Reading 2012: Give Them Grace

“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 on their performance for Jesus but on Jesus’ performance for them” {page 12}.  

Tchividjian {author of the above} writes an effective, compelling, and inspiring forward to the book, Give Them Grace. He skillfully puts into words what has been bothering me for some time: the fact that so many Christian parents are more at ease about their Christless child’s spiritual well being simply because they attend Church services. Personally I find it all the more terrifying that children without a fear of God should regularly attend church as if they had some relationship with God, giving them a sense that everything is ok because they went to Sunday morning worship.

{I’m not referring to brining your young children to church with you. I think it’s important for them to be part of the community of believers as they grow. However, finding security in the fact that they do attend or that your older children choose to attend of their own free will even though they have no desire for spiritual things is misplacing your confidence.}

In essence that’s what this book is getting at, encouraging parents to not allow the outward behavior of their child to ultimately dictate the way{s} in which the child is instructed. “Good” behavior doesn’t equal a good heart. Consider the Pharisees Jesus dealt with. Consider the fact that you have a few living in your home and one staring at you in the mirror every morning.

The most encouraging thing about this book for me was the authors’ concern for their reader, and not solely their reader’s children. Fitzpatrick and Thompson start off with guiding the reader to understand his/her standing before God, rooting them in grace. Because “one of the reasons we don’t share this story [of God’s saving grace] with our children is that it doesn’t resonate deeply in our own hearts” {page 29}. Christian parenting does not start with correcting our children’s behavior so that they are loving, sweet, obedient, little angels. It begins with finding our identity as parents in Christ {not in parenting or in well behaved children}.

Rooting our identity in anything but Christ results in idolatry, worshipping the thing for which we seek to be known by.

“Within the heart of the Christian, idolatry is frequently the worship of some good, like having believing, obedient children. This desire is not sinful or idolatrous in itself; it is good. But it becomes idolatrous when we orient our entire life around it or we sin because we want it so much. When we so desperately want out children to be good that we’re alternately angry, fearful, proud, or sullen, then our desire for their transformation has become the god we serve” {page 56}. 

The second most encouraging aspect about the book is the authors’ continual warning against basing our hopes for “successful parenting” on any methods we use.

“Giving grace to our children is not another formula that guarantees their salvation or obedience. Grace-parenting is not another law for you to master to perfect your parenting or your children. Our children will be saved only through the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit, who works at the direction of our faithful heavenly Father. He’s the faithful, powerful, soul-transforming One. Yes, he may use us as a means to accomplish his purpose, but salvation is entirely of the Lord” {page 22}. 

Our responsibility to be faithful in parenting is made clear in Scripture, but we are not responsible to force heart transformation in our children. That’s the Holy Spirit’s work.

And what about when we fail miserably and “lose it?”

“The disciples couldn’t hinder the children from coming to [Jesus] even though they tried. When God calls our children to come to him, even if we haven’t gotten it all right, even if we’ve trained little Pharisees or have a house full of prodigals, nothing is impossible for him. He can break through all our flawed methods and redeem all our frail errors. The world tells us that our children’s success depends upon our success. The world knows nothing of God’s ability to use our failures as means to bless” {page 77}. 

“The Lord God rules in Trinitarian sovereignty over all there is, freely ruling and overruling for his glory according to his will. As his children we long to make his glory known by our faithful obedience. That is a good desire, but a strong, successful family may not be the way he has chosen for us to glorify him. Perhaps his goal is that we glorify him by demonstrating weakness and even failure” {page 146}. 

I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical of the book’s title at first. I’m a firm believer that feeling the weight of the law is a vital part of a person coming to salvation. After all the law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ {Gal. 3:24}. However, I was relieved of that skepticism within the first chapter. The authors write, “Even though our children cannot and will not obey God’s law, we need to teach it to them again and again. And when they tell us that they can’t love God and others in this way, we are not to argue with them. We are to agree with them and tell them their need for a Savior” {page 35}. Without an understanding that they are not able to perfectly meet the standard that God requires they will not see their need to accept Jesus and the work that He accomplished.

The subject of discipline was a tad confusing for me while reading the book however. Discipline and punishment seemed to be used interchangeably and to my understanding these terms are not meant to be confused. And how these fit into the ideas of communicating grace to your children was a bit ambiguous. And to top it off the only punishment they seemed to refer to was spanking. Not that I believe there is anything wrong with spanking. I find it necessary from time to time. But there are alternatives to consider for different children. The book was more focused on the spirit of instruction rather than the methods of it though so I get why things weren’t made clearer in this chapter. Still, it was a little disappointing.

All in all, the book was very helpful. A great resource for examples of how to communicate grace to your children, complete with mock conversations and scenarios. The questions at the end of each chapter are probing and beneficial to work through. The gospel is clearly communicated and effectively applied to every day life.

“So, when you have that morning to top all mornings, when everything that could possibly go wrong does, when grace doesn’t mean anything to you, it is [the Father’s] grace that will sustain you. What mornings like these teach us is that we’re just like our children. They forget, and so do we. They need grace, and so do we. We are partners in grace with them” {page 164}. 

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