Grace Based Libertarianism
By Wendy Alsup
A few weeks ago, I read an article on child rearing by a somewhat reformed, conservative evangelical in which he distinguished gospel centered parenting techniques from what he called “grace based libertarianism.” It was a classic example of what my pastor calls being “suspicious of grace.”
Here was an author who was learning the doctrines of grace, enamored by the concept of gospel centered living, yet still suspicious of the core value of the gospel – unmerited favor. Better known as GRACE.
We are all growing in our understanding of gospel grace and how it applies to the nooks and crannies of our lives. But I will say boldly that you and I haven’t understood the gospel in its truest, purest sense until we stop being suspicious of grace. Or maybe I should say the converse.
We HAVE started to understand the gospel in its truest, purest sense when we begin to recognize our suspicions with grace and subsequently start to put them to death. And our children are an excellent training ground for this very thing.
Remember how Jesus defines grace? Luke 6 is the best example. He uses the Greek word for grace, charis, repeatedly here.
… as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 32 If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
I need to read this again and again, because I leak grace. I get filled up with confidence in the power of grace, but it seeps out as the day goes on. I need this reminder of what I’m called to do particularly with my kids very much this day. I worked through this in depth writing By His Wounds You Are Healed. I’ve led a Bible study on it twice in the last year. And STILL I leak grace. So, once again, because I need to meditate on it anew, here are thoughts on Luke 6 and grace from By His Wounds You Are Healed.
“When you give back what is earned or deserved, it is not charis—it is not grace. It is not favor or benefit, and it is not credited toward you as anything other than exactly what you are expected to do. Instead, grace does what is unexpected, undeserved, and out of line with reasonable responses. Grace is an unreasonable response—unreasonably good, but unreasonable nonetheless. When we give grace, this undeserved favor that does good to enemies and lends expecting nothing in return, then we give evidence of our relationship with our Father in heaven, because this is his calling card. He is kind to the ungrateful and evil. He is full of grace.”
I think, “Really?! I’m supposed to treat my children as I want them to be not as they actually are acting right now? I get that I’m not supposed to give an unreasonably bad response. But what about a reasonably bad response? Shouldn’t they get what they deserve for acting out? But God says instead I’m supposed to give an unreasonably GOOD response. What does that even look like? And why doesn’t that make my children’s sin increase?!”
Here is my suspicion–if I really treat my children with grace instead of punishment, they will sin more. It’s not natural for me to envision a scenario in which a grace filled response to them in their sin and failure actually helps them overcome their sin. First, I have a mistaken perception of what grace looks like.
Grace doesn’t mean simply being polite or diplomatic. And most of all, grace doesn’t suggest we ignore sin. In fact, grace is meaningless apart from a stark understanding of the sin in question. Grace engages over the sin. But not with punishment.
Grace is what moves us from returning evil for evil with punitive measures (a hit for a hit) to returning evil with good by discipling their hearts and training them in new ways to respond to their own issues.
Second, I am suspicious of grace because I have a shortsighted view of the future. I think if my children don’t immediately change their behavior the moment I engage them over their sin issue, I have failed. If I don’t reactively punish them, I think they’ll abuse my grace. And maybe tomorrow, they will. But God’s view for them extends well past tomorrow. It is of eternity.
Every adult Christian friend of mine who gives positive testimony of a parent universally tells me of how their parents ENDURED with them through their hard seasons and how that perseverance drew them to repentance.
The techniques we teach for child rearing are as good an indicator of our understanding of gospel grace as anything. It is interesting how reformed Christian teachers and parents who really should know better still embrace the very techniques that God called ineffective at transformation—law, punishment, and penance—and disdain or mock (as did the author in question) the methods our Father in heaven embraces in His plan for His children—a wooing with grace and kindness that draws us to repentance. We do this because we really don’t believe Biblical grace works.
We have for the most part graduated from a performance based Christian parenting model to a heart based Christian parenting model. Almost everyone in my Christian circles (which are varied) over the last decade or so has gotten that external conformity apart from internal heart change is of no value. But we still often attempt to change the HEART by external pressure. Through guilt, manipulation, or shame. “Look at ALL God has done for you! Why don’t you love Him? Why aren’t you obeying Him? He’s so wonderful and you’re just a worm. Your heart is wicked.” We’re trying to get to our kids’ heart, but we’re using the same old tactics legalists use to change externals. Guilt. Shame. Manipulation.
If you feel threatened by what you view of as grace based libertarianism (which actually is a meaningless term), it’s likely because you don’t really believe that grace works and that it’s what is required by you. If that’s the case, go reread Luke 6 and ask yourself if it’s relevant to your children. But even if you are convicted that you do need to parent with grace (as I am), it doesn’t mean you do it consistently in the moment.
Perhaps you simply failed in the moment. You very much wanted to patiently disciple your children in the direction that God is taking them, but instead you got angry at where they were in the moment. I’m there on a regular basis. I am learning that the gospel equips me to deal with this without shame or condemnation. I face it and correct it. And I have hope that this response won’t always characterize me.
Maybe you did it right, and it still fell apart. Or there wasn’t any perceptable change at all. You’re not sure if your reactions were right or wrong, and you see no noticeable good results one way or the other. What is the point of responding patiently in grace if it doesn’t fix the problem immediately? God’s long term view for His children equips you to deal with this without bitterness or the loss of hope. The gospel gifts you with perseverance and confidence in the eternal results.
I Cor. 13:7-8 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.