Results tagged “graciousness” from Reformation21 Blog

Rewarding our Children for Obedience?

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When it comes to parenting, I think there are some general principles that we can draw from the way God the Father treats his children. That is why I am not, in principle, opposed to various types of punishments for our children when they are disobedient. A spanking may be the best, most appropriate way to deal with sin in our young children (Prov. 23:13), but withholding privileges, for example, may also be a suitable punishment.
 
What about promising our children rewards for obedience, with the intention of motivating them to do what we ask?
 
Here I believe we may look at the way in which God rewards his children and appropriately, with great care and wisdom, apply this principle to the way we raise our children.
 
Given the plethora of teaching in the Scripture on rewards for good works (Rev. 22:12; Matt. 16:27; 25:14-30; Lk. 19:11-27; 2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 11:26), I'm surprised the topic does not surface more than it does. God rewards our good works (WCF 16.6). Of course, we cannot merit rewards from good works because these good works are graciously given to us to do from eternity (Eph. 2:9-10). And the issue is not whether God rewards our good works, but can rewards for good works motivate us in any way?
 
It may be that some think that promising rewards for obedience leads to a slavish spirit. Anticipating this objection, John Owen acknowledges that some think "to yield holy obedience unto God with respect unto rewards and punishments is servile, and becomes not the free spirit of the children of God."

In response to this objection, Owen asserts that such a reaction is a "vain" imagination. Only the bondage of our spirits can make what we do servile. "But," says Owen, "a due respect unto God's promises and threatenings is a principal part of our liberty." He argues that in the new covenant the hope of rewards, for example, is actually a liberating motive for holiness. 

Those who are made partakers of the covenant of grace, and make use of the means of grace that God has appointed for believers, may find comfort in the fact that they will not fail to perform the obedience required by God "merely for want of power and spiritual strength" (2 Pet. 1:3; Matt. 11:30; 1 John 5:3).

The very fact that God promises rewards to his children will necessarily motivate his children to seek these rewards. How could we be indifferent to such promises? We would be disobedient children if we did not, in some measure, seek that which is so clearly promised in God's word. 

How, then, does this relate to parenting?

Parents, if they are able, naturally want to bless and reward their children. There is always a fine line between good theology and bad theology, and that line is perhaps a lot finer than we'd like to imagine. Some parents may seem to only be able to get their children to obey by either promising the child something if he/she does what is requested or by issuing a harsh threat (e.g., raising their voice even louder). Sometimes the parenting style is nothing more than a perpetual form of bribery, which ends up enslaving not only the parents, but also the children.

Our children need to know that they need to obey simply because this pleases the Lord (Col. 3:20). Even here, there is the motivation to please the Lord. Nonetheless, arriving at the place where they are only prepared to do something if they are promised this or that is a dangerous place to be. 

Yet, that doesn't necessarily mean we cannot motivate our children by sometimes promising them a reward for their obedience. Godly wisdom from the parents will, of course, dictate how often and the nature of the reward; but the principle itself is a way - not the way - to help our children obey. 

Returning to my original point, our Father in heaven has promised to reward us for things done in the body during this life (assuming they meet the requirements for what constitutes a good work). While we need to be careful in this matter, I think parents should, as they are able, learn to reward their children in appropriate ways so that they can teach their children, tangibly, what our Father in heaven is like towards his children. While there are many unconditional promises, there are plenty of conditional ("if you do this then ....") promises (and warnings) made to God's people.

To expect our children always to obey without ever promising a reward may be a case of provoking them to wrath. And here, as earthly parents, we may end up very much unlike our heavenly Father. 

God loves his children and delights to reward them for their imperfect obedience. Should we be any different with our own children?

Grace and sin

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A number of pastoral issues have arisen recently which have brought home to me some particular truths and some particular emphases arising from them. Many of these situations are on the fringes of church life or outside it (though I sincerely hope that some of them might, under God's gracious influences, come within it in due course). How much we need to grasp spiritual realities with scriptural definition! It is a great distress to see how often false religion dismisses the former and degrades the latter, but even more grievous is to see professing Christians mishandle matters of central importance. (Please understand that these are not veiled critiques of events in the Christian stratosphere, but observations about concrete situations in local churches, or at least those places which call themselves churches. But you are wise, and may apply it.)

