Helping Christian parents raise their children with grace and the gospel, this book addressestopics such as the law, God’s forgiveness and love, and true heart obediencea great resource for raising grace-filled kids.
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About the Author
Elyse Fitzpatrick(MA, Trinity Theological Seminary) is a counselor, a retreat and conference speaker, and the author of over 20 books, includingBecause He Loves Me,Comforts from the Cross, andFound in Him.
Jessica Thompson is the author of Exploring Grace Together: 40 Devotionals for the Family and the coauthor (with Elyse Fitzpatrick) of Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus. She is a wife, a mother of three, and a member of an Acts 29 church.
Read an Excerpt
From Sinai to Calvary
The law of God, the most salutary [beneficial] doctrine of life, cannot advance humans on their way to righteousness, but rather hinders them. ~ MARTIN LUTHER
Mom and her three children were all seated on the floor in the brightly colored playroom. It was time for their Bible game. Two of the three children loved the game because they usually got all the answers right, but one, Jordan, the middle child, was alternately sullen and disruptive.
"Who wants to draw the first card?" Mom asked.
Two hands shot up simultaneously. "I do, I do!" they both chimed.
"Okay, Joshua, you go first."
Joshua picked a card from the pile and read, "Tell the story of Jonah in your own words and then talk about what the story means to you."
Joshua then proceeded to talk about Jonah's being commanded to serve God but being disobedient so instead got swallowed by a whale. Afterward the whale vomited him onto the ground (the three boys giggled), and then Jonah obeyed.
"Good job, Joshua! Now, what does the story teach us?" Mom asked.
Caleb's hand was the first one up. "It means that we should obey when God tells us to do something, like to go tell people about God."
"Right, Caleb! Now, can you think of some ways to tell people about God?"
Different answers were shouted out. "We could bake cookies for our neighbors and invite them to church!" and "We could offer to do chores for them, too!"
"Yes," Mom said. "That's exactly right. Now, Jordan, can you tell me what you could do to obey God?"
Jordan stammered out a weak, "I don't know."
"Can't you think of anything at all?"
Becoming more defiant, Jordan shouted, "No, and I don't want to!"
"But, Jordan, you don't want to get swallowed by a whale, do you? God tells us to serve our neighbors and tell them about him. If you can't be good, you won't get any goldfish crackers or the blue Jell-O I've made."
Sadly, many Christian parents can relate to this painful little story. In an effort to teach our children about the Bible, we frequently employ the stories in the Bible as a way to compel obedience. Can you picture doing something like that with your kids? I know I can. In fact, it's just the way that I used the Bible when I was raising mine. I can remember a little song we sang that went something like this:
I don't want to be a Jonah And get swallowed by a whale.
I took every story in the Bible and made it about what my children were supposed to be doing. I took every story of grace and mercy (like Jonah's) and made it into law and morals: "You better obey. There are whales about!" Just like the seminary professor's pastor we learned about in the Introduction, I didn't give my kids the gospel story. I assumed that they had heard it enough times and that they had believed it. Jesus and the cross? That was old news. The real action was in obeying, not in remembering. What I didn't know then was that the good news about Jesus's obedience and shameful death was the only motif that would grant my children a heart to obey. So we ate goldfish and blue Jell-O, sang songs about Jonah, and worried about whales.
Right about now you might be wondering if we're saying that parents should never give their children any commands. Please don't misunderstand; we're not saying that at all. Every faithful parent must give their children guidance, direction, rules, and commands. What we are saying is that these things are not to be the primary theme of our teaching. The primary theme is to be Jesus Christ and the work he's already done.
Over the next several pages you'll read about the different kinds of commands parents are to give their children, along with the kinds of obedience that these commands may produce. But for now, please stop for a moment and ask yourself what percentage of your time is spent in declaring the rules and what percentage in reciting the Story. Of course, if your children are very young, it is certainly understandable if most of your time is spent with the rules. You can't have long discussions about justification with a two-year-old. But, even so, you can begin to bring the good news about Jesus's work as soon as they are able to understand.
