Does it Violate Grace to Discipline my Kids?

We got a fun question today from our community, actually on the Skill of Fatherhood masterclass. Someone walking through that and asked us a great question. If you aren’t familiar with the Skill of Fatherhood masterclass, it’s a masterclass where we go through three modules. It’s super in depth, it’s insightful, it’s awesome and it’s fun, and it’s cool to see a lot of people learning a lot from it. You can go to familyteams.com to check out more and it’s on the masterclass tab.

But the question we got was from Tim in the masterclass and he said, “Does it violate grace to discipline my kids?” And I think this is such a good question because it’s something we so wrestle with post, I think, reformation in the sense of what grace alone by faith alone actually means. And how that actually then plays out then with our demeanored towards discipline and rebuke and reproof and training and growth and does grace just mean you get off scot free or does it mean that you just overlook it? I think those are all deeply important and they all bubble up in the parent-child relationship. So what would you say to that question? Or how did you answer that to Tim?

Yeah, absolutely. And Tim, he also kind of teased this out and I love the way he phrased this. He said, “When thinking over the idea of ‘training’, what is your take on the popular, at least in my experience, the mantra in Christian parenting books that say we need to focus on the heart rather than behavior modification?

Oh yeah. No, I love how he put that, yeah.

Yeah. He’s like, “In your experience, is this a real pitfall you need to avoid? And if so, what are some of the ways you can ensure your training doesn’t encourage good behavior but with wrong motives?” So I love this question and I do think that what modern Christian parenting movements, books, ideas tends to pit two ideas against each other. Oftentimes the way I’ve heard it phrased is they’re grace-based or gospel-based parenting where you’re really working on the heart and the motives or the child, which for a lot of parenting in the past has been overlooked. And this will be pit directly against this idea of behavioral modification, which they’ll lump into things like punitive punishments and just any kind of a really serious consequences, discipline, etc.

Now what I told Tim and what I really… We have an entire module in the skill of fatherhood on training your children. And one of the real casualties of this dichotomy that modern Christian parenting books… One of the casualties that has been created is that we have really lost sight of the importance of training. And oftentimes training is not addressed in a way that really is practical. When you’re saying, “Hey, let’s do it all grace-based.” Or, “To discipline children is all about punitive punishment.” And it really isn’t. And the reason why I think this is really important is that the one thing that that Paul said to fathers in Ephesians, when he actually sat down and said, “Okay, this is the one thing I want you to understand,” in Ephesians 6, he says, “to train your children.” This was what he said, “Bring up your children in the instruction of the Lord. You have a responsibility, train your kids.”

And so I don’t think these things are diametrically opposed. I think that that’s a false dichotomy. Now there is a problem if you think that your primary role as a dad is to sit back as the ultimate judge and to meet out punitive punishments on your children when they don’t behave in a way that you want. And I think that’s where a lot of the grace-based gospel-based parenting ideas came from, was really a reaction against really that idea. None of us are getting what we deserve, I’m not a big fan of trying to, as a judge, figure out what punitive punishment my children need when they violate something. I’m certainly not receiving what I deserve from the Lord for the things that I’ve done. But I need to be trained and our children need to be trained and it’s a gift to train our kids.

And so it’s really important that when we use this phrase, behavior modification, or we take pot shots at this idea of behavioral modification, it is your job, dads, to actually create a system in which behaving in a proper way actually is something that is rewarded in your home and behaving in an improper way is something that that comes with consequences. Not because that ultimately that is what’s going when their heart, it is not going to win their heart, the gospel is what’s going to win their heart. But in the early stages of training children, this is really critical that they learn this. And I think that we have to create that system. We have those systems in our own society, right? When you speed, there’s basic behavioral modifications in society that cause us to all behave in a certain way and there would be chaos without that.

And in your home, you are that sort of person that has to enforce some kind of a system so that your kids actually begin to want to do what is right or understand the consequences of violating those things. And that system needs to be dialed down as your kids get older so that you can introduce opportunities for the gospel and for grace to really win their hearts over. And so it’s really these are not diametrically opposed ideas. You can go completely overboard with behavioral modification and training. You can go completely overboard with grace-based in gospel-based parenting as if there’s no room at all for training. And so what I would say is just to, in this situation, be really careful that you don’t see these things as completely separate ideas. Both are critical. We have to introduce our kids to the gospel. We have to create systems in our home that reward and incentivize good behavior. What are your thoughts, Jeff?

Yeah, and I mean I was even thinking of like, we see that clearly with organization of governments and empires and legislation in the sense of I feel like I prefer and think there should be more restorative levels of the criminal justice system, but we still need a criminal justice system, which is like… You know, there’s a level at which the legislation of the actual morality kind of sometimes works from outward in and we need to work inward out. And I think it’s kind of both.

But when you look at the narrative of scripture, I mean one thing we have to be mindful of is that that seems to be the narrative of scripture is that God kind of works from the outside in. Right? We see Torah, we see law, we see things that when we read it backwards, see that he was about the heart and that he was about the center of the human and what it meant to what the ultimate commandment was. But at some level there very much was a, “You do this and you will be blessed. You do this and you’ll be cursed.” Which kind of seems like this external, right? But then the more the narrative of scripture goes, Jesus just takes it closer and closer to the actual heart and to the more and the more center of the human condition and raises the bar in some sense, but then also as just going to a more intimate level of personhood and motivation.

And so to me, I think the narrative of scripture, the arc in the storyline I think is very similar to the storyline of children, I think. Of this is the vision for right and wrong and this is going to take you actually in the trajectory of doing it now with a new heart as a new creation and understanding the gospel and how you’re forgiven, how you’re given grace and how you’re a new human. And so I think that trajectory, you’re not earning it through the law, but I think there’s that natural understanding of when you fall… Grace doesn’t become as powerful or as palpable if it’s just Jesus showing up on page one. It at is in the context-

Right, grace only makes sense in the context of the law, right?

Exactly. It only makes sense in the context of the Torah and what he was actually saying to a people who had lived a certain way and understood a certain document for a long period of time. And so that’s what I would say, is that that’s essentially… It’s not like one and then the other and this very clean one, two punch way. But you’ve got to wrestle as a parent with that arc of the vision of God’s heart and what that looks like in regards to Torah, law, obedience, and then gospel, heart, shepherding. And I think they intertwine and the Venn diagram more than we think, but there is a level at which I think that’s really powerful and beautiful.

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