One area where this has cropped up recently is in the matter of grace, what Matthew Henry somewhere describes as "the free favour of God and all the blessed fruits of it." In common Christian parlance, grace seems to have become a catch-all noun to describe a certain kind of softness and carelessness with regard to sin. When acts and patterns of sin are exposed, we are encouraged to be gracious, but that grace is often not defined or ill-defined. When criticisms are made of certain acts and their actors, the rebuke is readily offered, "That is not gracious!" Grace, apparently, can ignore the sin that calls forth the critique, but not the sin of critiquing it!

So, for example, when there is gross sin in the church, we must show grace. When someone is acting wickedly, it is gracious not to condemn it. When a lie is told, grace will ignore the matter. When leaders fudge matters of righteousness, ignore God's truth, and expose God's flock to harms because they will not deal with transgressors, they are showing grace, and we must show grace by not charging them with any failings.

But this nebulous notion of grace is very far removed from the spiritual reality with scriptural definition that we find revealed and displayed in our Bibles. Gospel grace does not excuse or ignore or neglect sin. Gospel grace is never casual or careless with regard to transgression. Gospel grace, whether patterned in God or echoed in man, never pretends sin is not sin. Gospel grace does not expose the flock to harm because it will not identify error and heresy and defend against errorists and heretics, even in the name of love. Gospel grace suffers long, but it is not a disregard for iniquity that is dishonouring to God and dangerous to men. Gospel grace does not call evil good, and good evil; it does not put darkness for light, and light for darkness, or bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter (Is 5.20).

Gospel grace always faces and addresses sin, though it does so in a gracious way. If you want a seasonal example, think of that just man, who did not want to make the woman he loved a public example, despite what he was legitimately persuaded was the growing evidence of heinous sin, and "was minded to put her away secretly" (Mt 1.19). Grace took no delight in parading sin, but it did not pretend that it was not (as far as could reasonably be determined) sin. When Joseph was enlightened concerning the reality of the situation, would he not have been relieved that he did not have an immediately ungracious response, and make of Mary the most public example he could? Grace prevents us making errors born of harshness, and allows for the easy correction of mistakes.

Remember that fervent love is commanded among the saints, a love which will cover a multitude of sins (1Pt 4.8 cf. Prv 10.12), but consider that such love recognises sin as sin and chooses that, for good and proper reasons, it will be discreet in dealing with it or covering it. Again, to quote Matthew Henry, this love "inclines people to forgive and forget offences against themselves, to cover and conceal the sins of others, rather than aggravate them and spread them abroad." We read that "the discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression" (Prv 19.11) - he decides, as appropriate, that this transgression is not something that needs to be dealt with immediately and publicly, though he still recognises it as transgression, and there may come a time when a pattern of transgression requires him to stop overlooking and start acting. We do not pull one another up on every slip of deed and word, but take account of our frailties and failings as sinful creatures, creatures with remaining sin even as redeemed men and women. This is the grace of God as Father, who is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust" (Ps 103.8-14).

Notice here the hints at the greatest expression of grace: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in coming into the world to die on the cross for his wretched and sin-wrecked people was at once the clearest recognition of sin and the highest expression of mercy. God did not pretend that there was no sin; he saw it more clearly than we ever shall, but put it away by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. The cross is at once the revealing of the sinfulness of sin and the demonstration of the graciousness of grace.

Gospel grace does not revel in the public exposure of sin and aggressive shaming of sinners, like a church boasting of how many cases of corrective discipline it has handled recently. But neither does it sweep sin away as if it were of no moment. True gospel grace, patterned in a gracious God and echoed in gracious men, always faces sin head on. It is patient and kind, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, but it is also fiercely committed to the glory of a God who is holy and to the good of those who are called to be holy just as he is holy. It calls sin sin, and it considers the nature, occasion and consequences of any particular sin and responds appropriately.

Grace is not, then, an excuse to downplay or dismiss sin as if it were of no consequence, to go on neglecting to deal with it. Grace does not make sin of no account. Grace is the most honest in dealing with sin. Grace always takes account of sin, it looks sin in the ugly eye and - one way or another - it puts it away, sometimes at great cost to itself, dealing fairly and even tenderly with those in whom that sin is discerned, as occasion demands.

Grace, ultimately, is Godlike. It is not a commodity, a mere thing, but an expression of the heart of God in Christ Jesus his Son. If we would have a pattern for gospel grace, we must find it in Christ crucified. Bring all sin into the light of the gospel, put all sin under the shadow of the cross, and there you shall find wisdom in how to deal with it. Deal with it graciously, but deal with it you must. There is nothing gracious about pretending otherwise.