Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Author and speaker Elyse Fitzpatrick says the point of teaching God’s law to your children is not to make them good.

Elyse Fitzpatrick: Every way that we try to make our kids good that isn’t rooted in the good news of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ is a damnable, crushing, despair-breeding, Pharisee-producing law.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, July 12.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: When you first come to know Jesus, when you’re saved from your sins, you need God’s grace, right? Well, a lot of women have heard that, but did you know we also need God’s grace every day to continue living the Christian life?

I love the way that my friend, Elyse Fitzpatrick, presents this vital truth. Elyse has written a book with her daughter, Jessica Thompson, called, Give Them Grace. It shows parents how living by grace day by day affects their parenting style.

Now, of course, it’s important for parents to provide rules and boundaries for their children, but ultimately, they need a whole lot more than that because rules without a relationship with Christ will either lead to despair, because none of us can keep the rules, or it will lead to pride and self-righteousness, thinking that we can be right with God through our own strength and our own efforts.

Elyse and her daughter Jessica spoke about this at the Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference this past year. In this message, they show parents how to communicate Christ and the gospel of grace to their kids. Let’s listen.

Elyse: The question we want to ask you tonight is: Is there any difference between the way you, as a Christian parent, parent your children and the way perhaps your Mormon neighbors down the street parents? This isn’t meant as a slam on Mormons. I’m just saying they don’t have the gospel, and you do. Is there any difference in the way you parent or the way they parent? Would your children be able to see the difference?

In a landmark study that Christian Smith did a number of years ago in interviewing thousands of American youth, the study of youth in America, he came away after interviewing thousands of youth and said that what the young people of America from Christian homes believe what Christianity is, “is moralistic, therapeutic deism.” And what that basically means in common language is: “Be good so you can feel good about yourself and God will give you good stuff and not mess around with you too much.”

That is the message that our children are getting from us, and the terrible statistic is that over 60% (and this is the best one we could find) of the children who are raised in Christian homes leave the faith once they leave the home—60%. There are other studies that are as high as 80%. Our suspicion is that these children are not leaving truth Christianity because they have never heard true Christianity.

So Paul—actually, there are only two direct commands that I’m aware of in the New Testament about parenting. One is in Colossians 3:21. The other is in Ephesians 6:4, which says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” How many of you have ever heard that verse before?

Yes. We have entire books written on that verse and on the Colossians passage. My question is: When you hear that verse, what do you see? What do you hear? What we normally see and hear is: “Fathers”—and you know we write books about fathers—“don’t provoke your children”—and we write books about that­­—“and bring them up in the discipline and instruction”—and we talk a lot about that.

But there are three words at the end of that verse that we frequently gloss over. We assume. We don’t plumb. And those words are: “of the Lord.” And what does “discipline and instruction of the Lord” look like? What would that have sounded like to the Ephesians when they first heard it?

What’s different, you see, is that the Ephesians would have heard that verse and been shocked because what they did was, if they were Greeks, they would have been raising their children in the discipline and instruction of the philosophers. And the Jews who were there who read Paul’s letter would have been raising their children in the discipline and instruction of the law. But what Paul is saying is that we need to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord or of the gospel. What does that look like?

Christian parenting must be gospel centered in principal and practice. That means that the gospel, the good news . . . Would your children think that Christianity is good news? I think that for many of us what Christianity is is kind of sort of fire-insurance bad news. I’ve got to be really, really good. We’re not saying that we don’t give children rules and we don’t discipline because I know that . . . I can see that question floating around.

We do all of that, but do you give them good news? Because, you see, it’s only the good news that will impel obedience. It will motivate obedience.

So, Christian parenting must be gospel-centered in principal and practice. That means that the gospel of Jesus Christ must motivate everything we do. And, I tell you what, I don’t know how to do this. Jessica and I wrote the book together, and I’ll be with my grandchildren, and they’ll say something, and I have no idea. I know I should say something about the gospel at that point, but I don’t know what that would be, and so I say, “Go ask your mother.”

God, help us as Christian parents to free our children from thinking that Christianity is all about the rules and really has very little to do with grace. I will tell you that, at least from my parenting, most of what I was doing had to do with how well I could approve of myself at the end of the day when I looked at my kids. I wonder how much we all do that.

In our parenting, we must determine to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. What do you rely on? Do you rely on your own ability to manipulate? To guilt? To command? These are all things that I know I did with my children. What are you relying on?

