In the last post we thought a little about the danger of a rules-based parenting model as well as the opportunity we have as Christian parents to model grace in the home. In particular we wanted to highlight that in our approach to parenting we have an opportunity to commend the gospel to our children by the very way we live it out as we raise them.
If we adopt a legalistic attitude to parenting we teach our children that love is conditional on performance even as we tell them that God’s love shown to us in Jesus is unconditional. Should we be surprised if our children reject the gospel because they are confused as to the character of God? The first diagram represents a home where the culture of the house contradicts and undermines the message of the gospel we proclaim.
Six marks of a grace-filled home
A grace-filled home will be a place where the grace of God, the love of the Father, will be worked-out in the way we raise our children. I’m sure there are many more things that could be said but here are just six ideas as to what that would look like;
- Fun – Just as our Father in heaven delights in us as his children so we too are to delight in our children. We must find the time to enjoy their company, to take pleasure in what gives them pleasure.
- Forgiveness – Just as our Father is quick to forgive our many failings so we will be quick to forgive our children even as we discipline them.
- Firm but fair discipline –God does discipline his children as a father so must we.
- Family comes first – God is a God of relationships; Father, Son & Spirit who delight to serve and bless each other. So as we reflect his likeness we will raise our children we will sacrifice self-interest as we put their interests ahead of our own.
- Freedom – We will not control our children and impose our will upon them. Our father in heaven gives us freedoms and sometimes we make bad choices but under his watchful eye he let’s us take responsibility for our actions. So too we need to learn to let our children express their personality, gifts, character and also allow them to take appropriate risks.
- Failure – Just as we need to hear from our Father in heaven ‘It’s all right. I forgive you. I’ll help you recover from the mistakes you’ve made with your kids’ so we too need to communicate something of that same ‘permission to fail.’
Becoming a home of grace
Tim Kimmel in his book Grace based parenting which was a kick start to the ideas represented above writes: You wonder, ‘How am I to raise up children to love and serve God?’ The answer is actually not that difficult. You simply need to treat your children the way God treats you. He does it in His grace.
And here’s the good part. If the only thing you get right as parents is His grace, everything else will be just fine.
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 crushed – Peter 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.
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
A short clip from the film Tree of Life starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. Looks a really interesting film.
The Guardian gave it 5 stars after reviewing it at Cannes film festival describing it as ‘visionary cinema on an unashamedly huge scale: cinema that’s thinking big‘. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and is due for release in the UK on 8th July.
Maybe ignorance is bliss
Aldous Huxley died on the same day as JFK and CS Lewis, 22nd November 1963. He was also the grandson of TH Huxley or ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’ who was outspoken in his support of Darwinian evolution and in attacking the church.
Aldous Huxley was not a believer in God but he did recognise in himself that the reasons for unbelief are often not as rational as we would like to believe.
He once wrote:
‘I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently I assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know . . Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless . ..For myself, as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaningless was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.’
Maybe unbelief is, as Huxley concedes, a most convenient ‘truth’ and a most liberating one.
Paul in Romans chapter 1v18 makes exactly this point. ‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.’
Those of us who are now Christians were exactly the same. We too closed our eyes to the very evidence of God’s existence. We too preferred to operate under the cover of darkness. It is amazing grace that John Newton discovered opens our eyes so that we too say ‘I once was blind but now I see.’
And on Advent Sunday we remember ‘The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.’ John 1:9
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