During our morning devotion the other day, I became mad at my son. He had absentmindedly grabbed my cup of coffee, inches away from his reach. I told him twice to put it back… and then he spilled it. In frustration over the interruption and the mess, I scolded him.
Hadn’t we just gone over self-control the previous week?
It can be frustrating and discouraging when our children keep exhibiting the same behaviors over and over again that we try and correct. The cycle goes something like this: my child disobeys again after I’ve already told him multiple times to do the right thing. I get mad. He retreats. I get more frustrated because of his frustration.
And lather, rinse, repeat.
Back to the spilled coffee incident earlier- I was in the middle of a mini lecture (never a good thing to do with boys), when God reminded me of one seemingly small word: grace.
I had been trying to teach my kids about the significance of the Resurrection that morning, but God wanted to teach me my own lesson.
Grace Acknowledges Both Their Sin and Mine
My own sin doesn’t die easily. Right now, I’m fighting a particular one that seems especially persistent. I might see victory in a particular one for a few months, but then something happens and I let my guard down, and I feel like I’ve taken 10 steps backward in sanctification.
If I remember my own agregious sin, then I’m able to see my young kids through sympathetic eyes. If I, a blood-bought child of God, continue to go back to the same sin, how much more will my child who may not even have the Holy Spirit?
At the end of the day, discipline is often hard for me because I fail to see my children through humble eyes, and instead expect behavior that even I don’t exhibit. The truth is, they’re stubborn sinners who need new hearts.
In the moments when they disobey or fail to exhibit self-control, they’re simply responding according to their fallen nature. And they keep going back to their sin because it’s the only impulse anyone has apart from Christ (Romans 1).
Only when I see them in that light am I able to respond with compassion—not frustration. They need Jesus again and again and again.
Grace Teaches Them What God Is Like
Deuteronomy 6:7 says we are to teach God’s commands to our children diligently. That word conveys the idea of repetition and consistency over a long period of time.
So often we’re tempted to look for shortcuts. But we’re in this for the long haul.
There may be significant moments when we grasp a truth more clearly, or experience something of God that was previously only “head knowledge.” Most of the time, however, we grow in knowledge and love for Jesus gradually, through an accumulation of Bible reading, daily exercised faith and obedience, and listening to the wisdom of other Christians.
We should expect the same for our children.
As parents we must remember that spiritual growth—just like any other—is usually a slow, gentle, and even painful process rather than a series of big leaps. It rarely comes through amazing performances in which we explain an aspect of Christian faith clearly and comprehensively to a child who listens, spellbound, before responding with perfect understanding and immediate acceptance.
The consistent habit of reading the Bible together, talking about it, and making connections between what you read and ordinary life doesn’t feel spectacular. But this is exactly what God lays out for us in Deuteronomy 6.
And this is also the general pattern of discipline in Scripture. How does God deal with his children? He’s gracious. He’s slow to anger (Psalm 86:15). He gives them repeated chances to obey. He gives them deliverance even when they don’t deserve it (Deuteronomy 7:7). And ultimately, he gives his only Son to give them new hearts, so that they can have even a chance at true obedience (John 3:16).
The pattern of parenting we see in Scripture is one of long-suffering patience with wayward, rebellious people set on going their own way. Does that sound like your house? It sure sounds like mine.
Grace Compliments The Law
Of course, this doesn’t mean we look the other way when our children misbehave. Patience doesn’t imply permissiveness and inattentiveness. God has given us authority in our homes over our kids and we need to discipline their disobedience promptly (Proverbs 13:24).
Whenever we discipline our kids, we are applying the law of God. As I remind my son that he disobeyed by continuing to play on his iPad when the timer went off, I am presenting him with rules.
At the very least, a consequence for the action may restrain him from being as bad as he would without it. But more than that, I hope that the law will convict him of his sin.
Those behaviors and attitudes are actually excellent ways to point each child to Christ! They repeatedly prove our children’s need for His salvation.
When they keep disobeying and express frustration that they can’t be good, we say “Yes exactly! That’s why Jesus came to redeem you by His death on the cross”. In those moments, we can present the Gospel very clearly to our children.
Lead them to scripture verses that specifically apply to that behavior and have them pray and ask God’s forgiveness. This reveals that God is the one who changes hearts, something their attempts at rule keeping could never do.
They may change their behavior externally, but that isn’t our goal as parents. We don’t want them, as 2 Timothy 3:5 says, to have an appearance of godliness but deny its power. Therefore, we must teach the law of God and the grace of Christ almost in the same breath.
All throughout the Bible, God affirms that He wants us both to love Him and keep His commandments. If we go too far on the rules side of things, and continue to bring up their past offenses when they’ve disobeyed, we run the risk of creating legalists.
It will only demonstrate the hopelessness of their condition, without the hope of the Gospel. And this is what produces hypocrites who are falsely assured of their own works of righteousness.
The greatest opportunity to spread the Gospel in this nation exists inside your home!
The most glorious truth in parenting is that I’m not the only one parenting my kids. God is their ultimate authority, and I care for them as one under his authority, too. Children learn to trust and obey God by learning to trust and obey their parents, so how I discipline them should testify to how God disciplines us.
We can see in Scripture how He has always saved His people by grace through faith in Christ alone. We are sinners. They are sinners. We are all in need of God’s grace.