This isn’t a new method. This is the gospel of grace, and it’s good news of the work of a Person—a Person who was a child. Jesus Christ was a little boy. I mean, that’s good news, because at some point one of His brothers or sister bonked Him on the head with a piece of wood. Right? I mean, we can assume so, and He loved her instead of hitting her back.

You see, our children need righteousness for their childhood. And so do we. He was perfectly righteous in all of His life, fulfilling the law perfectly in our place.

So this is just the message of Jesus Christ. How much time do you spend in your family with, “What would Jesus do?”(WWJD) I don’t want to say that that’s ever a bad question to ask, but it better not be the question we ask the most, or the question that resounds in the heart of our children. You see, Jesus being my example is not really very helpful if He’s not also my righteousness.

So, how much time do you spend with the law—WWJD—and how much time do you spend with the gospel—What DID Jesus do? How many times have you said that Jesus was your children’s example without also telling them that He was their righteousness?

There are four levels of obedience: Just the sort of initial obedience that you have with two-year-olds and three-year-old kids where basically you say, “No! Stop! Get your coat. Get in the car.” I’m not going to talk about propitiation right now.

We also want children to know social obedience. In different parts of the country, social obedience is different. If you’re in the Deep South, you know you’re very much, “Please,” and “Ma’am,” and “Thank you.” But not so much in Southern California where I live; it’s a different deal. But social obedience is appropriate. We want to teach children how to be obedient socially.

And then we want to teach children civic obedience, which is, “Wear your helmet while you ride your bike,” and “Stop at the stop sign,” and “Don’t cheat on tests,” and when you get old enough: Vote. This really has very little to do with Christian training.

None of this obedience can save, although a lot of kids think that if they’re outwardly compliant and always say “Please and thank you” and vote properly, when they get older that somehow that means that God loves them more. And that is, of course, not true. There is only one righteousness that will save.

So why do we give children the law and, out of the law, rules? Why do we do that? Not to make them good, but to bring them to Christ. We want to bring them to Christ.

When Jessica’s kids were younger, I remember—this is the first time I started thinking about parenting in the gospel. Wesley, who is the older one, was about four or five, and Hayden, who’s his younger brother, was two or three. Jessica was in another room—otherwise occupied—and heard this blood-curdling scream. So she comes running in and there was Wesley straddled on top of Hayden, beating the tar out of him. And as she looked, she also saw that Wesley had a big bite mark on his back—just keeping it real here.

So she picks Wesley up, and she says, “Wesley, you must love your brother.” It’s the law. Right? It is. It’s the law: Love your brother. Now, Wesley replied through tears in great consternation, frustration, and rage, “I can’t!”

To which I would have said, “Oh, buddy, yes you can, and you will, or I’m going to show why.”

But when he said, “I can’t love my brother,” she says, “You’re right. You need a Savior. He needs to rescue you. Call out to Christ.”

Now, that doesn’t mean that Wesley isn’t disciplined or that we don’t continue to give the law. But the point of the law in your children’s lives is not to make them good because it cannot. That’s not why it was given. It was given to drive them to Christ, to make them thankful for Christ’s perfect keeping of it, and then to show them once they are believers what gratitude looks like. But it is never given to them to make them good.

So every way that we try to make our kids good that isn’t rooted in the good news of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ is a damnable, crushing, despair-breeding, Pharisee-producing law.

You want to know what the law does? Look at ancient Israel. We won’t get the results we want from the law. We’ll either get shallow self-righteousness or blazing rebellion or both—and sometime out of the same child on the same day. We’ll get moralistic kids who are cold and hypocritical and who look down on others or teenagers who are rebellious and self-indulgent, and you can’t wait to get out of your house.

We have to remember that in the life of our unregenerate children, the law is given for one initial reason only, and that is to crush their self-confidence and drive them to Christ. People have criticized us because they think we are being mean to children. We all have within us an innate pride that tells us we’re really pretty good. Do not believe the lie that we need to build children’s self-esteem. They’re really doing okay.

The law also shows believing children what gospel-engendered gratitude for Christ's perfect keeping of the law looks like.

But one thing is for sure: We aren’t to give our children the law to make them good, because it cannot. And how many times do we use the law to do that?

Jessica Thompson: I think what’s sad for most of Christendom is that the kids who do act outwardly good never hear the gospel from us. They’re the ones in desperate need of it because they think their goodness will save them. They think they’re okay. We have to tell them, “Kids, it’s not about your goodness anymore.”

This is from Colossians 2:13–14—it’s The Message paraphrase. It says, “When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. [Do we believe that about our kids? But listen.] God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross.” This is the good news we want to share with our kids.

