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Works Righteousness and Parenting

May 22, 2011

“Works righteousness is a deadly and false variation of godly obedience. Godly obedience is motivated by love for God and trust in his gracious plan and power. Works righteousness is motivated by unbelief; it is a reliance on our abilities and a desire to control outcomes. Works righteousness eventuates in penance: I’ll make it up to you by redoubling my efforts tomorrow! rather than repentance: Lord forgive me for my sin today. Thank you that you love me in spite of all my failures. In parenting, works righteousness will cause us to be both fearful and demanding. When we see our failures, we will be overcome with fear: I really blew it with my kids today. I’m so afraid that I’m going to ruin them! When we see their failures, we’ll be overly demanding: I’ve already told you what I want you to do. Didn’t you hear me? I must have told you fifty times in the last five minutes. I’m sick to death of your terrible attitude. You need to listen to me and do what I say without any complaints or grunts or eye rolls. Just do it! It’s obvious how both responses feed off each other in a never-ending cycle of anger and despair and penance.

Works righteousness obliterates the sweet comforts of grace because it cuts us off from God, who alone is the giver of grace. It cuts us off because he absolutely insists on being our sole Savior.  [Rather than saying it “cuts us off from God” I’m more comfortable with describing this phenomenon as, “we refuse God’s grace;” for God, as both giver and taker of grace can trump even our works righteousness and self-righteous hearts.] This is his claim: “I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior” (Isa. 43:11; see also 45:21). We are not nor can we be the saviors of our children. He is the Savior. When we forget this, our parenting will be pockmarked by fear, severity, and exhaustion.

On the other hand, when we rest in his gracious work we will experience the comforts he has provided for us. He delights in being worshiped as the One who “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). He loves flooding our consciences with the peace that comes from knowing our sins are forgiven and our standing before him is completely secure. When we’re quietly resting in grace, we’ll have grace to give to our children, too. When we’re freed from the ultimate responsibility of being their savior, we’ll find our parenting burden becoming easy and light.”

~Elyse Fitzpatrick, Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus (page 55).

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  • Christy May 26, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    I do that so much, “Lord, I’ll make it up to you tomorrow.” Reading this was helpful and healing.

  • Biblically Parenting Is Important May 27, 2011 at 11:05 am

    I am very concerned about the type of parenting philosophy I’m begin to see spouted forth from you. It’s kind of hard to take parenting advice from someone who only has 2 kids, and young children, at that, though, and take it for anything. God never commands parents to give their children grace, but He does command children to obey their parents, and He does command the use of the rod, which you seem to be continually dismissing. It is sad to see you calling this type of Biblical parenting works righteousness. I am very concerned about the direction you seem to be going, and more importantly how you are potentially ruining the lives of your children. May God have mercy upon them and allow them to have parents who will truly raise them up in His ways. But don’t be disappointed when you someday have to write a blog post about your prodigals.

    • Maryn May 27, 2011 at 1:23 pm

      Biblical Parenting,

      I am not quite sure how you’re seeing this as being unbiblical? Can you explain? Maybe the NT doesn’t specifically “command that you give grace to your children,” but the specific commands given to parents there are directed towards gentleness and the broader commands on how to treat fellow believers seem to indicate showing grace to one another.


  • Keren May 31, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    Biblical Parenting,

    Thanks for your willingness to share. While I don’t want to respond in great length here (due to time, space, and perhaps lack of necessity), let me just say that I am not sharing my own writings on parenting here, but those of others (parenting authors who, for the most part like the author quoted above, have grown children). Usually what I post from my reading (in general) is something that has stood out to me and I want to get down, and as a side thought I consider that it may also be an encouragement to some who read here.

    I know for certain that I have already failed my children as a parent and that I will continue to fail them. That is why I am so thankful that God not only shows our children grace, but He gives us grace as we fail as parents, too. That is the beauty of the Gospel: grace for our failures. I wrote this out because I have many times been guilty of works righteousness in my own parenting, even in the few short years that I have parented.

    Thankfully, God’s grace and mercy can trump whatever poor parenting my children receive, though that is not to say that I will purposefully parent them poorly. So, please pray for my children; but please do not try to prophesy what their end result will be.


  • Shelley June 16, 2011 at 10:29 pm


    I can’t remember how I ‘bumped into’ your blog on the world wide web, but I remember meeting your briefly at BJU some years back through my friend Diana. Since I’ve been lurking on your blog for awhile, I figured I’d say hello and tell you how much I really am refreshed through reading it. A lot of what you blog about is similar to what my husband and I are learning, especially your blogs about the Gospel. When thinking upon this post, it reminded me of when my husband (Josh) and I went to a Resurgence conference this past winter and heard Tullian Tchividjian speak. He spoke about how we’re afraid of grace because we worry people will go crazy with it, taking things too far. Interestingly enough, however, it’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance. Somehow we miss that. He talked a lot about how if we’re afraid children will go off the deep end if we teach them grace, then we don’t really understand grace (we view it as lawlessness, which it is not). He quoted Elyse Fitzpatrick a bit, which got my curiosity going… She’s on the book list now 🙂 I just finished reading Prodigal God by Keller, which was similar and completely blew my mind. Keep writing– people need to hear about true grace in Jesus.

    • Keren June 24, 2011 at 11:10 pm

      Thanks so much for your encouragement, Shelley! God has graciously used some of Tullian Tchividjian’s writing about grace to point me to a fuller picture of His grace, as well. The last year has really shown me how backwards (if not upside-down or altogether incorrectly, at times) we’ve viewed religion, Christ, and grace. (For instance the other day I saw a status that said: “If prayerless, then graceless.” While that sounds good and is short enough to be a Facebook status, it sadly isn’t grace. We still like to think we have some part in earning our grace, but if we do we aren’t understanding what grace is.) I highly recommend Keller’s “King’s Cross,” if you liked the book you listed. So thankful for the kindness and mercy of God!