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Applying Law & Gospel to Practically Discipline

How are we Christians to discipline (or not) our children?  Should you use force?  Is pacifism too extreme?  How do we know the boundaries?  Christ used force and peace to make points in His ministry, so how can we use that as an example?  Just as the Bible can be confused without the application of Law & Gospel, so can parenting.

No Simple Answers, but there is the Bible

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

There are no simple answers to practically parenting concerns like discipline.  This website in large part was created to be an antithesis to so many parenting books, how-tos, and gurus who have endless methods as to how to raise your kids. While they can be useful, almost all of those theories are secular and based on human constructs of psychology.  Therefore, with the chance of sounding too theoretical, The Parental Office‘s approach to such questions is to look to the Bible and its doctrine.  Like every issue we address, the parent’s goal should be to be Christ-centric in their life as parents and people.

We had a listener who commented last week on our Contact page. Her and her husband enjoy the show, but asked about practical things like those mentioned above.  Upon reading, Christ-oriented answers were not apparent right away.  Upon reflection, it hit me.  Law & Gospel!  Parents should discipline practically in light of Law & Gospel. I was then reminded of an excellent article in The Lutheran Study Bible which is titled, you guessed it, “Law and Gospel Parenting” (page 2025, in Ephesians).  The following partly paraphrases that piece.

Law & Gospel as a Guide

As parents we get confused about when is time and how to act (or not). A kid throws a book across the room, hits a sibling, or has a tantrum. As adults we also throw “tantrums”, too often directed at God. Things don’t go our way or a prayer seems not to be answered, so we get mad.  Then what does God do?  He slaps us back into reality with His Law.  Through reading or hearing His word we see our sin on display.  The rules of the Law are ever present and sets a standard no human can achieve.  Only Christ, whom atoned for our sin through His death on the Cross, redeems us from this sin.  This Gospel is our and our children’s only true hope.  When our kids throw their tantrums and refuse the 4th Commandment’s clear dictate to “Honor your father and your mother”, their hope also only lies in Christ. To help them understand this, we as earthly caregivers should act as God does, appropriately applying the Law and then applying the Gospel.

When do you apply the Law and when do you apply the Gospel?  The same times we are taught to do so when dealing with all sinners.  When a person is unrepentant, then we give them the Law.  We expose their sin and prove their guilt.  When a person is repentant, then we deliver the Gospel.  We tell them of forgiveness and absolve their guilt through Christ.  It is no different for children.  These little sinners sometimes are unrepentant and sometime repentant.

Law and Grace, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, a Lutheran. The left side of the tree illustrates law, while the right side illustrates grace. (From WikiCommons; Public Domain)

Timeout as an example

When our son Noah is unrepentant by ignoring a command or acting in a inappropriate way, he goes to timeout.  He usually yells for awhile in anger (darn “old Adam” in him).  When he calms down and collects himself we go over to him and he usually is repentant (if not, he stays in timeout).  We ask him what he did wrong, ask him to say he sorry to us, and then given him a hug and say “I love you.”  If his wrongdoing was directed at one of us or his brothers, he is directed to ask forgiveness of them (and give them a hug). He does so.

While this little example does not always go so smoothly (since we are also a sinners who makes mistakes), it shows the basic concept of Law & Gospel discipline.  Unrepentant kid equals force, punishment, and stern faces. Repentant kid equals guidance, forgiveness, and warm expressions.

Repentant does not mean anything goes

This all said, repentant kids do not get a free pass.  Just because they can be forgiven, does not mean there are no worldly consequences.  Noah will sometime have to do other tasks or serve some “quiet time” in his room after such timeout episodes, even when repentant.  “[God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10) and asks those in the parental office to act out the Law to groom children in practical ways. This allows them to learn right from wrong and by understanding such worldly constructs they may, through the Holy Spirit, be brought to reconciliation in Christ.

Parents are sinners too

I’d be remiss if I did not state that we as parents often sin (even when trying to do the right thing for our kids), complicating the situation surrounding the application of Christ-centric Law & Gospel parenting.  We make parenting mistakes constantly.  Timeout does not always go as noted above.  We must adjust, but we can strive to stay in God’s Word, understand Law & Gospel, and apply such in our parental lives.

Through Law & Gospel, we reflect Christ

No wonder bookstores have entire sections of how-to books on parenting, all grasping for truth and all too often leaving out Biblical teaching like Law & Gospel.  Christian parents like us also look for answers when we get frustrated in our tired states after being up with a kid all night, get pulled upon as soon as walking in from a long day at work, or upon hearing a child be defiant.  However, when we repent of our sin and see Christ, we can act to our children in the same way as God did in Scripture through Him for us.  Through focused faith and study we can, for moments, be Law & Gospel parents who reflect Christ to our children.

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