I believe in grace for salvation, but I need help knowing how that translates into parenting. John’s Gospel says:
for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).
As a father, I’ve shown my kids a lot of Moses but not much Jesus.
When they disobey, I’m quick to lay down the law with its consequences such as taking away screen time, making them right lines, or bringing out the spanking spoon. It’s all law. How do I show them grace?
Here’s one example.
It’s from Rod Rosenbladt, a Lutheran teacher. I’ve come across his story from several theologians, including Tullian Tchividjian, Chad Bird, and Paul Zahl.
When Rosenbladt was sixteen, he borrowed his dad’s Buick 8, drank with his friends, and wrecked the car. After the accident, Rod called his dad and told him what happened. His father didn’t yell, cuss, or criticize but asked, “Are you all right?”
Later that night, Rosenbladt wept in his father’s study. He confessed he’d been drunk, was ashamed and embarrassed at what he’d done, and was terrified at what his father would do. But against his expectations, his father said, “How about tomorrow we go and get you a new car?”
Rosenbladt says that he became a Christian at that moment. God’s grace suddenly became very real to him through the underserved mercy and forgiveness shown to him by his father.
Rosenbladt explains that some people get upset by that story. “Your dad let you get away with that? He didn’t punish you at all?” they ask in disbelief. And Rosenbladt says, “No.” But he adds: “Do you think I didn’t know what I had done? Do you think it was not the most painful moment of my whole life up to that point? Do you think the law wasn’t cutting me down to nothing?” In other words, Rod was already convicted of his sin. He didn’t need to be convinced. So rather than heap shame upon shame, Rod’s dad spoke a word of grace. Paul Zahl explains, “In that eternal encounter, for it reflected the mechanism of God’s grace, there was no law. The law’s dominion came to an end. Grace superseded it” (Zahl, Grace in Practice, p. 86).
Hearing that story sparked my imagination about how to show unmerited favor to my kids, so they could better understand what God has shown us in Christ.
Here’s one example.
My son, Zane, is what you would call a picky eater. In his defense, I think he inherited all the worst traits regarding eating. He inherited his mother’s “hanger,” where if he misses a meal or doesn’t eat enough protein, he loses control of his emotions, life seems impossible, and he can’t think rationally.
He also inherited some weird food predilections from my father, where most flavors taste intolerably spicy.
One day, Zane was throwing a fit about supper, and since it was the end of the day, all the mercy and patience had already been drained out of me and Abby, and we were on our last nerve. I knew exactly where supper was headed. We’d try our hardest to be reasonable and convince Zane to eat. And he would argue and resist and cry. And things would eventually escalate into a yelling match and the spanking spoon.
I was tired of it.
Then I remembered Rod’s story, and an idea hit.
“That’s it,” I roared. “We’re going to get a burger!”
“Wh-what?” Zane asked.
“You heard me! You want to throw a fit? Fine! We’re getting a burger!”
Zane was suspicious but followed me out to the car, and we rode to Wendy’s in silence, where I got him his usual—a double patty with cheese, lettuce, and ketchup. We sat down to eat.
After Zane took a few bites, I asked him, “Did you deserve this hamburger?”
“No,” he answered.
“Do you know what this is called?”
“Grace,” he said.
“That right. Like what Jesus showed us.” I had previously talked to the kids about grace—especially salvation by grace. The whole world will tell them you have to be good to be saved. I wanted them to be well-grounded in grace. I hoped this lesson would stick.
He took another bite.
“I’m sorry for throwing a fit, Dad,” he said with tears. I could see he meant it. I hugged him and told him I forgave him.
That time grace worked to produce a change in my son that the law never could.
Of course, I know that won’t work every time. It depends on the kid and the circumstances.
And I also know that every family needs basic rules of behavior, so figuratively speaking, I have to show my kids Moses some of the time.
Nevertheless, as a father trying to evangelizing a brood legalistic pagans, I’ve found that surprising acts of grace—ones that go against a child’s moralistic expectations—are great opportunities to show them Jesus.
Send your questions or comments to Shawn.