Walking into a little white church, a man stumbles across the lobby and struggles with his sinful nature. He enters the pastor’s counseling office tearfully seeking guidance. After hearing of the man’s inability to cope with his own humanity, the pastor orders the man to lean over his desk with his palms down on the lemony ‘Endust‘-scented wood. The pastor then pulls out a mahogany offering plate and begins to beat the sinner across the back. “This”, says the man of God, “will help you to think before you drink again!”
Or, how about this scenario:
A young mother of three is having a lousy day. The demands of the home are overwhelming, she has a terrible headache, and her husband walks through the door and makes an unrealistic demand on her. She bursts into exhausted tears and retorts with angry words…so her husband calmly whips off his belt and begins to lash her bare legs, punishing her for her disrespectful attitude. She begs him to stop with mascara streaming down her face, but he persists, insisting that her pain is “for her own good.” He then prays with his wife, asking God to forgive her sin.
Outrageous! Unmerciful! Unkind! Abusive!!
And yet this is how many of the smallest members of Jesus’ precious flock are treated on a daily basis.
Jesus’ blood was offered for every one of us, from the greatest to the least. The law was a light exposing every sin, but it did absolutely nothing to atone for those sins. Even the slaughter of animals was only a shadow of the grace that was to come. His blood and grace set us free! Totally free from the fear of punishment, totally free from the condemnation that burdened our souls.
“For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” The gospel of John, 3.17
He didn’t see us as candidates for hell. He saw children all born with a disease: sin. We could
somewhat control it on our “good” days, we could try to hide it and appear well, or we could totally succumb to it when we were too weak to fight anymore…but we all have it. He came as our doctor, not as our judge. He came to put on the same filthy rags we wore and say, “Watch and learn, guys. This is how you can lick this. And, by the way, even on your weak days, you don’t need to throw in the towel, because I already defeated death for you. Follow me!”
“For we don’t have a High Priest who can’t be touched by the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace for help in time of need.” Hebrews 4.15, 16
If Christ has the grace and patience to gently guide and discipline us, prodding us, teaching us, showing us, allowing us to experience the direct consequences of our mistakes and picking us up when we fail…why can’t we do the same for our children?
Why should anyone be considered weak who chooses to walk alongside their children and teach them rather than spanking them? (Teaching is certainly a lot more work than spanking. Perhaps we sometimes chose this because of our own lack of self discipline?) Why is pain needed to teach them how to follow our Shepherd? Didn’t Christ take our punishment?
But punishment works! Yes, it does. People who are afraid of being struck by someone bigger than them are generally very compliant. And abused dogs cower with one stern look, and battered women try very hard to please their partners. But what pattern does this set up for the child? Obedience out of fear of punishment.
This is exactly why Christ came into the world. He came to do away with legalism and fear, and replace it with the kind of free life that enables people follow him with a full heart motivated by love. He freed us up to make mistakes, accept his grace, and wholeheartedly chase after holiness and true compassion for our fellowman. Our motivation for obedience doesn’t have to be fear anymore!
2 Timothy 1.7- “For God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self-discipline.”
Instead of motivating our children to obedience through fear of punishment, we can learn to equip them with the tools they need to discipline themselves. (HUGE difference between discipline and punishment, by the way. Punishment is forcing someone to pay retribution for their wrongdoing. Discipline is actively discipling someone and instructing them in something.)
We have such a unique opportunity as parents! We, who know all too well the struggle with our own human nature, can walk alongside our little ones, saying, “This is how I deal with this!” “Try this, instead” or “This is how God helps me with this problem”. Rather than punishing (which is completely unneeded, thanks to Christ’s sacrifice! Thank you Lord!), we can help our children learn to control themselves with a spirit of gentleness and love. What a chance of a lifetime!
Do I expect my girls to learn to obey? Abso-stinkin‘-lutely. Do I realistically expect them to be able to control themselves all the time as children? Nope. (Man, I’m an adult, and I still mess up on a regular basis.) It’s my job to teach them how to control themselves, and guide them towards healthy adulthood.
My goal for them as adults is love of God, kindness, and humble obedience to their Savior. Whether they are always “little ladies/gentlemen” isn’t the issue. Whether they’re “well-behaved” isn’t the issue. I’m much more concerned about them eventually learning to be considerate and compassionate towards their fellowman for the right reasons, rather than being merely polite at the age of three because they fear a spanking.
They’re going to mess up. My prayer is that eventually, they will willingly offer themselves as bond servants to Christ out of sheer love of the God-man, rather than fear that He will punish them if they don’t.
Because punishment and fear of punishment is missing the whole point of following Christ.
“By this God’s love was revealed in us, that God sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent His son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another.
In this love has been made perfect among us, that we have boldness on the day of judgement, because as He is, even so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment. He who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love Him, because He first loved us.”
(The first letter from John, 4.9,10,11,17,18)