Grace Based Libertarianism

A few weeks ago, I read an article on child rearing by a somewhat reformed, conservative evangelical in which he distinguished gospel centered parenting techniques from what he called “grace based libertarianism.” It was a classic example of what my pastor calls being “suspicious of grace.” Here was an author who was learning the doctrines of grace, enamored by the concept of gospel centered living, yet still suspicious of the core value of the gospel – unmerited favor. Better known as GRACE.

We are all growing in our understanding of gospel grace and how it applies to the nooks and crannies of our lives. But I will say boldly that you and I haven’t understood the gospel in its truest, purest sense until we stop being suspicious of grace. Or maybe I should say the converse. We HAVE started to understand the gospel in its truest, purest sense when we begin to recognize our suspicions with grace and subsequently start to put them to death. And our children are an excellent training ground for this very thing.

Remember how Jesus defines grace? Luke 6 is the best example. He uses the Greek word for grace, charis, repeatedly here.

… as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 32 If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

I need to read this again and again, because I leak grace. I get filled up with confidence in the power of grace, but it seeps out as the day goes on. I need this reminder of what I’m called to do particularly with my kids very much this day. I worked through this in depth writing By His Wounds You Are Healed. I’ve led a Bible study on it twice in the last year. And STILL I leak grace. So, once again, because I need to meditate on it anew, here are thoughts on Luke 6 and grace from By His Wounds You Are Healed.

“When you give back what is earned or deserved, it is not charis—it is not grace. It is not favor or benefit, and it is not credited toward you as anything other than exactly what you are expected to do. Instead, grace does what is unexpected, undeserved, and out of line with reasonable responses. Grace is an unreasonable response—unreasonably good, but unreasonable nonetheless. When we give grace, this undeserved favor that does good to enemies and lends expecting nothing in return, then we give evidence of our relationship with our Father in heaven, because this is his calling card. He is kind to the ungrateful and evil. He is full of grace.”

I think, “Really?! I’m supposed to treat my children as I want them to be not as they actually are acting right now? I get that I’m not supposed to give an unreasonably bad response. But what about a reasonably bad response? Shouldn’t they get what they deserve for acting out? But God says instead I’m supposed to give an unreasonably GOOD response. What does that even look like? And why doesn’t that make my children’s sin increase?!”

Here is my suspicion–if I really treat my children with grace instead of punishment, they will sin more. It’s not natural for me to envision a scenario in which a grace filled response to them in their sin and failure actually helps them overcome their sin. First, I have a mistaken perception of what grace looks like. Grace doesn’t mean simply being polite or diplomatic. And most of all, grace doesn’t suggest we ignore sin. In fact, grace is meaningless apart from a stark understanding of the sin in question. Grace engages over the sin. But not with punishment. Grace is what moves us from returning evil for evil with punitive measures (a hit for a hit) to returning evil with good by discipling their hearts and training them in new ways to respond to their own issues.

Second, I am suspicious of grace because I have a shortsighted view of the future. I think if my children don’t immediately change their behavior the moment I engage them over their sin issue, I have failed. If I don’t reactively punish them, I think they’ll abuse my grace. And maybe tomorrow, they will. But God’s view for them extends well past tomorrow. It is of eternity. Every adult Christian friend of mine who gives positive testimony of a parent universally tells me of how their parents ENDURED with them through their hard seasons and how that perseverance drew them to repentance.

The techniques we teach for child rearing are as good an indicator of our understanding of gospel grace as anything. It is interesting how reformed Christian teachers and parents who really should know better still embrace the very techniques that God called ineffective at transformation—law, punishment, and penance—and disdain or mock (as did the author in question) the methods our Father in heaven embraces in His plan for His children—a wooing with grace and kindness that draws us to repentance. We do this because we really don’t believe Biblical grace works. We have for the most part graduated from a performance based Christian parenting model to a heart based Christian parenting model. Almost everyone in my Christian circles (which are varied) over the last decade or so has gotten that external conformity apart from internal heart change is of no value. But we still often attempt to change the HEART by external pressure. Through guilt, manipulation, or shame. “Look at ALL God has done for you! Why don’t you love Him? Why aren’t you obeying Him? He’s so wonderful and you’re just a worm. Your heart is wicked.” We’re trying to get to our kids’ heart, but we’re using the same old tactics legalists use to change externals. Guilt. Shame. Manipulation.

