Any Christian parent realizes that the teachings of Scripture ought to be central in training and instructing their children, whether tots or teens. However, many Christian parents unwittingly communicate a message of moralism to their children, and in the book Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus, Elyse Fitzpatrick, along with her adult daughter Jessica Thompson, unpack the problems with and offer practical solutions for this common mistake. We’ll examine a few of their insightful suggestions below.
Moralism’s Chief Danger
Well, for starters, moralism doesn’t provide a solution to the greatest need of you or your teenager: salvation from sin. Yes, the Ten Commandments are significant, but many Bible-believers today are too upset about those legal statutes being taken down from courtroom walls than they are communicating what the New Testament says about the greatest benefit of the Law: It reveals our sinfulness and need of a Savior (Galatians 3:24). In Matthew 5, Christ offers what some call the “intensification of the law,” but perhaps it’s really a fuller understanding of perfect obedience to it — something that stems from a heart that truly loves God and others (Mathew 22:36-40), instead of superficially following a list of do’s and don’ts.
While most Christians can rightly communicate with unbelievers the fact that we cannot earn our way to Heaven (Ephesians 2:8, 9), according to Fitzpatrick, “Something odd happens when we start training the miniature unbelievers in our own home. We forget everything we know about the deadliness of relying on our own goodness, and we teach them that Christianity is all about their behavior. . . . It’s no wonder that so many of them . . . are lost to utter rebellion or works-based cults . . . as soon as they are free to make an independent choice” (17-18). The biggest problem with moralism is that it is ultimately damning; it cannot provide hope.
While well-behaved kids may be unusual in our society, the human methods used to manipulate children and teens into being “good girls and boys” can be employed just as readily by secular humanistic, Jewish, Mormon, or Christian parents. Instead of manipulating Scriptural accounts and even the central message of God to be about the law, presenting Bible Christianity means presenting grace or “the free favor that been lavished on us through Christ,” modeling and describing our “grace-giving Father who freely adopts rebels and transforms them into loving sons and daughters” (pg 21). That’s not to say we shouldn’t teach and even require our kids to make safe and wise choices and be courteous and respectful; it’s just that such aims are secondary to the main message that distinctively Christian parenting communicates.
When grace permeates our parenting, we teach our kids that even though we will always, to some extent, fall short of perfect obedience (Romans 3:23), we can delight in the beauty of God’s forgiveness and rest in His faithfulness to us.