Gospel, Law, Wisdom, and Parenting

Gospel, Law, Wisdom & Parenting // jessconnell.com

Over the weekend, I was thrilled to attend a homeschooling conference with two days of teaching from Dr. Voddie Baucham and Dr. Tedd Tripp. Whoo! The main focus was how to make sure that we are clearly announcing the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus in our parenting and in our homes.

Talk about a power-packed weekend; it was phenomenal! I want to share some of the highlights that were the most encouraging and heart-challenging for me:

First was the need to get clear about the difference between obedience and Gospel.

“Obedience is not what the Gospel REQUIRES. It’s what the Gospel PRODUCES.” ~Dr. Voddie Baucham.

LEGALISM VS. GOSPEL IN PARENTING

This was such a wonderful reminder for parents in every stage:

Am I telling my kids:

  • “You can do it!”
    OR
  • “You need Jesus!”

The first is legalism, personal effort, and self-justification (“TRY HARDER!”). The second is the Gospel (“RUN TO THE CROSS & BE SAVED!”).

He pointed to Ephesians 4:32-

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. ~Ephesians 4:32

His point was this– too many times, parents point to, “be kind to one another” without pointing to the “as God in Christ forgave you.” The way for our children to be able to have Christ-like kindness is to look to Christ, not to “try harder” to be nice.

The same verse, he said, can do one of two things:

  • entrench my children in legalism 
    OR
  • confront my children with the Gospel.

NEED FOR THE GOSPEL

In a different session, a man named Monty Simao said, “Every child– rebellious or obedient– needs THE SAME GOSPEL.” He said all of us come with a default setting of self-rightousness yet sin is a daily struggle. We need to be pointing our children to the Gospel.

WHAT ABOUT WISDOM FROM PROVERBS?

One of Dr. Tripp’s break-out sessions focused on how to use wisdom literature biblically, and particularly how to use it in light of the New Testament revelation of Christ. He began with Proverbs 9:10:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. ~Proverbs 9:10

“Children can not interpret life wisely without the fear of the LORD.”~ Dr. Tripp.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” ~Psalm 14:1

Because the predominant worldview around us is “there is no God,” according to Psalm 14:1, that means that our culture is speaking with the voice of a fool. We must help our kids see cultural messages (like “only you can decide what’s good for you”) rightly– as the epitome of arrogant foolishness.

Dr. Tripp made the point that our children need to learn to see culture through the lens of wisdom and foolishness… And that, as we talk with them about the attitudes and actions of the culture around us, they should see us living in light of the fear of the Lord. The decisions we make, the conversation we have (and don’t have), the relationships we pursue, etc, should all point to a genuine “fear of the LORD” at work within us.

Dr. Baucham on wisdom literature:

  • First: Are we developing character? Or pointing our children to Christ?

We need to approach OT wisdom literature with the full revelation that Jesus IS the fulfillment of wisdom. He is the “wise son” of Proverbs. He has already done the work. Thus, the message they get from us by our use of the Proverbs should not be, “work for your righteousness!”

“It is not enough to raise kids who live according to Proverbs.” ~Dr. Voddie Baucham

He gave these principles for using wisdom literature:

  • use it as wisdom, NOT law
  • they are general truisms, NOT absolute promises (ex: contrast Prov. 14:26 & the life of Job)
  • point to faith, not guarantees
  • point to God’s sovereignty, not an assembly line of rules and outcomes

The difference between the fool and the wise is not in who tries harder. The difference between them is who fears the LORD.

When talking with our kids, we should look to the roots of belief and faith rather than the external fruit that we’re seeing. What is it our children are believing? What is it they are trusting in? Are we pointing them to the right resting place for their faith RATHER THAN simply looking at the external behaviors?

…”Christ,  in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” ~Colossians 2:2-3

Jesus is the One in whom all treasures of wisdom can be found. He is the only means by which our children can become wise sons. Christ-less parenting is foolish. Gospel-less parenting is foolish.

Proverbs is not merely a series of behaviors we are shooting for. It is what God produces in His wisdom in the life of one who is yielded to Him. 

