The Gospel of Grace

As it relates to parenting, one thing that seems clear from Scripture is that God designed parents to be the primary earthly shepherds of children. There is a wonderful article discussing this titled “Shepherding Ministry Venue: Parenting” on the MinTools.com website. It’s a quick read and I really encourage you to review it:

http://mintools.com/parenting.htm

Since parents shoulder so much of the responsibility for shepherding their children, I thought it would be helpful to offer some practical ways to model the gospel as parents. However, before delving into the practical applications of how to model the gospel, I think it’s important to first take the time to clearly define (according to God’s Word) what is meant by “the gospel.”

THE GOSPEL OF THE GRACE OF GOD

When using the term “gospel,” I am referring to the “gospel of the grace of God” that Paul mentions in Acts 20:24. By backing up to Acts 20:21, we see Paul define this gospel as “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Even Christ Himself noted these two components when He stated in Mark 1:15, “…repent and believe in the gospel.”

So, now we have two components of the gospel of grace that we need to better define:

–       Repentance toward God

–       Faith in Christ

REPENTANCE TOWARD GOD:

What exactly is repentance, Biblically speaking? It’s not just remorse for or acknowledgement about our sins. The Greek word for repentance in the Bible (“metanoia”) means a change of mind; that is, a wholesale change of attitude toward sin and toward God.  Repentance isn’t turning from the act of committing sin, nor is it even a willingness to turn from the act of sin, but rather it is a total change of attitude towards one’s sin and God. Becoming repentant means acknowledging how depraved and sinful we are, acknowledging that our sin is ultimately against God and God alone, and acknowledging that we need to turn to God and seek His mercy. Repentance involves a change of mind produced by godly sorrow and the goodness of God that results in nothing less than a change of life.

Scripture references regarding the definition of repentance used above:

  • “For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation…” – 2 Corinthians 7:10 (godly sorrow produces repentance)
  • Against You and You only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…
    – Psalm 51:4
    (sin is ultimately against God alone – i.e. all sin arises because we want to “play God”)
  • “Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance.” – Romans 2:4 (the goodness/kindness of God is intended to lead us to repentance)
  • “See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done…” – 2 Corinthians 7:11 (true repentance results in a change of life)

CLARIFICATION: I want to make it clear that I am defining repentance as a “change of mind” and that in no way am I trying to brings our own “works” into the process of repentance. I fear that in Christian circles today the word “repentance” is sometimes mistranslated and perverted. In Hebrews 6:1, the author discusses “repentance from dead works” and “faith toward God.” Salvation is a “change of mind” from dead works (or ALL works) to faith toward God. The bottom line of all false religions other than the Gospel of Christ is WORKS. The individual who dies trusting anything else but Christ and HIS righteousness will be judged by his works and condemned. The individual who dies trusting in the Gospel will by judged by Christ’s righteousness and will be granted the “gift” of eternal life. Repentance at salvation therefore means that one acknowledges all hope that he or she has any capacity to save himself/herself (by their own works). This is articulated in Romans 3:19-30. When one is truly convicted by the Spirit of God of that he or she is without hope, utterly lost, and condemned by his or her transgressions of the Law and that his or her works are all dead works, then he or she will experience a “change of mind” and trust Christ’s work on the cross for salvation. Therefore, at salvation “repentance” is a “change of mind” that brings salvation. AFTER salvation follows the change of life (only after the Spirit of God has created the “new man” inside the believer, and only by God’s power can a person really change his or her life).

THE LAW, OR THE WORD OF GOD

Now that repentance has been defined, we are faced with the all-important question: what causes the “godly sorrow” that leads to Biblical repentance? The answer, found in Scripture, is “the law,” or the Word of God. Dr. Harry Ironside, author of “Except Ye Repent”, captures this aspect of repentance at salvation as he states, “It is the complete change of mind whereby the convicted sinner gives up all thought of being able to propitiate God by effort of his own and acknowledges that he is as bad as the Word has declared him to be.”

