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What the Law Cannot Accomplish

For years, I read parenting books and attended several parenting seminars. I adopted three children and thought I was doing what God wanted me to do regarding their hearts. I was teaching Scripture, involved in church, reading good books, and taking time in everyday conversations to talk to them about God. But, looking back, I see I made a mistake. I was playing police, judge, and jailer instead of showing grace, love, and the truth of the gospel. I was forming little moral robots who did and said the right things, but I wasn’t reaching their hearts. I was exacerbating my children; not teaching them. I was concerned over what others thought about my kids, and my parenting, and I was trying to make them perfect children. I was far from being gentle. I was reflecting a god of my own creation: a father who was angry, impatient, and hard to please. I was relying on rules to do something that only God can do: create change and new life. 

Rules, especially the moral Law, are not irrelevant to parenting. The Law is a moral compass, a guidepost for right and wrong. It shows us our sin and teaches us how we should think, speak, and act. It exposes sin and shows how deeply we need a Savior. Perhaps, most importantly, it shows us that we cannot deliver ourselves from sin. In his book, Parenting, Paul Tripp explains how we often “[ask] the law to do in the lives of children what only the grace of God can accomplish.” So, let me ask you this. What are we relying on to change our kids? And what is our goal for them? Is it the gospel of grace and the love of Christ, or is it their external performance to a set of rules?

Grace That is Greater

Tripp helpfully reminded me of my kids’ greatest need: to be rescued by Christ. The Law and my kid’s inability to keep it are the necessary means of helping them see their need for Jesus. But instead of focusing on their obedience, I’m aiming to model the grace of God to my family. I’m trying to be more like my Father, my gentle, patient, loving Father. He is full of mercy, grace, and compassion to the weak. Not an angry, hard to please Father, but a God who gave His Own to bring me home. The more I reflect on the reality of God’s grace, the more I am seeing the right place of the Law. It’s showing me when I can hold my kids accountable for violating the rules, but also when to provide the help they need with the grace of Christ. It’s showing me when to forgive and look over an offense, so that they can see the love of a God who is pleased to forgive sin. As I learn to use the Law rightly in my own life by letting it convict me of sin, show me the greatness of my Savior, and lead me in holiness, it’s helping me learn how to use it with my children. Not as a standard that they need to keep, but a standard that points them to their need for Christ and His sufficiency to save them.

Parents, do not place your hope in rules and your kid’s obedience to them. Let us place our hope in Christ and teach our kids to do the same.