If you feel threatened by what you view of as grace based libertarianism (which actually is a meaningless term), it’s likely because you don’t really believe that grace works and that it’s what is required by you. If that’s the case, go reread Luke 6 and ask yourself if it’s relevant to your children. But even if you are convicted that you do need to parent with grace (as I am), it doesn’t mean you do it consistently in the moment.

Perhaps you simply failed in the moment. You very much wanted to patiently disciple your children in the direction that God is taking them, but instead you got angry at where they were in the moment. I’m there on a regular basis. I am learning that the gospel equips me to deal with this without shame or condemnation. I face it and correct it.  And I have hope that this response won’t always characterize me.

Maybe you did it right, and it still fell apart. Or there wasn’t any perceptable change at all. You’re not sure if your reactions were right or wrong, and you see no noticeable good results one way or the other. What is the point of responding patiently in grace if it doesn’t fix the problem immediately? God’s long term view for His children equips you to deal with this without bitterness or the loss of hope. The gospel gifts you with perseverance and confidence in the eternal results.

I Cor. 13:7-8 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

16 Responses to Grace Based Libertarianism

  1. strengthfortoday February 12, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    Just today I was commenting on a friend's FB post. She was saying she needs to remember not to bring up past, forgiven offenses her children have committed, even for “teaching purposes”. My reply was,
    “Amen. And when my children want to make repeated apologies after it is “done”…I do not permit it. I remind them it is “done”. My son esp. will do this….he wants to further punish himself for the offense. It can get pretty deep, because he needs to understand his offense is against God first. Then he needs to take hold of Christ's sufficiency in forgiveness (and I need to extend this in how I manifest forgiveness). Further chastising himself, if all has been made right, is nothing but a popish penance, plain and simple. It is a human solution where a divine one is required.”
    Parenting is complicated when you try to do it right!

  2. Wendy February 12, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    That's a good point. I do that sometimes.

  3. Anonymous February 12, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    Appreciate the post! Please give an example of grace based parenting. I need a 'visual' not only words. What does it look like?

    Thank you

  4. Becky February 12, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

    Great post…

    I pray I will live in Grace; I pray as Paul prayed, for Grace for every member in our family.


  5. Emily February 12, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    Hi Wendy,
    Thanks for this post. I have two little ones at home (3 1/2 and 18 months) and I often have a hard time figuring out what this looks like practically. I could use some help in pointing out how/when I'm doing this – parenting without grace as my core principle. Would you be able to give some practical examples of what this looks like for you? For example, times when you realized you have not been parenting with grace, and what the alternative would have looked like? I totally agree with this in my head, I think I just need to some concrete examples to wrap my arms around and remember as I'm going through my day. Thank you!!

  6. heather February 13, 2011 at 2:49 am #

    Thank you for writing this. I needed to read these words.

  7. Kim February 13, 2011 at 3:15 am #

    It's like the Lord brought this topic to your mind for just me. 🙂 A real blessing indeed!!

  8. Wendy February 13, 2011 at 5:32 am #

    Thanks for the comments, all! I was searching for some helpful examples of what this looks like in action and stumbled across this blog article. I found it helpful. I am working on a more practical 2nd part to this that I hope to post next week.

  9. rental elf February 13, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Nice article, thanks.

  10. kbonikowsky February 13, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    Great thoughts. But, oh, it does start many questions! I guess that's what a good article does.

    I wrote an article a few years ago titled Law before Liberties. I'm linking it not to plug it, but to give you a quick reference.
    Now, thinking through your grace-based-parenting paradigm, I'm re-thinking. When I re-read it, I see all the typical law-based words. Here's a few questions:

    1. Romans 3:20 says, “…through the law we become conscious of sin.” People have no use for grace until they are conscious of how much they need it. Does this have a part to play in parenting?

    2. God does not ask us to understand why He asks certain things of us, He only asks for loving obedience. He expects us to obey regardless of our feelings about the circumstance. This is the heart of submission. How do you use gracious tactics and not punitive tactics (or can they be the same thing sometimes?!) to teach your children this?