Now that you've thought about whether you give them more rules or gospel, you can recite the story of the Rescuer to yourself:
Your Father so loved you that he sent his Son to rescue you from the punishment that was due you for your sins. These are the sins you committed when you were a child, the sins you committed before you became a believer, and the ones you've committed today. He has seen all your sin: your selfishness, anger, laziness, and pride, and he has loved you. To rescue you, his Son was sent from heaven, his home, to be born as a human baby, live a perfect life, suffer in shame and humiliation on Calvary, rise again after three days, and then ascend to the right hand of his Father, where he watches over and redeems every facet of your life, including your parenting. He has promised to use everything in your life for your good and his glory. This is the kind of watchful, fatherly love he has for you. He is the perfect parent, and this record of perfection has been transferred to you, if you have put your trust in him. Your children's salvation doesn't depend on you any more than your own salvation did. He's a wonderful Father. You can rest in his everlasting arms — now.
One of the reasons we don't share this story with our children is that it doesn't resonate deeply in our own hearts. As one mom of four told us, "I couldn't teach my kids about the gospel before because it was not real to me and had no impact on me. Although I was a Christian, I was trying to live by the law and expecting my kids to live by it too — or else. Praise God that although I mess up every day with them, I am learning to direct them to their need for him and not their need to do good or to please me." The following discussion about rules and obedience is obviously not everything parents should say to their kids. It is simply an introduction to the different forms of human law and obedience and a way to differentiate it from true Christian righteousness.
Our Obedience and the Rules
Every responsible parent knows that there are certain things children must be taught. To begin with, our littlest kids need to know, understand, and respond immediately to the command no, which is why it is usually one of the first words they learn to say. They need to be taught about the words stop and come to me, for the same reasons. These words are so obviously important that they hardly need mentioning. When a child begins to dash out into a busy street, her life may depend on whether she responds to your voice. Because all responsible parents, Christian or non-Christian, teach these concepts to their children, the concepts don't have anything to do with a right standing before God, but that doesn't mean they are unimportant. These are simply concepts that will protect them from harm and enable them to begin to function within the family and society.
As little ones mature, they are taught to say "Please" and "Thank you." They're taught what we would call the "social laws" of their particular culture. For instance, in some cultures, burping loudly after a meal is a sign of gratitude for good food. In American culture it is usually considered boorish. These rules or laws about polite behavior are transient from one era to another and from one country or region to another. Manners in North America's Deep South differ significantly from those in the Northeast and the Southwest. Because the Bible doesn't instruct us in good etiquette, good manners are not a matter of Christian righteousness, although that doesn't mean that we shouldn't teach them to our children.
Of course, if a child has been told not to burp at the dinner table but defiantly continues to do so, his disobedience is more than just a manners issue. It may be an issue of submission to authority, which transfers it into a higher category. If he is being willfully disobedient, it is sinful.
We will talk more about this later, but for now what we want you to remember is that the social conventions of any particular culture don't have anything to do with one's standing before a holy God. Even if little Johnny never burped at the table, it doesn't mean that he has right standing before God. It may simply mean that he has good digestion, that he can't burp on demand, or that he is a man-pleaser by nature and doesn't want to make anyone mad at him. The kingdom of God is not a matter of burping or slurping. It is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17).
Children must also be taught to be law-abiding citizens. That means that they are instructed in the laws of the land in which they live and are told that they must obey them. This is another category of law that even responsible secularists teach their children. All children, believing or not, must be taught not to cheat on tests or steal. They must learn that lying has consequences and that disobeying those in authority, whether parents, teachers, or police, is unacceptable.
Wesley needed to learn that he could not beat up anyone who got in his way. This, too, is not a matter of Christian righteousness. It is simply a matter of learning how to get along with other people in a world where others have the propensity to get in your way or mess with your Thomas Trains. While it is true that you should not haul off and punch any person who displeases you, it is also true that an unregenerate pacifist will feel God's wrath in the same way that an unregenerate bully will. Of course, it's better for a family and a society to be peace loving rather than violent and abusive, but ultimately before God only Christ's righteousness will suffice.
