“May grace and peace be multiplied to you
in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”
2 Peter 1:2
When I was a 4th grade teacher, one of the saddest statements I heard communicated from a parent to a child was a misguided attempt at motivating obedience. “Don’t embarass us.” Although the warning was repeated more than once during the school year, not suprisingly, the shame-inducing words produced no positive changes in the child’s behavior.
Shame. Guilt. Fear. Bribery. Rigidity. Indulgence. In their attempts to produce obedient children, parents may try any or all of these approaches, often settling for a combination of whatever feels the most convenient and produces the most results. Christian parents, however, are called to something so much better.
In his foreword for the book Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson, Tullian Tchividjian (grandson of Billy Graham and pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church) counsels parents to avoid the error of legalistic childrearing by keeping their homes saturated with grace…
The biggest lie about grace that Satan wants Christian parents to buy is the idea that grace is dangerous and therefore needs to be “kept in check.” By believing this, we not only prove we don’t understand grace, but we violate gospel advancement in the lives of our children. A “yes, grace, but…” disposition is the kind of fearful posture that keeps moralism swirling around in their hearts. And if there’s anything God hates, it’s moralism!
I understand the fear of grace. As a parent of three children, one of my responsibilities is to disciple them into a deeper understanding of obedience, teaching them to say no to the things God hates and yes to the things God loves. But all too often I have (wrongly) concluded that the only way to keep licentious hearts in line is to give more rules. The fact is, however, that the only time licentious people start to obey is when they get a taste of God’s radical, unconditional acceptance of sinners.
The irony of gospel-based sanctification is that those who end up obeying more are those who increasingly realize that their standing with God is not based on their obedience but on Christ’s. In other words, the children who actually end up performing better are those who understand that their relationship with God doesn’t depend on their performance for Jesus but on Jesus’ performance for them.
With the right mixture of fear and guilt, I can get my three children to obey in the short term. But my desire is not that they obey for five minutes or even for five days. My desire is that they obey for fifty years! And that will take something bigger and brighter than fear and guilt. The primary reason our children fail in their doing is that they fail to grasp at a deep, heart level what Jesus has already done. They often give up in their efforts to obey because we have unconsciously trained them to obsess more over their feats for Jesus than over Jesus’ feats for them.
When the apostle John (or Jesus) talks about keeping God’s commands as a way to know whether or not we love Jesus, he is not using the law as a way to motivate. He is simply stating a fact (1 John 5:2). Those who love God will keep on keeping his commands. The question is how do we keep God’s commands? What sustains a long obedience in the same direction? As every parent knows, behavioral compliance to rules without heart change will be shallow and short-lived. But shallow and short-lived is not what God wants. God wants a persistent obedience from the heart. How is that possible? Long-term, sustained, gospel-motivated obedience can come only from faith in what Jesus has already done, not fear of what we must do. Any obedience not grounded in or motivated by the gospel is unsustainable.
[Give Them Grace, pp. 11-12]
Learn more about God’s grace and your parenting by reading the insights provided by Elyse Fitzpatrick and her daughter Jessica in Give Them Grace.
Photo: martina perhat