“Christ, not effort, is the fulfillment of the Proverbs.” ~Dr. Voddie Baucham

Our children need to hear us say:

  • “You need Jesus to be formed in you. THIS will conform you to who you need to be as you are sanctified by Him.”
  • “You need Christ, not obedience!”
  • Instead of “try harder,” “RUN TO CHRIST!”

The final question he posed was this:

“Am I causing my children to run deeper & deeper to their own efforts, or to run faster and harder toward the cross?” ~Dr. Voddie Baucham

 

IN THE COMMENTS:

  • Thoughts?
  • Questions/input about any of this?
  • Is this new to you, or does it frame these ideas differently than you are used to thinking about them?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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31 Responses

  1. Tracy says:

    Jess, what conference did you go to? This sounds like a talk we need to listen to…so so good. I always love stuff from Voddie.

  2. Brittany says:

    I’m currently reading “Give them Grace” by Fitzpatrick and Thompson and these thoughts go right along with it. So this has been on my mind a lot lately. :) I was raised (by wonderful, well-meaning Christian parents) in a pretty legalistic home, so this is definitely a paradigm shift for me as I’m trying to work out what that looks like in our home.

    • Jess Connell says:

      You know, Brittany, it’s interesting you bring her up. I’m actually not sure I agree with some of what Fitzpatrick has said in regard to young children.

      Sometimes… ya know… (and this is not to bash her or anyone else)… but sometimes I think that the older the advice-givers are, the less they remember the full-on battles of toddlerdom. It becomes easier and easier to say, “well, I was probably wrong to ask so much of my three-year-old.”

      But then when you see where parents are today, and where kids are today (in society at large), vs. where parents and kids were (character-wise) 100 years ago, there is wisdom in discipline and training… and not only, ever, “grace.”

      In fact, parenting to a large extent, is teaching our kids the norms, “rules” and ropes of life so that they can function healthily in the world. Because we know Christ, we can do so to a fuller extent (tracing each joy down to its true source, tracing each sin back fully to flesh & temptation), but at the end of the day, I’m not sure Fitzpatrick and those who are now (after they’ve raised their own kids, mind you) espousing a full-on “grace” policy are fully remembering the sinfulness & foolish ways of young children, nor do they seem to embrace the prescription of Proverbs– that the “rod” and reproof drive foolishness “far from him.”

      So, while I’m sharing these things as a larger context FOR parenting, I do not in any way think that this nullifies a need for parental authority or children to be brought into “submission” (meaning as in the military sense, orderly arrangement under a rightful authority) to their parents. I have personal concerns with the things I’ve heard Fitzpatrick (and others like her) say, to a degree that I have not opted to read the book you’re talking about.

      I think these thoughts are really really helpful for getting de-programmed from (or inoculated against) a lockstep robotic parenting mindset, and yet I do not think they overrule or do away with verses about discipline like Proverbs, Hebrews, and Ephesians provide.

      Also… on a different issue– that of your parents (and mine, and anyone else’s who may be reading)… we need to remember how very little discipleship & teaching was happening AT ALL from a Christian perspective in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s… and so parents who were wonderful & well-meaning may very well have followed legalistic principles if that’s the primary “Christian” parenting message they were hearing. That is not to justify sin, but just to say, we need to “give them grace” too because our parents really were fighting an uphill battle (against culture, against a largely-undiscipled church culture, and against their own flesh & ours to boot).

      Just random thoughts here. What say you?

      • Stephanie says:

        I like reading your thoughts on this. I’ve seen so many “grace-based” parenting books but for some reason they didn’t sit well with me but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Your reasoning makes a lot of sense. We have to be so careful in listening to any author or speaker more than the Word of God on how to raise children.

      • Erika says:

        Just wanted to chime in a little here where I so rarely comment and yet am always blessed and encouraged! What a wonderful conference that must have been! And in light of your last paragraph above, I do agree that we are standing on the shoulders of our parents and/or the past generation in our churches as is so true throughout history. The balance of being thankful for the additional growth and understanding we might enjoy without lambasting the shortcomings of the past can be a difficult one to keep, I think.

