, but separation from God. When a child comes to understand that it’s wrong to covet, or to commit other sins, the age of accountability has come, and it’s time for the child to accept Jesus as their own Lord and Savior. Before that time, the child’s spirit is alive to God and can be led by the Holy Spirit; although we don’t necessarily recognize the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives. Then when the child has accepted Jesus, they have the Holy Spirit living within them.
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own (1 Corinthians 6:19 NKJV)?
The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you (Romans 8:11 NLT).
Pray for our Kids and Lead Them to Jesus
A very important assignment we have as parents is to be aware of the transition of our kids into the age of accountability. We may see the natural effects of this transition or if we’re praying for our kids regularly, the Holy Spirit can reveal it to us as well. When the time comes, invite them to accept Jesus as their own Lord and Savior. This is by far the most effective time in a person’s life to accept Jesus. A Barna Group report from 2004 found that 43% of born again American Christians accepted Jesus before reaching the age of 13.
Teach Kids to Expect to be Led by God’s Spirit
When you know that the Spirit of God is alive in your children, let them know that being led by the Holy Spirit is a normal, expected part of the life of every believer, including them! Depending on your own experience, you may have found yourself struggling over the years with the ability to hear from God. But resolve in your own mind that this really is the plan God has for His people, and don’t settle for anything less for your children. In fact, this is a great time to meditate on God’s word and tune your own spiritual ears to hear Him more clearly so you can model what it means to be led by the Spirit of God.
Romans 8:14 (NKJV)
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses (Galatians 5:16,18 NLT).
Let the Holy Spirit Direct our Behaviors
As our kids (and we) are learning and expecting to be led by the Holy Spirit, explain that God will direct us to do only good things. And the Bible says clearly what types of behaviors the Holy Spirit will direct us toward. This is the Fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5:22-23.
Galatians 5:22-23 (NKJV)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Note that, although the word ‘Spirit’ is capitalized in this verse, the fruit isn’t coming directly from the Holy Spirit. The fruit comes from our own born-again human spirit as a result of having the Holy Spirit living within us. John 15:1-8 explains the relationship of the vine to the branches. According to that passage, it’s the branch that bears fruit, not the vine. John 15:5 says Jesus is the vine; we are the branches.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that the fruit of the Spirit are things we need to work out by ourselves to show in our lives—that we need to act out these things, kind of like a performance on stage. But that’s not what these are at all.
Let’s think for a minute about what fruit is. Think about fruit trees. My wife is good at identifying types of trees by the shape of the leaves. I can identify a few like that; but I find the best way to distinguish between an apple tree and an orange tree is to observe the fruit that’s growing on it. Of course that only works when the tree is producing fruit. But that’s the only time it matters anyway! The point is that apple trees are only capable of producing apples while orange trees are only capable of producing oranges. There would be no hope of coaching an apple tree to grow plums. And an apple tree doesn’t have to work hard to keep itself from growing peaches. An apple tree grows apples because of what’s inside of it. Everything in an apple tree is designed to grow apples. It grew from the ground out of an apple seed. And from the time that seed sprouted, it had one mission—to grow apples.
Jesus explained it in Matthew 7:16-20, NLT:
You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
If we have the Spirit of God living inside us, then when we allow the Holy Spirit to shine forth, we’re going to show more and more fruit, or results of having Him living within us, over time. The key to understand about the fruit of the Spirit is to note that Paul didn’t call these things the ‘fruit of trying really hard to be good.’ He called these the fruit of the Spirit.
The same concept shows up in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:15 NKJV:
But the ones [the seed] that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.
No matter how hard we try in our own strength, and coach our kids to show patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and the others; it won’t work. At least not for the long term. These things only come from the Holy Spirit leading from within us.
Have you ever seen a very realistic-looking bowl of fruit on a table and grabbed a piece and taken a bite out of it only to realize it was fake? It would have been a rude awakening! In the same way, we can’t successfully imitate the fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit produces these things in our lives when He lives within us.
The Holy Spirit Living Within Us
If your kids have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit lives within them. But naturally, you and they are looking at their outward behaviors, especially the negative behaviors, saying, “I’ve accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, so I have the Holy Spirit within me. But I don’t feel like I’m very patient or kind or good at all!” If this is the case, assure them that as they continue to grow in God and get to know Him better, they’ll see the fruit more and more. Then pray with them, as Paul prayed in Colossians 1:9, that they may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. And declare that they have ears to hear what the Spirit of God is saying and doing in their lives.
The Holy Spirit is always leading our own human spirit (the real me and you) to produce this fruit of the Spirit. We can suppress it, though. If you’ve ever tried to block a faucet from dripping by sticking your finger in the faucet, you know it’s difficult to do for very long. The water is under pressure, trying to flow. When you try to stop it, you can cause that pressure to build up and possibly even do damage to the faucet. Just let the water flow and everything works the way it was designed. As the Holy Spirit is leading you to produce this fruit in your life, don’t try to suppress it and stop it up. Stopping up the flow of the Holy Spirit within you could eventually lead you to a place where you no longer hear Him. Let Him flow in your life and produce the fruit He desires for you.
Focus on Others
Let’s look again at the list in Galatians 5:22-23, this time from the Amplified translation:
But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.
There’s something very interesting about this list. A few of the types of the fruit of the Spirit are focused on ourselves, inwardly: joy, peace and self-control. But most of them center on our relationships with others:
- Love [unselfish concern for others]
- Patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting]
Those are all focused outward—toward the people around us. If we keep our attention focused on ourselves, we really limit what the Holy Spirit can do in our lives; because the Holy Spirit loves people. God IS love, after all, according to 1 John 4:8. So when we allow the Holy Spirit to direct us, we find that He starts pulling us to help others, or pray for others, or give things to others.
As we expect the Holy Spirit to direct us toward others around us, and we obey His leadings, we’ll see more and more and more of His fruit shine through us and our children.
No Need to Pretend
Make sure your kids know they don’t need to prove anything to anyone else. They don’t need to try to be someone they’re not, they don’t ever need to put on an act just to make people think they’re good. They’re already good because they’ve accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and received His righteousness. They’re a child of God and they have the Holy Spirit living on the inside of them. We just allow ourselves to be led by Him, and enjoy the joy and peace that comes from that.
This takes the pressure off of the kids, and encourages them to live out the life God is leading them in. And over time (remember Jesus talked about bearing fruit with patience in Luke 8:15), they’ll see that fruit grow big enough for everyone to see.