Give Them Grace

In a couple weeks the best parenting book ever (IMHO) will be available. Elyse Fitzpatrick and her daughter Jessica Thompson co-wrote a gospel-drenched book for parents entitled Give Them Grace that I had the privilege of writing the foreword to. If you are a parent (as I am) there is no better book to read than this one. Seriously. As I say in the foreword, it’s nothing short of revolutionary.

You can read my foreword below to get a sense of what the book is all about and how much I think of it.

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In preparation for writing this foreword, I re-read the opening lines of Michael Horton’s book Christless Christianity. He writes:

What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over half a century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia (the city where Barnhouse pastored), all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday…where Christ is not preached.

This is scary—mainly because what Barnhouse describes is what most of us want for our children. Jesus or no Jesus we just want them to obey, be polite, not curse or look at pornography, get good jobs, marry a nice person, and not get caught up in the really bad stuff.

It may come as a surprise to you, but God wants much more for your children…and you should to. God wants them to get the gospel. And this means that we’re responsible to teach them about the drastic, uncontrollable nature of amazing grace.

The biggest lie about grace that Satan wants Christian parents to buy is the idea that grace is dangerous and therefore needs to be “kept it in check.” By believing this we not only prove we don’t understand grace, but we violate gospel advancement in the lives of our children. A “yes, grace…but” disposition is the kind of fearful posture that keeps moralism swirling around in their hearts. And if there’s anything God hates, it’s moralism!

I understand the fear of grace. As a parent of three children (Gabe is 16, Nate is 14, and Genna is 9), one of my responsibilities is to disciple them into a deeper understanding of obedience—teaching them to say “no” to the things God hates and “yes” to the things God loves. But all too often I have (wrongly) concluded that the only way to keep licentious hearts in line is to give more rules. The fact is, however, that the only way licentious people start to obey is when they get a taste of God’s radical unconditional acceptance of sinners.

The irony of gospel-based sanctification is that those who end up obeying more are those who increasingly realize that their standing with God is not based on their obedience, but Christ’s. In other words, the children who actually end up performing better are those who understand that their relationship with God doesn’t depend on their performance for Jesus, but Jesus’ performance for them.

With the right mixture of fear and guilt I can get my three children to obey in the short term. But my desire is not that they obey for five minutes or even five days. My desire is that they obey for fifty years! And that will take something bigger and brighter than fear and guilt. The primary reason our children fail in their doing is because they fail to grasp at a deep, heart level what Jesus has already done. They often give up in their efforts to obey because we’ve unconsciously trained them to obsess more over their feats for Jesus than Jesus’ feats for them.

When the Apostle John (or Jesus) talks about keeping God’s commands as a way to know whether or not you love Jesus, he’s not using the law as a way to motivate. He’s simply stating a fact. Those who love God will keep on keeping his commands. The question is how do we keep God’s commands? What sustains a long obedience in the same direction? Where does the power come from to do what God commands? As every parent knows, behavioral compliance to rules without heart change will be shallow and short-lived. But shallow and short-lived is not what God wants. God wants a persistent obedience from the heart. How is that possible? Long-term, sustained, gospel-motivated obedience can only come from faith in what Jesus has already done, not fear of what we must do. Any obedience not grounded in or motivated by the gospel is unsustainable. No matter how hard you try, how “radical” you get, any engine smaller than the gospel that you’re depending on for power to obey will conk out in due time.

The law of God shows us what God commands (which of course is good) but the law does not possess the power to enable us to do what it says. You could put it this way: the law guides but it does not give. The law shows us what a sanctified life looks like, but it does not have sanctifying power. It’s the gospel (what Jesus has done) that alone can give God-honoring animation to our obedience. The power to obey, in other words, comes from being moved and motivated by the completed work of Jesus for us. So, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us.

My dear friend Elyse Fitzpatrick and her daughter Jessica understand this. Elyse has taught me a ton about the gospel. Through her many excellent books, she has taken me to gospel depths that have changed my life. During the most difficult year of my life (2009) Elyse provided gospel-drenched counsel and insight that, in a very real sense, saved me.

The book you now hold in your hands is more of the same. It’s the best parenting book I’ve ever read because it takes the radical, untamable, outrageous nature of the gospel seriously and applies it to parenting. It’s nothing short of revolutionary—not because the gospel theology in it is so new but because the gospel theology in it is so old.

This book simply, but profoundly, restates the fact that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone, and that God sanctifies us by constantly bringing us back to the reality of our justification. This glorious truth should radically impact the way we parent.

Please read it carefully and let it change you… the way it’s changed me!