In a recent sermon on Mark 10:13-16 we talked about bringing children to Jesus. Parents brought their children to be touched and blessed by Jesus. But how do we bring our children to Jesus? How do we guide their hearts to the Christ?
We must use law and grace correctly.
1. Understanding Law and Grace.
In general to understand the Christian life and the nature of God himself we must understand law and grace. Law and grace and their relationship to one another is probably one of the most misunderstood things in the Christian faith.
Many try to add law to grace within salvation and even sanctification. What results is a false gospel of works. Others seek to eliminate all law and thus a salvation without repentance follows.
Grace is not law and law is not grace, but you cannot have one without the other.
2. Children need law.
The law is perfect (Rom. 7:7). But every child is born imperfect. The law tells our children (and us) what is right and wrong. What is righteousness, and what is sin. God gave us his law to guide our thoughts, our behaviors, and our relationships. Law allows us to live in love for God and our neighbor. It allows a community to thrive. It provides the boundaries that are necessary for a peaceful and prosperous life.
Paul Tripp points out in his book, Parenting, that law also provides children the “grace of conviction.” Just as for all of us, the law points us to our depth of need. It shows us how bad we are. It creates a standard that is holy and just, but also truly unattainable. The law allows our knowledge of sin to increase.
Should you have rules and set boundaries for your children? Yes please do. Should you hold children accountable with age appropriate consequences? Again, yes. Is this all they need? No.
3. The problem with the law
But your child’s biggest problem is not their inability to keep your law or God’s law. Their biggest problem is their own heart.
The law reveals your child’s sin but it can never change their heart. Tripp points out how many parents have reduced their parenting down to being faithful law givers and punishment administrators. He adds that too often we aren’t even administering God’s perfect law, but rather our own “law” that is designed simply to make us look good.
The other day my mom told me a story about how two of her children (not me of course- ha) were goofing off during communion in church one Sunday. When they all got home, she spanked my brother and sister for being bad and disrespecting communion. She admits now that she was actually upset because she felt like the other people in church were judging her for being a bad parent. She wasn’t enforcing “God’s law,” she was enforcing her own law because she was embarrassed. When we add this “law replacement” into the parenting mix, we can see why a law-only recipe will never work.
4. The need for grace.
Remember, the law has no ability to deliver your child from sin. And sin is their biggest problem. And only grace can change a heart.
Again, to say that our parenting should be “grace based,” is not to say that there is no need for law. Law is essential to revealing the problem. So this is not a call to scrap all rules and boundaries. But it is a call to realize that only grace can bring true faith and love filled obedience.
Often grace freaks us out because we see it as an open door to sin more. We try not to preach grace too much or we will have more and more sin on our hands. We fear that grace and forgiveness will create children that take advantage of us and reject authority.
Well the truth is, they might. That is a risk that true love takes. God takes it. Everyday. With you.
But it is also true that grace does not produce more sin. Law does (Rom. 5:20, Gal. 5:17-18, 1 Cor. 15:56). Now the law may bring better behavior, but that does not mean that it is sinless behavior. There are plenty of ways to obey and still be sinning. So ask yourself this question as a parent- “do I want a well behaved child, or do I want a transformed heart, mind, and desire for my child?” “Do I want a nice child, or do I want to know Jesus, and want them to know Jesus?”
Grace and forgiveness alone bring freedom. Grace gives not only second chances but also unconditional love. It also provides everything needed for faith, love, and obedience. Law is rooted in control, but grace is rooted in freedom. Law points your children to their need for God’s mercy, but grace points them to God and his mercy. And that is your primary job as a parent because parenting is first and foremost discipleship. And discipleship is about pointing others to their need for Christ and then being a guidepost to Christ for them.
5. You must demonstrate grace.
So what is your job as a parent? It is to use law to point out sin, but use relational love to point to the grace of God. Forgive like God forgives. Be patient as God is patient. Provide freedom as God provides freedom. Create opportunities for success as God does. Declare an identity over them as God does. Lovingly correct as God does. ie: Image God to your children.
First and foremost your children have to see their hopelessness apart from Christ and the hope that lies within union with Christ. That’s how law and grace work together. You are called to be a picture of God’s grace to your children. To give them a vision of grace. Of unconditional love. Of forgiveness. Of hope.
Let your children know that they are more wicked than they ever dared imagine (law), but that they are more loved than they ever dared hope (grace).