“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…,” C.S. Lewis.[1]

My husband and I parented four children, and I’ll confess this may not be the quote that comes most quickly to my mind from those years. But as I meditate upon the lessons that stand out the most, I am more and more convinced how foundational Genesis 1:26-28 is to godly parenting:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

I think my early parenting was often shaped by the unexamined thought, “Look at this small person I have made and will shape into my perfect-parenting-book-inspired image!” Parenting advice floods into our lives from every conceivable direction, and it is impossible not to feel the pressure to produce kids that measure up to the blogs, the books, and the well-coifed verse-reciters quietly sitting in front of us on Sunday.

Stewards of God’s Image Bearers

We long for the Bible to give us clear steps on how to produce wonderful children. But what if instead of looking for step-by-step instructions, we zoomed out to the bigger picture from Genesis 1:26-28 of what God has crafted—if we remind ourselves, “I have been given the charge to steward an eternal being, distinctly crafted by God to display His image to this world and act as His ambassador on this earth?” For God not only made man and woman in His image, He immediately tasked those image-bearers with very practical instructions to steward His earth.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

Parenting is part of your and my fulfillment of the Genesis 1:28 mandate to be fruitful ambassadors of God’s goodness to the world around us both directly, and by training smaller, novice ambassadors. To do this, we must pay attention to whom we are stewarding. These image-bearers are not one-size-fits-all. Psalm 139 tells us God knitted each of us together in our mother’s womb fearfully and wonderfully. We are each God’s distinct workmanship created in Christ Jesus for work He has prepared (Eph. 2:10). To parent well, we must ask ourselves the question, “How did God wonderfully form this particular child to reflect His goodness, beauty, and truth on this earth?”

Does this mean we let our children set their own rules and find their own ways? Should the passions of their little hearts guide our parenting decisions? I think you know the answer. Scripture tells us “folly is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15), the “heart is deceitful” (Jer. 17:9), and all are born in sin. Sin has distorted and obscured God’s image in us. But by His grace, we are not left with only our Genesis 1 mandate. Believers are given another title.

Stewards of Reconciliation

In addition to the privilege of stewarding the image of God in our children, all of us who have been reconciled to God in Christ are made “ambassadors of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:16-20). As we parent little image bearers, one of the most important things we can do is daily lean into the blessed reconciliation that has been given to us in Jesus—to revel in it, rejoice in it, play in it, and to pass it on by word and by life to our children.

Our children are not clay to be shaped into our own vision of beauty and truth or into little “mini-me’s.” They were not crafted so they could look impressive sitting on the front row of church reciting verses. (As much as I encourage small children to sit close to the front at church and to memorize verses.) They are not there to excel in youth travel sports, score well on placement tests, or cause others to marvel at what godly, wise parents we are.

Our children are image bearers, and we must daily celebrate the ways we see the image of God as revealed in Scripture being reflected in these little people. We are to teach them to say “no” to their sinful hearts. We are to give them strong boundaries and keep them safe. But these things must never be used to try to make them less than God created them to be, but more. As I guide, discipline, and disciple, I want our Lucy to be more Lucy, and our Thomas to be more Thomas, not less—because that is who God created them to be.

As you go before the Lord in prayer for your children, ask Him to show you how His image shines in your little ones, and pray that the Spirit would guide you to help God’s image to shine more brightly in this world.

[1] Lewis, C.S., The Weight of Glory.

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

Tara Gibbs

Tara Gibbs is a wife, mother, and writer. She spent 19 years in San Antonio, Texas ministering alongside her husband Tom to the city of San Antonio at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Tara has authored Bible studies and taught internationally on women’s ministry.  Tara and Tom recently moved to St. Louis, Missouri to serve Covenant Theological Seminary where Tom currently serves as president. Tara has parented four children, led Bible studies, practiced hospitality, worked with the San Antonio area public schools, worked in water conservation, and served as Director of Redeemer’s women’s ministry. Tara loves running, reading, everything outdoors, Tex-Mex food, and fall in St. Louis.