        I did want to encourage you to take the time to read Give Them Grace as you have the opportunity. I also have not read the full-fledged “grace-based” parenting books so I can’t comment on them, but the title could also have been simply Give Them Christ. In some ways, I always figured the title was crafted to hint of the other variety as a marketing tool. I found the Fitzpatrick/Thompson book fairly balanced, not throwing out all discipline and training, but focusing on Christ as the need of hearts as opposed to mere obedience.

        It’s been a couple of years since I read the book, so I would definitely love links or specifics about your concerns with her comments regarding toddlerhood and authority and all. I have 5 children ages 8 1/2 down with another due this fall, and I definitely understand your thought about people long out of the toddler years being a little nostalgic in their comments. :)

        Since reading Give Them Grace, I have typically recommended it along with my husband’s and my favorite (man-written) parenting resource of Shepherding a Child’s Heart. Your writing has always been clear and well-thought through, so I would love to read your review of Give Them Grace if you ever get to it!

        • Erika says:

          Just a follow-up to my previous comment. I do think that I read Give Them Grace after several fairly burdensome, formulaic, man-centered parenting books, so the Christocentric focus of GTG might have been so refreshing that I could have spit out more bones than I remember! I think that’s why I would value more feedback from others. Especially those like you who measure everything against Scripture!

          • Jess Connell says:

            Good thoughts.

            I’ll consider reading it sometime. I *HAVE* thought about doing it to be able to review and have a firm opinion about it, but I tend to avoid books if I’m concerned about the theology/foundation, and stick with titles I feel confident & clear about, since I have so little reading time anymore.

            I appreciated reading your thoughts because so much of what I’ve seen has either been wholehearted endorsement or silence. It’s tough with authors that we LIKE (in general) to offer a critical perspective, I think. I like a good amount of what Elyse Fitzpatrick has to say… I loved the book about mentoring/discipleship, Women Helping Women, for example.

            But I’ve had concerns about this book here that have plagued me, and listening to her video teachings on parenting have not assuaged those concerns. Perhaps one day I’ll get around to reading it, if I get a free copy (see that’s another problem of mine. I’m a cheapskate, LOL, and refuse to pay money for a book that I feel might contain squidgy theology or practice). 😀 Problems all around for me on this one. 😀

          • Jess Connell says:

            In doing a little more digging, I found this article which expresses some of my concerns in a better way than I am able–

            http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-require-unregenerate-children-to-act-like-they-re-good

            Here’s a quote I especially appreciate: “No parents have the luxury of teaching their child nothing while they wait for his regeneration. If we are not requiring obedience, we are confirming defiance. If we are not inculcating manners, we are training in boorishness. If we are not developing the disciplines of prayer and Bible-listening, we are solidifying the sense that prayerlessness and Biblelessness are normal.

            Inculcated good habits may later become formalistic legalism. Inculcated insolence, rudeness, and irreligion will likely become worldly decadence. But by God’s grace, and saturated with prayer, good habits may be filled with the life of the Spirit by faith. But the patterns of insolence and rudeness and irreligion will be hard to undo.”

  3. Erin says:

    “When talking with our kids, we should look to the roots of belief and faith rather than the external fruit that we’re seeing. What is it our children are believing? What is it they are trusting in? Are we pointing them to the right resting place for their faith RATHER THAN simply looking at the external behaviors?”

    This is so powerful. I am very guilty of looking at my childrens’ external behaviors and drawing conclusions to their holiness. Wow.

    • Jess Connell says:

      It’s convicting to me too. It’s the real challenge for us all– look to the heart for real Christlikeness… not merely to externals.

      (The classic old Southern saying, “I don’t drink, smoke, or chew, or go with girls who do” comes to mind.) 😉 All the externals in the world don’t prove heart change. Proclamations of heart change/belief without externals (“faith without works”) points to a dead faith. But externals without heart change/belief points to phariseeism.

      God, keep us from either ditch! Lead us to the eternal path! Help us and our children to run to the cross!