    My article is the antithesis of yours! I'd love to dialogue. I love re-vising an opinion!

  11. Wendy February 13, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    Thanks, Kay. Here are my initial responses from reading your article. But I'm going to think more about it.

    Romans 3:20 is relevant. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The law is where we get our awareness of our need, but it has absolutely nothing to offer in terms of solution to our need. So punishment to pressure conformity to the law will lead to external conformity in some and major escalation of conflict in others. But it will not ultimately meet the need in their heart.

    If the gospel is the environment for our parenting ( as Elyse Fitzpatrick argues here), then we have to think about the law toward our children as God instructs us to think about the law for ourselves. Actually, I think Elyse's article says it much better than I could.

    Your thoughts?

  12. kbonikowsky February 14, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    I went back and re-read all your relevant articles so I can try to clarify my questions.
    Don’t mistake why I’m asking. I’m working through these things as well!

    In gracious parenting, how does the Godly principle of “sowing and reaping” or learning consequences play out? Is it more HOW these things are accomplished? …In controlled love, not in selfish anger?

    I think that is the heart of what is confusing me. A fool is one who lives in the “now” never thinking of the “later.” We want to grow our children from being foolish to wise. Without consequences that deter behavior we would all be fools! Right? Or maybe you are saying no? Gracious reprieve is enough to deter a foolish heart? (gulp, I realize that sounds heretical. I just don't know how to answer it.)

    I really struggle with thinking that! 🙂 Because would God not be mocked because we would not be reaping in kind with our behavior? And, we do learn by the law of consequences. I keep coming back to that! Without that “law” (reaping/sowing), we would never appreciate the reprieve of grace. Grace is enough, but the law is ever present (and just as Godly as grace) pointing us back to the only answer of grace.

    Could it be that both are important in differing quantities in differing stage in life?

    Or maybe I just don't understand what you mean by grace parenting. lol

  13. Wendy February 14, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

    “In gracious parenting, how does the Godly principle of “sowing and reaping” or learning consequences play out? Is it more HOW these things are accomplished? …In controlled love, not in selfish anger?”

    I'm still thinking through this too. So here are today's thoughts. I think it is both–how it is accomplished and what your foundational theology is that determines what you want to accomplish. Personally, the phrases discipline v. punishment and parenting my children as God parents His are my overarching filters in the moment of what is and is not gospel parenting. All punishment and condemnation and penalty has been paid on the cross–both for me, and in faith I believe for my children. In this moment of whatever their sin issue is, what would punishment look like? Conversely, what does discipline (or discipleship) look like? How do I show them their sin and train them in a better way of responding to whatever provoked them?

    I use timeout at times, but not with a punitive mentality. “You're in timeout for 10 minutes for stealing your brother's toy.” I do it more like this, “You're in timeout until you calm down and are ready to fix this problem. When you're ready to work this out with your brother, let me know.” The first seems purely punitive, like they will learn to change their behavior because they don't like timeout. The second is a tool to get their attention so I can actually attempt to train them in righteousness.

    I don't think sowing and reaping and gracious parenting are mutually exclusive. I do think the first can be punitive depending on its use. And I think the second may move us to at some point say, these are the consequences to your action, but I'm going to save you from those consequences today because I love you.

  14. kbonikowsky February 18, 2011 at 2:02 am #

    Well, either way, your infusion of Grace-parenting thoughts have improved my mothering in the last few days. God is good!

  15. Tristan & Melissa Summers March 6, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    I don't have children yet but my husband and I are always talking and praying about how we are going to train our children. I was raised in a home where we we outright disobeyed and we were spanked and then sat and had a talk about what we did, prayed, snuggled etc. I actually don't have negative memories of it at all which may be strange to some. Anyway, I have always thought I would discipline my kids the same way.
    I totally agree in parenting out of grace but I also know that God does discipline us out of love….so how does that look when you are doing grace based parenting? I have never read any books on raising kids so I am totally clueless to theories and different schools of thought. But I would love to learn more and get some reading recommendations so I can pray through all this more with my husband,

  16. Wendy March 7, 2011 at 2:58 am #

    Melissa, you may find it helpful to read through the comments on this post and read the other posts this one references.