Scripture references regarding the Law, or Word of God (in relation to salvation):

  • “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul…” – Psalm 19:7 (the law invokes godly sorrow, which leads to repentance and begins the process of “conversion”)
  • “But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing that the fact that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners…” – 1 Timothy 1:9-11 (the law was meant to cause the lawless to repent of their wicked ways – it is through hearing of the law, or the Word of God, that a sinner sees how criminal their ways are and that they have transgressed upon God’s moral standards)
  • “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” – Romans 3:20 (the Law makes us aware of our sin (but cannot justify us))
  • “Therefore, the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” – Galatians 3:24 (the law serves one aspect of salvation – repentance – then leads us to justification through faith in Christ (the other aspect))

CLARIFICATION: Even those who have not heard the “Law,” or the Word of God are without excuse at judgment based on Romans 1:18-21 – “…that which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse….” However, being the Christian parents that we are, we do not want to risk leaving our children up to “chance” that they will grasp God’s goodness based upon what they see in Creation alone. We need to immerse them in the Law, or the Word of God since we know, from Scripture, that it is perfect in converting the soul and will bring them to Christ.

PRAYER FOR MERCY

After one realizes how sinful they are (as compared to God’s Holy Word), the next aspect of repentance is, as noted by Dr. Ironsides above, acknowledging “that he is as bad as the Word declares him to be.” This is done by acknowledging TO GOD  our failures and need for His mercy. And how do we admit this to God? By simply talking to Him, through prayer. Some Biblical examples of “repentance prayers” are found in Psalm 51 and “the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector” from Luke 18:9-14. Psalm 51 was penned by David when he became repentant of his sinful actions that started with the adultery committed with Bathsheba. David starts off the Psalm as follows:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love…”

While Psalm 51 in totality should be studied as an example of a repentant heart, I just want to briefly point out a few other quick lines for our purposes here:

Against you, and you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” (David acknowledges that ultimately all sin stems from a desire to run from God)

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me….” (David acknowledges that his sin is part of his nature and not something he can “correct” himself)

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (David acknowledges that God does not prefer “sacrifices” after we sin, but instead a broken, humble Spirit that is willing to let God renew him).

“…wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me…” (David acknowledges that he can do nothing of his own accord and needs God to wash him, restore him, grant him, etc… – that he needs God’s mercy and grace)

Similar to Psalm 51, in “the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector” we see that God desires a “broken and contrite heart.” Let’s take a look at the parable from Luke 18:9-14:

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two mean went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Scripture references regarding prayer for God’s mercy:

  • that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9 (if we acknowledge our sins to God through prayer {communication with God}, He will forgive and cleanse us through Christ)
  • “So repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible your heart’s intent may be forgiven you.” – Acts 8:22 (we must repent and then pray for God’s mercy {ask God for His mercy} in order to be forgiven)
  • The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” – Psalm 6:9 (the Lord will not reject an humble, repentant heart seeking mercy)

Now that we understand Biblical repentance and the importance of both the Law, or the Word of God (to point out how we fail at adhering to God’s standards) and prayer (to acknowledge our sinful natures and seek God’s mercy), let’s move on to what “faith in Christ” entails.

FAITH IN CHRIST

I really struggled with this section. I found it is quite difficult to adequately capture in words what “faith in Christ” truly is. There is a lot written about faith in the Bible, but most of it appears to be addressed to those who already have a working definition of faith at their disposal. For instance, the Bible instructs to do “X or Y” by faith, through faith, because of faith, but I found that little is provided in terms of actually defining faith. Probably the best “definition” of faith (from the Bible) is found in Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

I want to pick apart this definition for a minute, because I think truly grasping this concept is vital for believers (and particularly vital for Christian parents who are trying to shepherd their children). From my earliest years, I recall hearing John 3:16 quoted as “Cliff Notes” version of the gospel – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The problem with the one verse above (if used alone) is the translation of the word “believeth.” In the Bible (depending on the translation you use), “believe” and “faith” are often used interchangeably, but in American English, “believe” does not necessarily mean the same thing as “faith.” For instance, “believe” most often means something similar to the following definition: “to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something.” So, you can “believe in the existence” of something with your head (i.e. believe Christ exists), but not change your lifestyle accordingly. What comes to mind when I think of this is James 2:19-20 – “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?”

