How do you use the Bible to get your children to obey? Often we cite a story like Jonah and use this reasoning, “Jonah ran away from God instead of obeying him. We shouldn’t do that. We should obey God the very first time, because that’s what pleases God and doesn’t bring about punishment.” None of that is incorrect, but it is incomplete. Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson, in chapter one of Give them Grace, say that the primary theme of our teaching should be Jesus Christ and the work he has already done.
They ask an excellent question: “what percentage of your time is spent in declaring the rules and what percentage in reciting the Story.” (29) How often do we merely recite rules and commands, and how often do we explain to them why they cannot obey and how Jesus helps us obey? Of course with younger kids we do have to give rules and instructions, and at that age they may not fully comprehend the story of Jesus’ work done for them, but the point is still worth considering.
Fitzpatrick and Thompson list four types of obedience we teach our children – initial, social, civic, and religious. But in teaching them obedience in these ways we need to remember that “[e]very way 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 damnable, crushing, despair-breeding, Pharisee-producing law… We have to remember that in the life of our unregenerate children, the law is given for one reason only: to crush their self-confidence and drive them to Christ.” (36)
As we examine our own parenting and make our way through Give them Grace, let’s try to assess how much the gospel is really the central part of our parenting.