16 November 2013

Law and Gospel, 5

It's time to finally bring this thing full circle. I started exploring law and gospel from questions about parenting. How is establishing rules for my kids consistent with the gospel of grace?

The place for rules or law in parenting is basically given by the three uses of the law mentioned last time (part 4). In the civil use, the law is useful to establish a relative amount of peace and cooperation in a society. This can apply directly to parenting and the home. It doesn't matter whether or not we're talking about regenerate people. Everyone has a self-preserving interest. Nobody ultimately enjoys pain. The establishment of rules and corresponding consequences for breaking them has the effect of compelling people to obedience. A well-ordered, peaceful home is a good thing. Beyond the home, I'm setting up my kids to avoid a whole lot of pain in life if they simply understand that actions have consequences.

Too often I think my tendency, in wanting to champion the gospel of grace, is to downplay the value of obedience when it is merely out of selfish motive. Aren't we just training kids to be Pharisees? My kindergartner's public school experience so far has a lot of positive reinforcement awards for good behavior--but I'm questioning this standard of "good." No one is truly good, right?

What I think I miss in that tendency is a value for God's common grace. My child's school, our broader society, and even my home should all degenerate into absolute chaos because of the unregenerate sinners in their midst, but they maintain some semblance of peace and order because of God's restraining, common grace. While it is a confusion of terms to say that the rules are gracious, it is nonetheless true that peace in a home is God's gift, and that it comes about by the means of established rules and consequences.

All that is to say that the theological concept of the law's civil use means I should establish in my home and for my children clearly stated achievable rules and understood proportionate consequences. 

Yet, my mission in my home is not merely to establish peace. What good is external peace and quiet when there's storm and turmoil within the souls of my children? It may still seem like a home's civil law would train kids to be Pharisees and thus is actually working against my mission to train my kids to know Jesus. But I think this civil law in the home thing is actually working with me. Rules in my home train children to understand how actions have consequences. Good actions have joyful consequences and bad actions have painful consequences. Children need to understand this sort of merit system in order to have a framework to understand the gospel. That's because, in our relationship to God, we are saved by works. Not our works, but the works of Jesus. But works nonetheless.

Adam's sin reaps terribly painful consequences for us all. Jesus' obedience reaps joyful consequences for his people. A home's system of rules and consequences trains children to understand that framework. Rules work with us, not against us, in bringing up children to know and understand the gospel of grace.

But because this degree of external peace and civil righteousness is at a lesser standard than God's perfect standard of righteousness, our use of the law in training children to know Christ cannot stop at a civil use. We need to go further, and Lord willing I'll get there in the next post.

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