So, what does “faith” typically mean? “Confidence or trust in a person or thing.” Do you see the subtle difference in the definitions of “believe” and “faith?” Believe (as used in English today) denotes having confidence in the existence of something, while faith denotes “trusting” something. Subtle word variation, but huge difference in meaning! It’s not enough to simply seek for our children to say a “prayer” asking Jesus to come into their heart (or seeking for them to “believe” in Jesus). We need to seek for them to have “faith” in Christ – or to “trust and obey” Christ.

So, let’s get back to our definition of faith (as it relates to “faith in Christ”). “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” So, as it relates to “faith in Christ” – it would be the substance of Christ in our children, the evidence of Christ in our children (though they have not seen Christ).

The best description I have found of this type of “faith” comes from Greg Boyd’s book, “The Myth of a Christian Religion: Losing Your Religion For the Beauty of a Revolution”:

“Many Christians, for instance, seem to think Christianity is mainly about believing certain things. If you believe Jesus died for your sins, you’re “saved.” If you don’t, you’re “damned.” Since we’re saved by “faith alone” and not “works,” how one actually lives isn’t centrally important in this model of Christianity.

Perhaps this explains why so many Americans who profess faith in Jesus have lifestyles that are indistinguishable from their nonbelieving neighbors.

Now, I certainly agree Jesus dies for our sins and that we’re saved by faith, not works, but the idea that Christianity is primarily about believing certain things is seriously misguided. Since Scripture calls Christians “the bride of Christ,” try thinking about it this way: to be married to my wife, I certainly need to believe certain things. I need to believe my wife exists, for example. I also need to believe she’ll keep her vows to me. But merely believing these things doesn’t make me married to her. Believing those things are preconditions for my relationship with her, but they are not themselves the marriage relationship.

I’m married to my wife only because I’m willing to act on my beliefs by pledging my life to her and living faithful to this pledge every day of my life. This doesn’t mean my marriage is based on “works,” as though I had to earn my wife’s love every day. Rather, living faithful to my vows is simply what it means to be married.

In the same way, we need to believe certain things to be Christian. We must accept Jesus exists, for example, and that God will faithfully keep his word. But merely believing these things doesn’t make us “the bride of Christ.” These beliefs are preconditions for a marriage-like relationship with God, but they are not themselves the relationship.

We become the “bride of Christ” only when we act on our beliefs by pledging our lives to him and living faithful to that pledge every day. This doesn’t mean we’re saved by “works,” as though we had to earn God’s love. Rather, living faithful to one’s pledge to God is simply what it means to be married to him. It’s what it means to submit to God’s reign. It’s what it means to belong to God’s kingdom.

And as we do this, we increasingly look like Jesus.

Over the last several years the media has coined the term red-letter Christians to refer to believers who believe they’re supposed to obey Jesus’ teaching and live as he lived. (Some Bibles print Jesus’ words in red – hence the term red letter). What we’ve seen so far is that there is, in reality, no other kind of Christian. Obeying what Jesus taught and living as he lived is simply what the term “Christian” means.”

Now that you’ve had a second to digest the above (I think it is very profound), take a look at the below:

Scripture references regarding faith in Christ:

  • “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” – Galatians 3:25-27 (faith in Christ entails “clothing ourselves with Christ” or “obeying what Jesus taught and living as he lived” to quote Greg Boyd)
  • “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” – Galatians 2:20 (faith in Christ means “death” of ourselves and “resurrection” of Christ within us, by means of the Holy Spirit – see next reference)
  • “For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” – Galatians 5:6-7
  • “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given the fullness of Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done with the hands of men, but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” – Colossians 2:9-12 (Faith in Christ provides us the “fullness of Christ” which encompasses putting off our sinful nature and being raised with Him/experiencing the “power of God”).
  • Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised. That is why it was “credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” – Romans 4:19-25 (Faith in Christ (including faith in both his death and resurrection) ensures that God will credit us righteousness)