We’re doing a curriculum. I home school, so the curriculum we were doing was telling us: Make the Ten Commandments out of cardboard and then cover them in tinfoil—because the Ten Commandments were shiny, I’m sure. Then take a Sharpie and write on it the Ten Commandments. Then go through it with your kids and talk about how they have transgressed every single law. That was the end of the lesson.

My husband had put together a little cross in the back yard with 2x4’s. We took it, and I said, “Listen to me. You see how you broke these commandments? I’ve broken them, too. But here’s the good news of the gospel. This whole record against you—if you believe—has been nailed to the cross. Your slate is wiped clean. All sin is forgiven.”

Do we bring that past sin to our children? I am guilty of that. That is a tough one. You just want to say to them, “Remember? We just talked about this!”

The slate is wiped clean. Your heavenly Father does not see that any longer—if you believe. If you’re truly His, your slate is wiped clean.

Listen, there is only one Good Father and one Good Son. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” This is what we want to tell our kids!

Let me say this to you moms out there, because I’m right there with you in this: Be free from being the good mom. Please be done with it. Please be done with being the one that everybody says, “She’s such a good mom. I’m just such a good mom.” Be done with it.

That is not your identity. Your identity is hidden completely in Christ. It does not define you if you fail as a mother. It does not define you if your children are great successes. It’s not who you are. When your kids sin against you or act awful in public—It’s the fluorescent lights. It just brings it out in them!—and you think, Everybody’s watching me, and I’m such an awful mom. Be free from that.

Listen, you’re not a good mom. Neither am I. And this is why we need a Savior. This is how we can relate with our kids and partner with them. It’s not, “I’m such a good mom, be a good kid.”

Can I tell you, too: Please stop using your children to make you feel good about who you are? I think we take our kids’ accomplishments, and we hide our failure—slate’s wiped clean for you, too.

Won’t you stop using your kids? And I just say that from a place of me, too. You’ll find so much freedom. You’re going to enjoy them. And it won’t be all about: “Act good so I can feel like I’m doing my job right.”

Listen, salvation is always and only of the Lord. We live with this mindset that if I parent just right, it’s just going to pop out all these great kids. It’s not true. It’s not the way the Lord operates with us. That’s parenting under a covenant of works.

God would never make your kids’ salvation all up to you. That’s not who He is. You can’t carry that weight. If you’ve tried, you’ve ended up not liking your children. You cannot carry that weight.

Elyse: If you hear anything from us, don’t say, “Okay, now I have this other thing I’ve got to do.”

Jessica: Please don’t.

Elyse: Don’t. When you get into those teachable moments that God may bring to you, just throw yourself on the mercy of God, and ask the Lord, “Holy Spirit, You whose job it is to remind me of Jesus, remind me of Him now. Show me how this connects because I don’t see it.”

We just really want to leave you with the thought that salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is not of you. Just take a deep breath and go—Whew!—because God can save you, and He may even use your sin to draw your children to Christ.

Nancy: Well, we’ve been hearing from a mother/daughter team, Jessica Thompson and her mom, Elyse Fitzpatrick. They’ve been showing parents how to teach their kids to be more than rule-followers. They’re showing parents how to encourage their children to have a heart for Jesus.

I’m so glad that Elyse Fitzpatrick is going to be joining me, along with Paul David Tripp, at Revive ’13—a conference for women serving women. This is a conference intended for women’s ministry leaders. That includes teachers, counselors, small group leaders—any woman who’s investing in other women or would like to have a ministry into the lives of other women.

So we’ll be hearing from Elyse Fitzpatrick, from Dr. Paul David Tripp, our worship leader, Shannon Wexelburg who’s been with us on the Revive Tour this past semester, she’ll be with us as well.

I’ll just say, if you’re involved in women’s ministry in any way, this is a great opportunity for you to get refreshed, for you to get replenished as a leader, to grow, to take some next steps in ministry, and just to meet with other women who have a heart for serving women.

I hope you’ll join us for Revive ’13, September 20–21, in Schaumburg, Illinois, just north of Chicago. Get all the details, and sign up now for Revive ’13 by visiting us at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy. Once again, our web address is ReviveOurHearts.com.

This month we’re focusing on some practical life issues here on Revive Our Hearts. We’ll continue that next week, so I hope you’ll join us. I hope you’ll worship with your church this weekend because this program is no replacement for the teaching you get there, and then be back Monday for another Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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