Every Tuesday morning, I review a book that I read recently. If you missed any, you can read past reviews here.
I had Give them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus (kindle version) by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson on my “to read” list for awhile. Katie read it soon after it came out, so I knew the gist of the book. I finally got around to reading it as I prepped my sermon on parenting at Revolution Church in our Man vs. Wife series.
As far as parenting books go, this is the best I’ve read. A close second would be Gospel Powered Parenting, but if you are going to read one parenting book, I’d tell you to read this one.
The premise of the book is that parents don’t give their kids the gospel. They give them law, rules to follow, in hopes of making them into well-behaved moralistic kids who act like Christians. All parents want their kids to behave, but often, we miss the gospel in that behavior.
One question that rang out throughout the book was “Could a parent who doesn’t know Jesus do all that you are doing as a parent?” If the answer to that question is yes, can you truly say you are raising your kids in a gospel centered way?
Here are a few things jumped out to me while reading:
- What most of us want for our children. Jesus or no Jesus, we just want them to obey, be polite, not curse or look at pornography, get good jobs, marry a nice person, and not get caught up in the really bad stuff. It may come as a surprise to you, but God wants much more for your children, and you should too. God wants them to get the gospel. And this means that parents are responsible to teach them about the drastic, uncontrollable nature of amazing grace.
- How do you think a Christian parent should respond to a child who is angry, disobedient, and hopeless? And should a Christian’s response differ significantly from what we might hear from a loving Mormon mom or a conscientious Jewish father? Sure, all parents would undoubtedly have restrained their son and told him that beating up his little brother is inappropriate behavior. But then what? What would come next? Is there something that would make a Christian’s response distinctly Christian?
- Most of us are painfully aware that we’re not perfect parents. We’re also deeply grieved that we don’t have perfect kids. But the remedy to our mutual imperfections isn’t more law, even if it seems to produce tidy or polite children. Christian children (and their parents) don’t need to learn to be “nice.” They need death and resurrection and a Savior who has gone before them as a faithful high priest, who was a child himself, and who lived and died perfectly in their place. They need a Savior who extends the offer of complete forgiveness, total righteousness, and indissoluble adoption to all who will believe. This is the message we all need. We need the gospel of grace and the grace of the gospel.
- Children can’t use the law any more than we can, because they will respond to it the same way we do. They’ll ignore it or bend it or obey it outwardly for selfish purposes, but this one thing is certain: they won’t obey it from the heart, because they can’t. That’s why Jesus had to die.
- Christians know that the gospel is the message unbelievers need to hear. We tell them that they can’t earn their way into heaven and that they have to trust in Jesus alone for their goodness. But then something odd happens when we start training the miniature unbelievers in our own home. We forget everything we know about the deadliness of relying on our own goodness and we teach them that Christianity is all about their behavior and whether, on any given day, God is pleased or displeased with them. It’s no wonder that so many of them (some estimates are as high as 88 percent but none are under 60 percent1) are lost to utter rebellion or to works-based cults such as Mormonism as soon as they are free to make an independent choice.
- The primary reason the majority of kids from Christian homes stray from the faith is that they never really heard it or had it to begin with. They were taught that God wants them to be good, that poor Jesus is sad when they disobey, and that asking Jesus into their heart is the breadth and depth of the gospel message.
- Most of our children believe that God is happy if they’re “good for goodness’ sake.” We’ve transformed the holy, terrifying, magnificent, and loving God of the Bible into Santa and his elves. And instead of transmitting the gloriously liberating and life-changing truths of the gospel, we have taught our children that what God wants from them is morality. We have told them that being good (at least outwardly) is the be-all and end-all of their faith. This isn’t the gospel; we’re not handing down Christianity. We need much less of Veggie Tales and Barney and tons more of the radical, bloody, scandalous message of God made man and crushed by his Father for our sin.
- At the deepest level of what we do as parents, we should hear the heartbeat of a loving, grace-giving Father who freely adopts rebels and transforms them into loving sons and daughters.