  4. Lindsey says:

    Hey Jess! It’s Lindsey, the Washington lady with a new sweet little baby the same age as your sweet one. :) I really appreciated your post. I’m wondering if you know if any of those talks are available online or to purchase. Also, I haven’t heard of the Christian Heritage Conference or Dr. Voddie Baucham (sheepish grin). Our oldest will be beginning first grade this fall, so we are just beginning our homeschool journey. I’d love if you could point me to any other gems here in the NW, as far as conferences, co-ops, groups, etc. Also, can we just hang out so I can pick your brain about Jesus, husband-loving and child raising? hehe! Thanks again for the post!

    • Jess Connell says:

      I forget where you live. (?) If you’re nearby, you should come to our ladies’ conference in October. I’ll be speaking there, along with a few other great teachers at our church. I can try to remember to post about it once I have the dates. :) At least I’ll put up something on FB and Twitter.

      Yes, the talks are available to purchase… not sure exactly where, but here’s the conference main page so you can poke around: https://www.christianheritageonline.org

      Thanks for asking. I don’t know much more about homeschooling stuff up here (yet) but I’m learning, little by little. Find me on Facebook– https://www.facebook.com/JessConnellAuthor — and perhaps you’ll see stuff on my page that interests you from time to time. Please let me know about curriculum sales/conferences that you learn about, as the months and years string together for you as a PNW resident too. :)

      Thanks for speaking up!

  5. katy says:

    Blech. Not towards your article but this is just how I feel after reading it 😛 I love Voddie Baucham and I agree that Christ is who transforms us and it is He who changes us (not trying harder). However, what of your children who are not saved? I still want to encourage them to be kind, be truthful, etc. But if I encourage this, am I encouraging legalism? I would say no but at the same time…? (I am a mom of 6 – oldest about to turn 9)

    • Jess Connell says:

      Interesting, Katy.

      After getting the feedback above (from Erika), I listened to an hour-long session of teaching from Fitzpatrick & her daughter focused on her book (similar topic) and felt a little bit of that same “Blech” too.

      To my ears, the teaching seemed like a twisting of the Gospel… using it to manipulate children’s hearts toward salvation as a means of avoiding punishment (“if you believe in Christ, this physical discipline is the only punishment you’ll receive. If you don’t, on top of this physical discipline from me, you’ve also got eternal punishment to reckon with.”). Ironically, their approach of critiquing other “systems” (to me) simply proposes another “system” with its own scripts (that you’re not supposed to use like scripts) and human problems.

      I am going to be thinking more on these things and hopefully put together a more thoughtful critique perhaps later this year. (I’m always loathe to post something in a reactionary way, without being at rest with confidence that what I’m believing is biblically based.)

      That said, I wonder if some of your “blech” to this is that your kids are still young? When they are young, I think the most important & relevant verses are for fathers and mothers to “love” our children, and for children to “obey your parents in all things, for this pleases the Lord.” Pretty simple stuff. Loving, firm authority and obedience. Authority is clear.

      As our kids get older, we’re passing the baton of authority, so to speak. They’re still under our authority for a season, but during that “passing the baton” season, there is a shift happening… hopefully, they will willingly go from our authority as “parent” to placing themselves under the authority of Christ. Grace is given to them, and Christ works out His sanctification in their lives… so ideally, they go from being under our authority (and we operate as those under authority) to willingly placing their lives under the authority of their Maker (as well as under other earthly authorities… the Church, the government, and probably a boss). Even if they are not (yet) believers when they leave our homes, they are still to be under authority.

      Teaching our children how to operate as people under authority is an important thing– and IS something we as parents can teach. Though we cannot teach (or somehow guarantee) salvation, we *CAN* teach our children the meaning of authority.

      The way I hear the “grace-based parenting” message comes across like this: “Because I can not guarantee my children’s salvation, I will acknowledge that I can do no good thing in the lives of my children. Therefore, I will stop striving and throw myself wholly on grace.”

