Nov 19, 2012

Treating your children the way God treats you – a look at grace based parenting

On Saturday at City Church we gave some time to thinking about how the gospel shapes our approach to parenting.  Not just when and how we read the Bible with our kids but to what extent a theology of grace shapes the culture of our homes and our approach to every aspect of raising kids.

What is grace-based parenting?

Tim Kimmel in his excellent and very practical book Grace Based Parenting calls on us as Christians to  ‘Treat our children the way God treats us’.

Grace-based parenting means parenting in a way that is consistent with the grace of God revealed in the gospel but more than that it means raising our kids as an overflow of our personal grasp and delight in grace. The goal of such parenting is to do all we can to reflect the character of the God of all grace to our children. As we parent this way we give them the best possible context for understanding and responding to the God of grace as revealed in the gospel.

Why do we need to consider grace-based parenting?

Unless we deliberately pursue a grace-based approach we will slip into a performance-driven, rules-based model. Legalistic parenting is our default method of parenting because self-justification is our default mode of living.

As Kimmel observes – Our parenting is the result of our theology. How we view God determines how we parent our children.

  • If we spend our lives trying to keep the rules to make ourselves acceptable to God we will communicate to our children that their lives are about trying to keep the rules to make themselves acceptable to us.
  • If we need to prove ourselves to God by our performance in order to be accepted by him our children will feel the need to prove themselves to us by their performance in order to be accepted by us and by extension God.

If your life is a performance in order to gain approval then your children will view their lives as a performance to gain your approval.

How do you spot legalistic-parenting?

Kimmel argues Legalistic parents spend most of their time trying to make sure their family does everything right. They assume that what God demands of them should be their primary business.

Legalistic parents  love their kids and very much want the best for them but living up to mum and dad’s standards to feel secure in their love turns childhood experience into one of duty and not joy. It is one of conditional love rather than the unconditional and undeserved love that is grace.

Kids with legalistic parents leave home feeling guilty and one of the overwhelming attitudes that runs through the home is ‘fear’.  Fear of failure, fear of being a disappointment to our parents, etc.

Where does rule-based parenting lead?

Let’s look at two passages in scripture in which the Apostle Paul warns Christian parents against it.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Eph 6:4 NIV) lit. word exasperate means ‘make angry’. Two commentaries draw out the meaning here;

Effectively, the apostle is ruling out ‘excessively severe discipline, unreasonably harsh demands, abuse of authority, arbitrariness, unfairness, constant nagging and condemnation, subjecting a child to humiliation, and to all forms of gross insensitivity to a child’s needs and sensibilities.’ – Andrew Lincoln

Behind this curbing of a father’s authority is the clear recognition that children, while they are expected to obey their parents in the Lord, are persons in their own right who are not to be manipulated, exploited, or crushedPeter T. O’Brien

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (Col 3:21 NIV)

Embitter ‘signifies to ‘irritate’ either by nagging at them or by deriding their efforts. Fathers are to obey the injunction so that their children do not become discouraged or think that it is useless trying to please them within the common life of the home. – Peter T. O’Brien


If we are to treat our children as God treats us then we will need to parent with the gospel and from the gospel that we might make the gospel attractive to them.

Future posts:

What happens when we parent our children out of grace?

The three-fold definition of grace: parenting to produce love, significance and hope

Six marks of a grace-filled house



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