- One of the reasons we don’t share this story with our children is that it doesn’t resonate deeply in our own hearts. As one mom of four told us, “I couldn’t teach my kids about the gospel before because it was not real to me and had no impact on me. Although I was a Christian, I was trying to live by the law and expecting my kids to live by it too—or else. Praise God that although I mess up every day with them, I am learning to direct them to their need for him and not their need to do good or to please me.”
- Training children in religious obedience is not wrong; in fact, we are commanded to do so. We are told to teach them the Bible, to talk with them about God’s nature and works, to pray in their presence, and to take them to worship (see Ex. 12:26–28; Deut. 4:9–10; 6:7–9; Ps. 78:4–8; Eph. 6:4). But telling children that they are good or that God is pleased with them because they closed their eyes during prayer time is both dangerous and false.
- I assumed my children had regenerate hearts because they had prayed a prayer at some point and because I required religious obedience from them.
- We have to remember that in the life of our unregenerate children, the law is given for one reason only: to crush their self-confidence and drive them to Christ.
- The one encouragement we can always give our children (and one another) is that God is more powerful than our sin, and he’s strong enough to make us want to do the right thing. We can assure them that his help can reach everyone, even them. Our encouragement should always stimulate praise for God’s grace rather than for our goodness.
- If we persist in seeking to build our children’s self-esteem by praising them, we make them into our own image, boys and girls who idolize the benediction, adults who are enslaved to the opinions of others, and parents who pass on the lie to the next generation—even though it hasn’t worked to make them good either. Like us, our children crave the blessed benediction: “You are good!” But the Bible says that because we are not good, those words no longer apply to us. We’re not good. Here’s how the Bible describes our plight: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
- Our children aren’t innately good, and we shouldn’t tell them that they are. But they are loved and if they truly believe that, his love will transform them.
- Give this grace to your children: tell them who they really are, tell them what they need to do, and then tell them to taste and see that the Lord is good. Give this grace to yourself, too.
- Seeking to be faithfully obedient parents is our responsibility; granting faith to our children is his.
- 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 our 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. Yes, God does command us to train our children, but care needs to be taken that this training doesn’t morph into something more important to us than God himself.
- We have far too high a view of our ability to shape our children and far too low a view of God’s love and trustworthiness. So we multiply techniques and try to control the outcome. We subconsciously hope that by our “righteousness,” we will obligate God to make everything turn out the way we want.
- Identify the sin they are committing and that this sin shows their need for Jesus.
- Most parents know enough to confess their anger to their children. But do we regularly confess our self-righteousness and pride?
- We hinder our children from enjoying God’s embrace when we teach them that their religious activity and obedience elevates them out of the category of sinner in need of mercy.
- We hinder our children from coming to him when we inadvertently teach them that the good news is meant for good people.
- The good news: Jesus Christ has already done all the work that needed to be done. When in great relief from excruciating agony of soul he declared, “It is finished,” it really was. This is the message that we and our children need to hear over and over again. We have reminded you of this because every human heart is always and ever drawn to law. In the same way that iron filings follow a magnet, our hearts chase after rules—not because we ever really obey them but because we think they make life manageable.
- Our goal is always to get to the point where we are talking with our kids about the truth of the gospel more and more, believing that their training will be better brought about by the conviction of the Holy Spirit instead of the rod.
- I thought parenting was going to portray my strengths, never realizing that God had ordained it to reveal my weaknesses.
- Is there room in your parenting paradigm for weakness and failure if weakness and failure glorify God?
- The chief end of our parenting is not our own glorification as great parents but rather that we glorify God and enjoy him forever, whatever that means?
- The compliant child’s life lies to us, assuring us that she is good because we’re such good parents. Difficult children tell us the truth: God loves his enemies, and he can infuse us with grace that will make us lay down our lives for them too. Their rebellion is a verification of the gospel: we produce sinful children because we are sinners, but God loves sinners. God’s power is displayed through our failures when we tether ourselves to the gospel message of sin and forgiveness, no matter how desperate the situation becomes.