I have noticed a good but misguided desire among many young Christians parents. They seek to be intentional in the way they raise their children. Many have an excellent desire to be more gospel-focused. They want to treat their children the way that God is treating them – with grace. So they draw a direct line from this grace and want to parent with grace.
Unfortunately, using just this paradigm for parenting flattens the gospel. When we look at the whole of Scripture we see that God adopted Israel as his son and called him out of Egypt. The Scripture tells us that God then placed Israel, his son, under the law for a time. When the proper time came, Israel would be released from the law. Galatians tells that the law was like a tutor of a young child. It was a guardian put there until the child had grown up (Gal 3:24).
Theologians see three good purposes of the law:
First, the law shows us our need of a Savior. God tells us that the greatest commandments are to love him and to love our neighbor. But how do we do that? The law spells out the how of loving God and neighbor. And when we don’t fulfill it, we realize that we are sinful and need a savior.
Second, the law restrains sin. It is a fence or rope that holds back sinful behavior. The law cannot change the heart. But the threat of punishment does create civil order.
Third, the law shows those who have a changed heart how to please Christ. It is the railroad tracks that tell us how to run. When God changes a heart so that it is born again, new desires to please God are given to it.
The law, for all its inadequacies, was still a good thing. It was the tutor that prepared the nation for the grace of Christ. It taught them basic lessons about God’s holiness, atonement, and love for others. If God had revealed Jesus to the nation at Mount Sinai, it would have made no sense. The young nation needed the grace of the law before they needed the grace of freedom.
Law and Order in the Home
Similarly, our young children need to learn to live under our law. There need to be rules to which they are expected to obey and where there are consequences when they disobey. This dynamic of commands, obedience, and disobedience inculcates a sense of their need for a Savior.
Second, living under our law restrains natural childlike disobedience. It creates a civil society in the home where there is order. The law cannot change the heart. But it can create a peaceful home without lawlessness. Having wild children is not a sign of grace and godliness. Wild and disobedient children are a black mark for a man and his leadership (Titus 1:6).
Third, living under our law trains our children to please Christ. Paul explicitly commands children to obey their parents, for this is pleasing to the Lord (Eph 6:4). Obedience that is pleasing requires rule and commands from parents. Our children are trained in habits that a regenerate heart will delight to follow.
Some may object, “But shouldn’t I show my children grace?” Absolutely! Show them the grace of love. The grace of affection. The grace of calmness. The grace of order. And the grace of consequences.
Letting our children disobey us without consequences is not a sign of grace but a sign of hate (Rev 3:20). Just as living under the law prepared a people for the grace of Jesus Christ, so bringing our young children under submission to our rules, prepares them to know the grace of the Lord Jesus. And just as the time came for the law to be replaced because its purpose was fulfilled, so a time will come for our family laws to fall away.
Gospel-parenting does not negate the law. It includes it.