Be Good for Goodness’ Sake
This blog is a little longer than usual but it’s worth the read. This is part of the Introduction to a book I’m reading called Give them Grace, by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Yes, it is another book on parenting but totally worth getting and reading.
Be Good for Goodness’ Sake
Of course, you might say that this superficiality is an aberration and not typical of the kids in your home or church. We hope you’re right. But we all have to admit that if a majority of our children are leaving the faith as soon as they can, something has gone terribly wrong. Certainly the faith that has empowered the persecuted church for two millennia isn’t as thin and boring as “Say you’re sorry,” “Be nice,” and “Don’t be like them.” Why would anyone want to deny himself, lay down his life, or suffer for something as inane as that? Aside from the “Ask Jesus into your heart” part, how does this message differ from what any unchurched child or Jewish young person would hear every day?
Let’s face it: most of our children believe that God is happy if they’re “good for goodness’ sake.” We’ve transformed the holy, terrifying, magnificent, and loving God of the Bible into Santa and his elves. And instead of transmitting the gloriously liberating and life-changing truths of the gospel, we have taught our children that what God wants from them is morality. We have told them that being good (at least outwardly) is the be- all and end-all of their faith. This isn’t the gospel; we’re not handing down Christianity. We need much less of Veggie Tales and Barney and tons more of the radical, bloody, scandalous message of God made man and crushed by his Father for our sin.
This other thing that we’re giving them has a name—it’s called “moralism.” Here’s how one seminary professor described his childhood experience in church:
The preachers I regularly heard in the. . . church in which I was raised tended to interpret and preach Scripture without Christ as the central . . . focus. Characters like Abraham and Paul were commended as models of sincere faith and loyal obedience. . . . On the other hand, men like Adam and Judas were criticized as the antithesis of proper moral behavior. Thus Scripture became nothing more than a source book for moral lessons on Christian living whether good or bad.
When we change the story of the Bible from the gospel of grace to a book of moralistic teachings like Aesop’s fables, all sorts of things go wrong. Unbelieving children are encouraged to display the fruit of the Holy Spirit even though they are spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). Unrepentant children are taught to say that they’re sorry and ask for forgiveness even though they’ve never tasted true godly sorrow. Unregenerate kids are told that they are pleasing to God because they have achieved some “moral victory.” Good manners have been elevated to the level of Christian righteousness. Parents discipline their kids until they evidence a prescribed form of contrition, and others work hard at keeping their children from the wickedness in the world, assuming that the wickedness within their children has been handled because they prayed a prayer one time at Bible club.
If our “faith commitments” haven’t taken root in our children, could it be because they have not consistently heard them? Instead of the gospel of grace, we’ve given them daily baths in a “sea of narcissistic moralism,” and they respond to law the same way we do: they run for the closest exit as soon as they can.
Moralistic parenting occurs because most of us have a wrong view of the Bible. The story of the Bible isn’t a story about making good little boys and girls better. As Sally Lloyd-jones writes in The Jesus Storybook Bible:
Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done. Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy, The Bible does have some heroes in it, but. . most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose), they get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean. No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves, It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life.
This is the story that our children need to hear and, like us, they need to hear it over and over again.
You’re a Christian Parent but Is Your Parenting Christian?
Grace, or the free favor that has been lavished on us through Christ, ought to make our parenting radically different from what unbelievers do. That’s because the good news of God’s grace is meant to permeate and transform every relationship we have, including our relationship with our children, All the typical ways we construct to get things done and get others to do our bidding are simply obliterated by a gospel message that tells us that we are all (parents and children) both radically sinful and radically loved. At the deepest level of what we do as parents, we should hear the heartbeat of a loving, grace-giving Father who freely adopts rebels and transforms them into loving sons and daughters. If this is not the message that your children hear from you, if the message that you send them on a daily basis is about being good so that you won’t be disappointed, then the gospel needs to transform your parenting, too.
And now back to the little vignette we opened our introduction with. You’ll remember that we left Wesley after he had just cried out, “I can’t love my brother!” The Christian response to his cry isn’t what I (Elyse) would have said: “Oh, yes, you can and you will. The Bible says you have to, so you can.” No, the Christian response to a statement like “I can’t love my brother!” is something more along these lines:
Exactly! I am so glad to hear you say that, because it shows me that God is working in you, It is true that God commands you to love your brother, Wesley, but you can’t. That is the bad news, but that is not all the news there is. The rest of the news is so exciting! You can’t love your brother like God is asking you to, so you need a Rescuer to help you. And the really great news is that God has already sent one! His name is Jesus! Jesus has perfectly loved you and perfectly loved his brothers for you, fulfilling the law to love in your place. If you believe in him, he doesn’t punish you, the way you were punishing and beating up your brother. Instead of punishing you, he took all the punishment you deserve when he died on the cross for you. He knows how angry you are, He knows that there are times you are hateful and selfish with your brother. But he has loved you in spite of your sin, And because of this, Wesley, because of the way you have been lavishly loved, if you believe in him, you will grow to love your brother more and more. Because of Jesus alone, because of what He has already done for you, you can learn how to love if you believe that he will be that loving with you. But you’ll never be able to do this on your own.
After sharing soul-comforting words like those, Jessica continued with a time of discipline and prayer for Wesley that God would grant him faith to believe that the Rescuer he needed loved him, would forgive him, and would help him love others, too.
I hope you find this helpful and I hope you get a chance to read this book. You will definitely understand grace in a deeper way.
All for Jesus,