Rule-keeping and Rule-hating Children

How do you resolve an argument between a prodigal and a Pharisee, between a “younger brother” and an “older brother” (of the type in the parable of the two sons), between a rule breaker and a rule keeper? As I blog through the book, Give them Grace, Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson address this practical example in chapter 4.

Their response to two children of this kind, the rule keeper and the rule breaker? Mercy. Mercy trumps law. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision [rule keeping] nor uncircumcision [rule breaking] counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6 ESV)  The authors’ write this, as part of the conversation with one of the children:

“The law of love is the law that Christ kept perfectly on our behalf… We are all law-breaking rule-haters when it comes to something we want to do. David breaks the rules by cheating, you break the rules by screaming at him, and I break the rules by wanting peace and quiet. We’re all law-breaking rule-haters. None of us keeps the rules or loves each other like we should. But when Jesus came, instead of making us pay for breaking the rules, he loved us…

“if you truly believe that Jesus died for your sin, you can love your rule-breaking little brother. After all, you are just like him. And when you fail to love him, you can remember that Jesus, the Lord of love, has obeyed the rule about love for you in your place, so that, if you truly believe it, your desire to feel like a ‘good’ person has been forever satisfied in the goodness of God’s Son. And then, because of how beautiful he is and how beautiful his love for you is, you can get back in the water and play, remembering that loving your brother the way Christ loved you is more important than following the rules of Marco Polo.”

The authors’ attempt here is not to summarize their teaching into memorize-able statements to repeat, but rather to point to one example of how grace can become the focus of your parenting. Commenting on the story of the welcoming father, which we usually call the prodigal son, Fitzpatrick and Thompson write,

“If your parenting is moralistic, like most of ours is, children like David will break your heart, but children like Susan will make you proud. It is only when you parent with grace that the destitution of both children becomes apparent. Children who embarrass you and children who make you proud must both be taught the deeper truth of the welcoming father [God]: mercy trumps law.”

Pick up this worthwhile book and read it for yourself. You can also view posts on other parts of this book (Post 1, Post 2, Post 3, Post 4, Post 6).


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