      The way I would say it is this: “Because I can not guarantee my children’s salvation, I will love and train them in the ways I *am* able: I will do all that is in my power while they are in our home to help them to understand the REAL definition of love, understand how authority impacts our various relationships in life, and live before them with the right & biblical fear of the Lord… continually relating our lives back to God as Creator, Judge, and Redeemer. I will strive to do everything I can do, recognizing that it is a Colossians 1:29 sort of striving… me working, with all the power that HE so powerfully works in me. At no point will I trust in my efforts, but in the God who offers grace upon grace.”

      Perhaps Fitzpatrick & her daughter’s message is this same message… perhaps they would say this IS the same message, but to me, true grace does not nullify or demean good works, but rather, it puts any/all good works in their proper place.

      I strive to do everything in my power to parent my children well, not because I am trusting in my parenting, but because I trust in a great God who has given me His precious Word. His Word is FILLED with wisdom that governs this world. I want my children to learn to trust Him– to see that His ways are best– to taste and see that the Lord is good. I want them to see this through knowing the Gospel. I want them to see this through the fruit of wisdom and foolishness in their lives. To say that there is nothing I can do nullifies my responsibilities to steward my children well… to steward my years of parenting well… That is one of the primary issues I noticed again and again while listening to Fitzpatrick teach on her book.

      ANyway. I wonder if these thoughts relate to what you’re “blech” was? I think the ideas that go along with “passing the baton” to a child who IS a believer are different from the ideas that go along with “passing the baton” to a child who is NOT a believer, and those are all different from the ideas that go along with establishing and teaching authority as a parent over a young child.

      Because until a child understands authority, he/she isn’t prepared in the least to submit to Christ’s authority. Rather than nullifying the Gospel, parenting young children with clear authority paves the way for an understanding of the Gospel.

      • Erika says:

        Oh, wow. I will definitely be re-reading GTG and trying to listen to some of those lectures before I recommend the book again. And love the Piper article you shared.

        The main “take-away” I had from the book (and other influences and counsel combined) is not to give up on our desire for a God-honoring, peaceful, controlled home (therefore with pleasant, well-mannered, under-authority children), but to use the struggles we (ALL!) have in achieving that goal to point us to our need of Christ. We can never “try hard enough” to do right consistently in our own strength (and with the right motives!).

        Thanks for sharing your concerns–we really try to go overboard in not setting up anything even close to persuasive manipulation when it comes to our children’s salvation. We would never want to inadvertently point other parents in that direction!

        • Jess Connell says:

          Erika, it is entirely possible that my perception comes from the hour-and-fifteen minutes quick presentation vs. the opportunity in the book to present a much more well-developed whole-picture idea. I would love to be wrong. As I said I have really appreciated other topics and issues as handled by Elyse Fitzpatrick. This one just strikes me as “off”.

          During the talk, I learned some about her background. This made Me wonder if some of this has a strong off-putting effect to me because of her California and raised-by-unbelievers view of parental authority vs. my strong view of authority as a southerner and having been raised by Christian parents.

          I’d love to hear back from you with more thoughts as you have them. :)

  6. Qndrea says:

    Such a good reminder for me. In the throes of discipline at our house, with 4 ages 7 and under. It’s such a dance, balancing grace and discipline. Reading a good book called Good and Angry. I’m figuring out a system that’s working for us but it’s easy for me to get in a routine and take my heart out of it, to check out.

    • Jess Connell says:

      You know, at those ages, I think these “big picture” ideas are theoretically helpful, but very unhelpful in terms of practice. The Gospel is important for all of us to hear, and yet, most of our children at younger ages are not believers. They are unregenerate. And yet, God commands them: “children obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”

      I do not think it is wrong– rather, I think it is wholly appropriate– for parents to teach and see to it that their children obey. And occasional moments of “grace” (unmerited favor in the place where punishment is merited) may provide a practical opportunity for parental instruction about what grace IS, and provide bridges to discuss how God gives us grace. (“You deserved a spanking, instead, Daddy and I talked it over with you. You avoided getting a spanking, and in fact, we’re going to spend the evening enjoying a movie and popcorn. Not getting the spanking was mercy. Enjoying a movie and popcorn is grace. God gives us mercy and God gives us grace.”)

