Grace vs discipline? It’s not a dichotomy!

“For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Ephesians 2:8-9

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
Ephesians 6:1

I have been blessed to observe many wonderful examples of parenting amongst my friends and family. I am always seeking to learn how to become a better parent myself. When I see children who are full of love for God and others I look carefully at how they have been parented, hoping to find some wisdom I can apply in my own family. There is nothing so important as the job of a parent, and we only get one shot at it. I desperately want to get it right!

It is a combination of my own experiences, observations of others and study of the Bible that has lead me to believe that grace-based parenting and parenting with discipline are two pivotal parts of the parenting puzzle. I believe they must work together, and that when they do the result is beautiful to behold. Yet so often grace and discipline are seen as opposing perspectives – an either/or choice. My experience is that to show grace without discipline leads to stress, strife, and sadness. To insist on discipline without grace leads to fear, shallow faith, and distant family relationships. The most successful parents I know apply both of these principles, balanced in just the right way – and their children are a delight and an inspiration. Let’s look at these two aspects in a little more detail.

So blessed I get to parent these two precious kids.

So blessed I get to parent these two precious kids.

It is abundantly clear in the Bible that we are saved by grace, and that NO amount of good behaviour or Godly virtues can get us to heaven. It is essential that we teach this to our children. We need to model grace in our daily interactions with them, and we need to show them that we, too, are in constant need of grace. Our children should know in their innermost being that they are part of a messed up humanity, AND that they are loved beyond imagination by a God who wants to freely offer them salvation. This truth is vital. We need to talk about it and live it out openly at every opportunity. It is foundational.

Secondly, we need to parent with strict discipline. I include the word ‘strict’ here because I think most parents discipline to some degree. The type of discipline I’m talking about here is the kind that requires obedience and respect. This is where I begin to hear some dissent. Within the Christian parenting circle we talk a lot about grace. It is generally agreed that grace, unconditional love and forgiveness are central parts of parenting. But when discipline comes into the conversation many people begin to look wary. It’s not that parents don’t want their children to be obedient – but many seem to be afraid of enforcing it. They appear to feel that being strict is at odds with offering grace. But if we look at the Bible, I think this idea is unfounded.

The Bible  shows us two very clear aspects of who God the Father is, and how he relates to us as his children. Firstly, he is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Psalm 103:8.) Yet at the same time we are told – no, warned – that “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31.) Also, that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:6) We can see here that despite our free access to God’s grace, he also disciplines his children and is not afraid to punish those who reject him. That seems very much like a balance between grace-based parenting and parenting with strict discipline.

Proverbs 13:24 is pretty straight forward on the topic of parental discipline: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” This verse tells us that avoiding discipline equates to hating our children. Yikes. In fact, if you really love your child (and most people say they do), then you will prove this by being careful to discipline “diligently”, or “promptly”, as the NASB and NKJV put it. Why? Because living according to God’s principles will bless your child, their family, their friends, their neighbours, their country, and the world. Hebrews 12:11 sums it up perfectly: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

So YES – it is by grace, not works, that we are saved. This is the foundation we absolutely need to teach our children to live upon.  But let’s not allow that wonderful truth to prevent us from disciplining our children – for their own good.

The God of Second Chances

 ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’
Ezekiel 33:11

I love this verse. I remember the first time I read it, printed on the back of our bathroom door where my Mom regularly put up prayer lists and encouraging Bible verses. What stuck me then, and continues to strike me now, is the desperate love God has for His people. He desires so much for them to take strength and try again, and He wants more than anything to show them mercy.

God's love and mercy are endless!

God’s love and mercy are endless!

I also love the Veggie Tales movie Jonah. It does a fantastic job of bringing out the themes of compassion and mercy, and uses the story of Jonah to demonstrate that God both shows these to us and desires us to show them to each other. As Christians we know that God is forgiving, and that His love is never-ending, but I think this head-knowledge doesn’t always translate into heart-knowledge. The Bible is full of examples of human failure followed by Divine forgiveness:

  • Adam & Eve brought sin and death into the world – yet the world has been saved through Jesus
  • David committed adultery and murder – yet is a lasting example of a man after God’s own heart
  • Nineveh was a city full of wickedness – yet it is a story full of hope and forgiveness
  • Paul was an infamous persecutor of the church – yet he became an honorary apostle and prolific church-planter

With such a heritage of sinners and such examples of forgiveness, it should be easy for us to remember that this grace is for us, too! But sometimes, it isn’t easy. Perhaps we have a tendency to get too bogged down with the sorrow of sin. We dwell on the wrong we – and others – have done for too long. Whilst sin is always serious and requires repentance, when remorse inhibits joy and renewed enthusiasm to ‘try again’, I think we are falling into another trap which Satan puts in our path.

There are many things I fail at frequently. Some of them may not even seem important to others, and some of them are more obvious.  A personal example:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.

I was thinking the other day that it has been too long since I incorporated prayer into my devotional time with my kids. I know how important it is, yet it had been months since we included that aspect into our devos! So yesterday, we started again. It is great! Do I wish I’d never stopped? Yes. But God is a God of second, third, fourth, fifth…. chances. So when I realise my mistakes, I have joy in knowing I can be forgiven yet again and move on with renewed intentions.

So if you have let your housework get out of hand and feel a little guilty – say sorry to whoever needs to hear it then stop feeling guilty and take the chance to try again. If you have forgotten to read your Bible in weeks… months… years… – pick it up and thank the Lord for another chance to read. If you go to bed tonight and realise that today, like most other days, you have not been patient with your children, don’t dwell too long in the sorrow of this – ask forgiveness then praise God for His grace and for a new chance tomorrow.

And if you see someone who seems to have it all together and you start to feel guilt and jealousy creeping in – remember they are just another David, Paul, or Ninevite, who has taken another chance from the God of grace. May we always take joy in the steadfast love of the Lord, and His new mercies each morning.

Pressing on

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:7-14 (NIV)

Paul had his priorities right. He valued Christ above all else.  In chapter 1 he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (v21)  Here in chapter 3 he says that if anyone has a right to boast in the flesh, it is him – and yet he considers his worldly advantages to be as “garbage” compared to belonging to Jesus.  This is Paul’s goal: to attain to the resurrection from the dead, which Christ Jesus has offered him.

“There is nothing I want more than for my children to love God and give Him first place in their lives.”

I, too, have this goal.  But as a mom, it is not just for me, but for my children also. There is nothing I want more than for my children to love God and give Him first place in their lives. Yet daily I mess up. I fail to live up to the opportunities given to me; I make selfish choices; I prioritise worldly values; I model sinful attitudes. I am sure you fail too. And God knows this. He knows we are helpless – so he gave us a gift: infinite grace.

Because of grace, reaching our goal does not depend on us achieving perfection here on earth. We will not be saved on the merit of our motherhood, our ministry, or our self-imposed laws. We cannot save our children, either, no matter how many hours a day we spend teaching them of His love (don’t mistake me here – we should teach them this, it’s just that we cannot save them). We, and our children, can only gain the prize of salvation by accepting it. Christ Jesus came to offer us freedom and eternal salvation because of His perfect life. When we begin to understand this concept, we are blown away.

None of us have reached this goal yet, but there is hope. I want to encourage us all, to forget what is behind, and press on to what is ahead. Start each day – even each hour, each minute – anew.  Accept the grace of God, and look forward. Don’t dwell on the mistakes and failures of the past. Persevere in your faith; pray for your children. There is hope in the future.

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