Religious obedience is what we teach children to do as part of a life of faith before they come to faith. For instance, we ask them to wait before we eat so that we can thank God for our food. This is usually nothing more than a religious exercise for them. They learn when to stand up in church, when to sing, and when to sit quietly. They learn to give their pennies in Sunday school.
We call this form of obedience "religious obedience" because it has to do with the practices of the faith, but it is not necessarily the fruit of saving faith. It may be the fruit of any number of things, including a desire to avoid discipline or, worst of all, a desire to feel good about their own obedience. Of course, it may also be the fruit of real faith, but we must never assume that because a child closes his eyes when the family prays, he's regenerate. Outward conformity to religious exercises is not proof of regeneration. Jewish children are reverent during religious services, and unbelievers sit quietly during wedding ceremonies.
Training children in religious obedience is not wrong; in fact, we are commanded to do so. We are told to teach them the Bible, to talk with them about God's nature and works, to pray in their presence, and to take them to worship (see Ex. 12:26–28; Deut. 4:9–10; 6:7–9; Ps. 78:4–8; Eph. 6:4). But telling children that they are good or that God is pleased with them because they closed their eyes during prayer time is both dangerous and false. So, what should a parent say to encourage little four-year-old Benjamin, who always fidgets and causes distractions, when he is finally able to sit quietly for five minutes while the family prays? You might say something like this:
Bennie, I'm thankful that the Lord helped you to sit quietly tonight. I know that's hard for you because you've got so many wiggles and you don't understand what we're doing. But on nights like tonight, when you are able to sit quietly, it's because God is helping you learn to obey. Someday you'll know how wonderful he is and how much he loves you, whether you wiggle or not. Then you'll want to talk with him, too. But for tonight I just want you to know that your quiet sitting helps me know that he's working in your heart. Now, where did those wiggles get to?
On the other hand, you might be wondering what you should say when Bennie disrupts, wiggles, and talks all during the prayer time. You might say:
Do you know why we love to pray, Bennie? We love to pray because our hearts were just like yours. We never wanted to spend five minutes of our time talking to God. All we wanted to do was have fun, and it didn't seem like fun to talk to God. But then God changed our hearts so we could see how amazing he is. He showed us that even though we didn't love him or like to talk to him, he loved us anyway. And when you find out how kind someone has been to you and how amazing his love is for you, it makes you want to talk to him. Honestly there are still times I don't want to sit and talk to God, but even in those times he loves me just the same as the times when I love talking to him. But do you know what is more important than sitting still during prayer? Having a God that loves you no matter what — that is more important. Understanding how your heart would be hard and disobedient all the time without his help is more important. And asking Jesus to change your heart to love him and to forgive you for not loving him is the most important thing of all.
Now, Bennie, we have talked to you previously about disrupting family prayer. I understand that your heart is not drawn to God during prayer yet. I am glad that you are not pretending to pray with us, because that would be lying. I am praying for you that God changes your heart so that you will want to pray with the family. But until that happens, we are requiring you to sit quietly during prayer time. You have become a distraction to those of us who want to pray, so I am reminding you that your continued distraction will result in discipline. [We'll talk more about discipline in chapter 6.]
There is a marked difference between this kind of gracious parenting and the moralistic parenting I did when I was raising my children. I would alternately tell them that they were good when they sat quietly or tell them that they had to close their eyes and pray or be disciplined when they were bad. My parenting had very little to do with the gospel. I assumed my children had regenerate hearts because they had prayed a prayer at some point and because I required religious obedience from them. This resulted in kids who were alternately hypocritical and rebellious. It taught them how to feign prayer, without pressing them to long for the Savior who loved hypocrites and rebels.
Religious obedience is probably the most difficult and dangerous form of obedience simply because it is so easily confused with conformity to God's law. It's the place where most Christian families go terribly wrong. Yes, we are commanded to teach the Word, prayer, and worship to our children, but their acquiescence to these things won't save them. Only the righteous life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ saves them.