      Alongside this, we should be daily, weekly, little by little, (like Deut 6 and other places outline) teaching our children the Gospel of Christ. We should never ever be teaching our children that it is their obedience that secures their salvation. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. So while we teach faith in the Gospel, we nevertheless train our children to obey our words.

      But for the most part, these early years with our kids are just a whole heap of strung-together days of using loving, firm discipling to teach obedience to their God-given authorities.

      • Andrea says:

        For me the theory is of upmost importance because I need to know why I am doing what I’m doing. So, I appreciated being reminded of it. My comment was intended to mean that it’s nice to hear it again and be encouraged.

  7. katy says:

    Sorry. I was unclear. I have never read GTG, for the same reasons you hadn’t. My ‘blech’ was not b/c I disagreed with the article or the quotes from Baucham, just because they are so difficult to wrap my head around…and how they could be applied in my family. For example:

    “His point was this– too many times, parents point to, “be kind to one another” without pointing to the “as God in Christ forgave you.” The way for our children to be able to have Christ-like kindness is to look to Christ, not to “try harder” to be nice.”

    When my children are unsaved, we talk about ‘whatever you wish others might do to you, do also to them; for this is the law and the prophets’ instead of the verse he gave because God in Christ has not forgiven them (that sounds harsh but you know what I’m saying)…by using Matthew 7:12, am I just encouraging legalism? when I’m just trying to encourage kindness?

    I know I should not expect kindness because I am dealing with unregenerate sinners but for our house to function and be a nice place to live, I encourage kindness. I tell them that when I have trouble talking to people in a kind way, I pray that God would change me and help me give gentle answers and use pleasant words and cheerful looks (all from Proverbs that we read daily). I encourage them to pray to God to change them as well. And I pray that the Lord will do so as I wait patiently for Him to save them.

    I know how weighty legalism can be – I’m just trying to steer clear and while reading your notes from the conference, I hear myself saying YES!, wait, what? how do I flesh that out with my unsaved kids?

    I hope that clarifies a bit :)

    • Jess Connell says:

      Did you see my response right above yours? To Qndrea (who I suspect is actually Andrea)? I think it addresses some of what you’re getting at… the conundrum of what we’re to do with younger, unsaved children.

  8. Emily Jensen says:

    Wow – great conversation! Jess, thanks for expressing your thoughts so well about GTG. I think that’s a reflection of my current opinion as well. I don’t personally avoid her ministry, and have enjoyed some of her devotionals – but I just understand her lens and goal, which generally includes less practical application or specificity on how ‘good works’ play out in the life of a transformed believer.

    I’m going to go read that Piper article!
    My husband and I purchased (but also haven’t finished reading) the book “Growing Kids God’s Way”. I haven’t formulated a final opinion on it (other than it was a little too burdensome for me to digest or stick to – I learned that from One Thing – some stuff is going to make sense, and other things won’t work for our family!), but one thing I did like was the clarification that for children – belief happens in a slightly different way than it does for adults. I used to feel bad for helping my children act according to God’s commands before they were motivated by the gospel, but this book asserts that for children, action precedes belief. They first learn to behave and do certain things, and then later come to understand or feel according to their actions. The opposite is true of adults. We often believe something first, and then it flows out to our actions. Honestly that’s the only thing I can remember from that book, but it was such a light bulb moment for me! I want my children to already be acting according to God’s will, so that Lord willing, when they ARE saved they don’t have as much baggage / regrets / consequences for their sin. It will hopefully already be natural to do the good works that will later be motivated by the spirit. So as we are training them to act according to God’s commands, I’m also saying, “You can’t do this apart from God’s grace. You are a sinner, and only through Christ can you learn to love your brother.”

  9. Ben says:

    Just got around to reading this. My wife sent it to me forever ago. We’re convinced this is THE parenting issue. This is great. Keep on writing about this. Use example after example because the issue runs SO deep.

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