God’s grace truly is amazing. Instead of giving us the punishment we deserve, Jesus laid down His life for our sins. Instead of condemning us, He freed us from sin’s grip on our lives. We absolutely don’t deserve that. And we can do nothing to earn it. As Christian parents, we are so grateful for the grace of God, and we want our kids to understand it, too. We want them to accept the salvation Christ freely offers.
In the second chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul talks about what draws people to Jesus. After describing all the things people have done to reject God, he asks, “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Romans 2:4, emphasis added).
It’s not the message of salvation that inclines people toward repentance. That’s just information. It’s God’s kindness that changes hearts and lives. If we want our kids to understand and respond to God’s grace, we need to give them more than information. We need to treat our kids the way God treats His kids — with unmerited kindness. We need to create an atmosphere of grace in our homes.
A grace-based home thrives on freedom. It oozes with freedom. Specifically, parents can give their children four freedoms to create an environment of grace:
The freedom to be different
Let me give you synonyms for different so you know what I’m talking about: weird, bizarre, strange, goofy, quirky. Grace-based homes have room for those kinds of kids.
Many kids go through a phase of having weird hairstyles, and it’s often a source of embarrassment for parents. Perhaps their son has just colored his hair and spiked it, and they worry that everybody at church is going to wonder what kind of loser Christian parents they are. So they say something like, “I don’t think Jesus is very pleased with your hair.”
Frankly, I don’t think Jesus really cares about the length or color of our hair. But when we say, “I don’t think Jesus is very pleased with your hair,” we have not only moralized a nonmoral issue, we’ve also shoved a wedge between our child and us — and between our child and God.
God gives us the freedom to be different. In fact, God wired some of that weirdness into us. That’s just the way we are.
The freedom to be vulnerable
Children in grace-based homes don’t feel the need to guard their feelings and emotions. They allow their feelings to come to the surface without fear they’ll be attacked or trivialized.
Let’s say a second-grade boy becomes suddenly morose. His dad asks, “What’s gotten into you?”
“Well,” the boy replies, “there’s this girl at school, and I like her a lot, but this guy, Johnny . . . she said that she likes him.”
The dad says, “Excuse me, son, you’re in the second grade. You don’t know anything about love. I mean, this isn’t even in the puppy love category. I want you to cowboy up right now.”
Do you think that boy will ever bare his heart to his dad again? Not a chance. Kids need to know that no matter how dramatic they act, we’ll listen to them and honor their feelings.
The freedom to be candid
In grace-based homes, children can talk candidly with their parents. What do kids need to be able to be candid about? For starters, spiritual doubts. Maybe they question that Jesus is God or that the Bible is true. Maybe they think there’s more than one way to God (not just through a relationship with Jesus). This isn’t the time to put them in long-term mentoring sessions with some guy you hired from the seminary. Lots of solid Christian people have doubted their faith at some point, and God has been able to pull them through. Don’t panic, and don’t jam theology down your kids’ throats.
Kids also need to be able to be candid when they’re angry or frustrated with you. They need to be able to say, “That really hurt. You embarrassed me. You humiliated me.” We make mistakes as parents. We humiliate; we embarrass. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” When we don’t allow kids to respectfully vocalize their frustration, anger or hurt, we allow bitterness to grow.
The freedom to make mistakes
All kids will struggle in life at times. They’ll make mistakes in judgment, and their timing will be off. They’ll say inappropriate things. And they will sin. Grace-based homes give children the freedom to make those mistakes.
But just because they have the freedom to make mistakes doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. Grace is not a lower standard. Grace has never abandoned the standards of God’s truth. But it does say, “No matter what you do, we are never turning our backs on you.” You can be an ally to your kids and help them gain victory over their struggles through the power of Jesus Christ.
If Mom is letting the kids get away with stuff under the guise of being nice, that’s not grace. If Dad is enforcing the law in a heavy-handed, guilt-inflicting way, that’s not grace. Grace offers discipline and correction, but does so with respect for the child’s dignity and concern for his restoration and growth.
Grace-based parents don’t take their kids’ mistakes personally. When their kids do stupid things and the police knock at the door, parents don’t remind their kids of all the mistakes they’ve made. They say, “OK, let’s figure out what you’ve done and what the consequences are.”
As we give our kids these four freedoms, we show them a picture of the freedom we have in Christ. As we create homes where they are treated with kindness, we give them a glimpse of the grace of God toward all who sin and miss the mark. We help them to understand — with their hearts and not just their minds — just how amazing God’s grace truly is.
Tim Kimmel is the author of Grace Based Parenting.
This appeared in the August/September 2012 issue of Thriving Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing for a gift of any amount.