By way of reminder then, we have demonstrated four levels of rules and corresponding obedience: basic instruction in hearing and obeying; social rules or manners; civic rules and submission to human authority; and, finally, religious training. None of these levels of obedience are meritorious. That is, none of them can earn approval from God. In fact, each of these different forms of obedience may actually blind a compliant child to his need for a Savior. But that's where the law of God comes in.
God's Beautiful, Holy, Good — and Crushing — Law
The apostle Paul, a Jewish rabbi who had extensive respect for and acquaintance with God's law (Acts 22:3) had some very shocking thoughts about it once he came to faith in Christ. Although he heartily agreed that it was "holy and righteous and good" (Rom. 7:12), and although he knew the beautiful nature of God's law, he also knew that the law could never bring sinners to life because no one could obey it. He confessed that all his obedience (and it was extensive) had no more value than a pile of manure (Phil. 3:8). He wrote:
By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight. (Rom. 3:20)
What then? Are we Jews [who have the written law] any better off [than Gentiles who don't]? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God." (Rom. 3:9–11)
All [Jews and Gentiles] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23)
The very commandment that promised life ["If you obey ... then you shall live," Deut. 30:16] proved to be death to me [because although Paul tried, he couldn't obey it]. (Rom. 7:10)
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law [because our fundamental disobedience brings us under God's curse rather than under his blessing]. (Gal. 3:10–11)
Excerpted from "Give Them Grace"
Copyright © 2011 Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson.
Excerpted by permission of Microcosm Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Tullian Tchividjian 11
Introduction: Are You a Christian Parent? 15
Part 1 Foundations of Grace
Chapter 1 From Sinai to Calvary 27
Chapter 2 How to Raise Good Kids 39
Chapter 3 This Is the Work of God 51
Chapter 4 Jesus Loves All His Little Prodigals and Pharisees 65
Part 2 Evidences of Grace
Chapter 5 Grace That Trains 81
Chapter 6 Wisdom Greater Than Solomon's 97
Chapter 7 The One Good Story 111
Chapter 8 Go and Tell Your Father 129
Chapter 9 Weak Parents and Their Strong Savior 143
Chapter 10 Resting in Grace 157
Remembering God's Grace One More Time 169
Appendix 1 The One Good Story 171
Appendix 2 Common Problems and the Gospel 175
Appendix 3 The Best News Ever 193
General Index 207
Scripture Index 211
What People are Saying About This
“So many Christian parents fall into the trap of asking the law to do in the hearts of their children what only grace can accomplish. Armed with threats, manipulation, and guilt, they attempt to create change that only the cross of Jesus Christ makes possible. It is so encouraging to read a parenting book that points parents to the grace of the cross and shows them how to be instruments of that grace in the lives of their children.”
Paul David Tripp, President, Paul Tripp Ministries; author, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family
“In our human attempts to raise good and godly kids, we often forget that God extended his best grace to us. We are not full of grace on our own; we desperately need his grace. Elyse Fitzpatrick and her daughter, Jessica, provide a great tool to guide parents down the road of gracious parenting. I commend it to you.”
James MacDonald, Pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel, Rolling Meadows, Illinois; author, Vertical Church
“Elyse Fitzpatrick continues her never-ending quest to churn out grace-filled, Christ-centered, gospel-saturated books. And now she’s done it again with her daughter, Jessica, coauthoring this excellent parenting book! If you are a parent, get online and order your copy of Give Them Grace today!”
Deepak Reju, Pastor of Biblical Counseling and Family Ministry, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC; author, The Pastor and Counseling and She’s Got the Wrong Guy
“The authorsmother and daughterremind us that parenting is not only hard but also impossible. Yes, we need to nurture, teach, discipline, train, pray, and model, but we must not depend on our parenting skills to change the hearts of our children. Instead, they counsel parents to ‘rely on the faithfulness of Jesus, our great high priest, to change their hearts.’ Grace for both parents and children flows through the pages of this book; I only wish I had read it at the beginning of my parenting instead of the end.”