Essentially, “faith in Christ” means literally dying with Christ (dying to our sinful natures) and walking in the newness of the life of his resurrection (walking according to the Holy Spirit). We want to see our children showing evidence that they are dying to their sinful natures and walking in the newness of the life of his resurrection. Our goal should be that our children’s “faith” in Christ would demonstrate the evidence of Christ in their lives. At this point, I want to again clarify that I am not advocating that our children show us “works” to prove to us that they have faith in Christ. We know that “salvation is of the Lord” (Psalm 3:8) alone – that salvation is a gift of God’s grace. We must continually be praying/crying out for mercy regarding the salvation of our children. I am simply stating that a child that is truly regenerate should and will show evidence of Christ in their lives.

Therefore, as regenerate Christian parents, it should a priority to us to demonstrate what true faith in Christ is! Some reminders:

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too many live a new life.” – Romans 6:4

“For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” – Romans 8:3-4

Now that we have clearly defined what the gospel of grace entails – repentance towards God and faith in Christ – as well as the necessary components of repentance and faith – let’s delve into how we can model this “gospel of grace” for our children.

MODELING THE GOSPEL OF THE GRACE OF GOD:

1) WE MUST BE REPENTANT:

a) We must be immersed in the Word

b) We must be seeking God’s mercy through prayer

2) WE MUST BE EXERCISING FAITH IN CHRIST:

a) we must be “dying” to our sinful natures

b) we must be “walking according to the Spirit”

MODELING REPENTANCE – PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS:

Even though it is vital for one to experience repentance at salvation, we know as Christians that “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ…willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance” as noted by Martin Luther in the first of his Ninety-Five Theses. Therefore, almost daily we will have the opportunity to showcase to our children what repentance looks like. Essentially, this is where we show our children our failure and show them that, when we fail (according to God’s word), we ask God for forgiveness and mercy and seek His grace to change our behavior going forward.

We need to show our children that when they fail, they need to “turn back” to God. We do this by showing them that when we fail, we “turn back” to God.

An example of this may be when you get exasperated by your children’s behavior and perhaps yell at them or act in a way that you later regret (rather than acting out of love, you act out of frustration). Take this teachable moment to talk to your children about how you are not perfect and you made a mistake (i.e. the Bible says to “refrain from anger” (Psalm 37:8) and to “be self-controlled” (1 Peter 1:13)) . Explain to them why you regret your behavior (for instance, I yelled out of anger and let my temper get the best of me, rather than being self-controlled). Then take the time to pray with your child. Let them listen in as you tell God how sorry you are for yelling at them out of anger, ask for God’s forgiveness and mercy, and petition God for more grace to help you handle the situation better next time around. As your children see you turn to the Lord with your failures, they will learn that the Lord is who they need to turn to for theirs as well.

As an aside, “showcasing” our failures certainly does not diminish our authority as parents. Let’s face it – we are NOT perfect and at some point our children will realize this. It is much better for us to be upfront with the truth, as this will cause our children to respect us more in the long run. Additionally, we are not their ultimate authority anyways – the Lord is – so we need to start as early as possible to point them to their ultimate authority.

Some suggested reading to help you model repentant behavior (i.e. immersing yourself in the Word, praying, and reviewing Dr. Ironside’s article on Repentance):

    

Additionally, enough emphasis cannot be placed on taking the time to “train” your child to delve into the Bible themselves (i.e. do “Bible study time” with your young ones – some age-appropriate resources are included under the “Books and Music” tab of this website). I also feel it is vital to take the time to pray with your children daily (i.e. take the time to “thank God” daily so your children learn to develop their relationship with God/Jesus and take the time to “petition” God daily for His help so they grasp our destitute states and our need for a Savior). For some examples of this in action, see my Blog posts, “Thank You God for Dying Easter Eggs with Me” and “Give Them Grace.”