Rose Marie Miller, missionary; author, From Fear to Freedom
“This is not just a book on parenting; this is deep training in the gospel. Elyse Fitzpatrick shows parents how to model themselves after the heavenly Father, who changed his children not by wrath and the law but by grace. A lot of books talk about gospel-centeredness in theory; this book shows you how to apply it to one of life’s most important relationships.”
J. D. Greear, Pastor, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; author, Not God Enough and Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved this book. It was an easy read, but had a lot of information. It was a lot of practical things that I didn't even realize I wasn't doing, but should be. The gospel should be present in my parenting and before reading this book, unfortunately, it wasn't...just the law. Definitely recommend for any Christian parent or soon to be parent...wish I had read it before now (my daughter is currently 3).
Give Them Grace is a beautiful book that is co-written by mother-daughter team, Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson. "We've encouraged you to dazzle (your children) with the message of Christ's love and welcome, and then when you think that surely they must be tiring of it, go back and drench them with it again." This book is written from a Reformed Evangelical approach and neither of these mothers pretend that they are perfect or that their lives/families are perfect. This is certainly not a "parenting tips and techniques" book but rather a book that is all about Jesus and pouring Jesus into your child's everyday lives. I have to admit, that this was not a book I could just "breeze through". It is one of those books whose material is so rich that you almost have to take breaks to digest it all and ponder what you are learning from its writings. They show us that even though we are imperfect parents, God's grace covers us and our children. It also shows us how to improve our relationship with our children and show them God's grace through our own lives. This book also covers the 5 types of parenting that God has called us to: Nurturing, Correcting, Managing, Training and Promises. Give Them Grace is available through Crossway Books for just $11.99 and is a great book for anyone who is a parenting or considering becoming a parent.
"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 on CHRIST"
Grace - the one thing most of us struggle with. After all what does this word actually entail? How do we show grace? Have we really accepted fully the grace God has bestowed on us - or do we understand the depth of that grace in its fullness? This is a radical approach on parenting as it presents the idea to parent with the gospel of grace of legalistic rules. A home dominated by the telling of "the Story" instead of the implementing of rules and regulations. The over-arching view is that as parents each of us is imperfect however we can live and parent with extreme grace. I am a big believer in "teachable moments". In fact our home has scripture posted on the walls (thanks to the new vinyl cling lettering that looks hand-painted), we have scriptural art work on the walls and shelves - all constant reminders of whom we serve. In fact above the archway in the living room our family theme verse (Joshua 24:15) is posted. My children even memorize a verse for every letter of the alphabet along with other theme verses for their schoolwork. I also love to use moments of life to teach a life lesson based on scripture. However, I found some of the sample conversation in this book to lesson the effect of the gospel and Christ and to even diminish the power of certain scriptures. For instance I do not apologize when have to discipline my children with spankings by saying "I am sorry to cause you pain...." This quote goes on to diminish the suffering and power of the cross. A more applicable scriptural reference to use is that like God punishes His children out of love so too must we as parents, for if we love our children we will not spare the rod but will chasten them when they are disobedient. All in all the book is an excellent parenting book in that it is not a list of rules for christian parents to take not of and apply. The danger though is that the sample conversations will become a list of conversation and instead of prayerfully asking that God reveal "teachable moments" the parent might try overly hard to apply scripture everywhere and by default becoming a pharisee of sorts. Parenting must be done in grace - for this there is no argument. But it must also be approached prayerfully. It must never diminish the gospel or power of the Word of God. And we must all be careful not to use scripture to beat up our children - for in this they will become bitter and revel against the very thing you are trying to teach them to embrace. My advice: parent with grace by living grace. All the scripted conversations in the world - all the scripture memory that can be done in a life time is null and void if it is not demonstrated in your daily walk. After all what makes God's grace so appealing to us? It is the fact that Jesus Christ demonstrated grace daily - not by repeating the scripture of the day, but by living and walking it. This is worth the read and may inspire you to live with grace. I received this review copy from Crossway in exchange for an honest review of the book.
This book while excellent for parents is a great encouragement for us to be gracious in all relationships. The parenting focus is really for parents of little ones but be willing to apply it to all your kids.