MODELING FAITH IN CHRIST – PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS:

Modeling Faith in Christ first assumes that we, as parents, are willing to “deny ourselves” and to “take up our cross daily” to follow Christ (see Luke 9:23). This is a conscious choice that we, as parents, must make daily (as stated in Luke 9:23) in order to set an example for our children. It means that, daily, we must surrender our life completely to Christ. Therefore, since this is something we are commanded to do daily, I suggest we do it as soon as we wake up in the morning. When we first arise, we should seek to thank God for the day He has provided and pledge our commitment to seek His will and live for Him that day. When our children first arise, we should pray with them and ask God to use their lives for His glory that day, and allow them (and us) to be instruments of His blessings. In making a commitment to “die to ourselves” each day in front of our children, we are reaffirming that our lives (nor theirs) belong to us (or them), but are the Lord’s alone.

As we’ve noted previously in this article, believers have the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower and guide them to “walk in the newness of life.” As we surrender our lives to Christ each day, we are allowing our lives to be controlled by the Holy Spirit and not by our own sinful flesh.  We are “dying to ourselves” and exchanging our thoughts and desires for God’s thoughts and desires in order to “walk in the newness of life.” As Paul stated in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Additionally, in Romans 8:13 Paul states, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.

These are the things we need to reaffirm anew each morning both individually and collectively with our child(ren).

Additionally, throughout the day we have some very real parameters by which to measure how well we have been dying to our sinful flesh. Galatians 5:19 tells us that “the acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”

Throughout the day as we see we have fallen into the snares of sin (for instance, if we display jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, etc. in front of our children), it’s up to us to take a moment, clue our children in that we promised God we would “die to ourselves” this day and we realized we have failed in the respective area, and model repentance in front of our children (as discussed previously).

Just as there are parameters to gauge how well we are “dying to ourselves”, there are also parameters to gauge how well we are “walking in the newness of life by the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22 – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Throughout the day as we realize that we are displaying fruit of the Spirit, point it out to our children and give the glory to God.

For instance, just thing morning my son and I sought to help an elderly, foreign man with directions to an International Embassy. Being fairly new to the Greater Atlanta area and not knowing where this Embassy building was, I sought help until we were able to find someone who could assist the man. One of the young ladies I approached made a comment that she hoped God would bless us for taking the time to help this man. Her comment reminded me that I needed to use this incident as a teaching opportunity, so when we got in the car, my son and I talked about why we took the time to help the man – i.e. God in His kindness and goodness has given everything to us, and His desire is that we also demonstrate kindness and goodness to others, so in helping the man this morning we were living as God commands and desires us to live. With our children, we have so many teaching/shepherding opportunities if we will allow God to work through us to guide them. One last thought though – as we are pointing out the works of the Spirit to our children, let us be wary of the warning in Galatians 5: 26 – “Let us not become conceited…” – Remember, anything good we are able to do is a result of God and God alone – a result of his “gift” of Christ and of the Spirit He has provided to us. We need to make sure our children understand this and see this perspective modeled in our life.

A wonderful, thought-provoking book to gain some perspective on how to model “faith in Christ” (dying to self, living like a “Kingdom” person) is the following:

Some final thoughts – I hope some (or all) of the above ideas will provide helpful to you as you seek to shepherd your young ones and show them how to live under God’s grace. However, let’s remember that no matter how hard we model God’s grace in front of our children, it does not guarantee their salvation. As stated previously in this page, salvation is of the Lord (not us). So, the most important thing we can do for our children is to PRAY for them – to pray that God will be merciful and will turn their hearts towards Him. In a way, realizing that what we do (or don’t do) doesn’t ultimately “save” or “damn” our children is incredibly freeing. However, who knows that your diligent and prayerful efforts in shepherding your children won’t be the very instrument God uses to turn their hearts towards Him?

That is why we model God’s grace for our children (while also diligently praying for God’s grace and mercy for them as well).

Grace and peace be with you!