The secret to grace-based parenting


When people learn that I have three children (ages 3, 5, and 7 if you’re interested), they assume that I must be an outstanding parent. They write to me with questions like this: “How do you raise your kids under grace?” I invariably respond, “Ask me in 10-15 years.” Ask me when I’ve done it.

For the record, I make no claims to being an expert parent. Like you, I love my kids and I am doing my best to represent their heavenly Father to them. I am constantly encouraging and affirming them. And yet I get frustrated. I say things I shouldn’t and I sometimes go to bed wishing I could change the way I acted during the day. I don’t have the answers you are looking for. But here’s one thing I have learned: kids are one of God’s great mysteries. Anyone who says they have all the answers is obviously not a parent. Or they have turned their kids into robots.

This afternoon we spent two hours trapped in the car with my three-year old singing, “Let’s go to the movies” from the musical Annie. Not the whole tune mind you – he doesn’t know the lyrics beyond the first line. So for a hundred and twenty miles we got, “Let’s go to the movies! Let’s go to the movies! Let’s go to the movies!” He just didn’t stop.

Why did he feel the need to sing this line a million times? I have no idea. He spent most of Annie with his face buried in a cushion. He didn’t like the movie but he clearly likes this song. “Let’s go to the movies!”

Luke’s motives for doing half the things he does are a complete mystery to me. In the car we asked if he wanted to give his mouth a rest. He sang louder! We tried distraction, we made threats, and all we got in reply was, “Let’s go to the movies! Let’s go to the movies!”

We couldn’t very well apply the rod as he wasn’t really being naughty. Singing is his way of expressing joy and there’s something beautiful about a happy child. But it made for a long drive.

At times like this I wonder, how can you parent what you don’t understand? You can’t, at least not fully. You can teach your kids love and manners and how to share but at the end of the day your child is going to turn into a person the world has not yet seen. Only God knows how they are going to turn out. We need to practice faith-based parenting. We need to trust our Father to be a Father to our kids. So repeat after me: “If God can take care of me, He can take care of them.”

Don’t beat yourself up if you feel a little out of control. Who says you have to be in complete control? If you were in control there would be no need for faith. But you’re not and there is and that’s a good thing. So relax.

Anyway, I’ve gotta run. For some inexplicable reason I have an urge to go to the movies.



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13 Comments on The secret to grace-based parenting

  1. Haha, this post made me laugh, but it was also heartfelt and good perspective. I have not yet experienced the joy of children, but I hope to someday. It was the relationship with my parents and the parallel to my relationship with my Heavenly Father that finally snapped my bent toward trying to “earn salvation” and helped me grasp the meaning of God’s kindness leading us to repentance.

  2. HI Paul,

    I have 2,4,6,8 yr old kids. this post is perfect timing. 3 of my kids go to a school name Grace Covenant Academy.
    last week, we’ve notice they were taught bible Laws. they memorize 10 commandments too. I have nothing against that.
    except the teaching of forgiveness of sins via repentance and confession. and that they have to do that when they sin.

    my question to you Paul is this. who do you deal with that? should we talk to their teachers? or our children?

    thanks for your reply

    • That is an excellent question and one we have faced in our house too. I don’t have a problem with children learning the law and they sure get it at Sunday School. In a sense the law is for children – kids need boundaries. I do not give my kids the grace to play on the driveway and the fear of Papa is the beginning of wisdom. But I do have a problem with putting price tags on love. Just as my kids know I will love them the same whether they steer clear of the driveway or not, they need to know that their heavenly Father loves them unconditionally.

      I don’t have this all figured out and maybe others would like to weigh in with their own experiences. My best understanding is that boundaries (the law) are important for small children but must eventually be supplanted with trust-based relationships. As children reach the age of accountability, we must release them from the law and give them the grace to decide for themselves. To put law on a teenager is to invite rebellion and inflame sin. And no, I would not recommend the law as an indication of what pleases me/the Father. To do that is to reduce love to rules.

  3. Hi guys I’m an old hand at this (not). My kids are all grown now and I think the most lasting thing we did was love them unconditionally (even when they rebelled as teenagers), I still look back at the years of church legalism and wonder how we all survived – I guess the sweet aroma of grace was stronger than the pull of the law, and here we are more than survivors. I love that God is better at all this than me and I can rest in His relentless goodness to bring me and mine through. I don’t know if I just said anything useful, still it’s good to ramble on. cheers, Graeme

  4. Thanks for this Paul, I too have 3 kids, all boys(13, 5, 3). Our 5 yr old Brady is the most unique of the bunch, He is the one hardest to show grace to, because he is the most hard headed, kinda like me a guess or thats what my wife tells me anyhow. Anyway bro love your posts and I look forward to reading more. God Bless you and yours, Byron

  5. i think one of the things that has helped me most to parent in grace is understanding that each one of my children is “wired” differently. its our job as parents to train them up in their “bent” – to discover how THEY discover and learn – and to teach them in the way that they will understand. aside from basic rules for protection, i think that any “laws” we end up using w/ our children come from our attempts to treat every child the same – but we seem to forget that they aren’t… i have a son who is 18 and left brained like his dad, and a daughter, 14 and right brained like her momma. there have been many times when i have had to love my son by honestly admitting my way wasn’t “his way” to learn…
    knowing that God knows just the right way to teach me and show me His ways, makes me feel loved! col 3:21 is probably my favorite “grace-full” parent verse: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart” i love meditating on this verse to help me w/ my kids – b/c its how my Father is w/ me! 🙂

  6. Amen…short but sweet post! I can definitely relate. I’ve got 5 kids including 3 we recently adopted from Haiti. We love each one of them but there are times when I get exasperated over their behavior and go to bed frustrated that I may not have extended the same kind of Grace that our Father gives us. Yet, in His amazing Grace, those moments always seem to fade away and are replaced by times of great joy and love. I have found that regularly doing a grace-based family devotion together really helps us get rid of the “dust on our feet” and re-centers us as a family. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith and I can trust him with their future. His abounding love and grace can cover my mistakes.

  7. The Boy needed to Escape to Fiction. Too much reality around the house I suppose? Oh, well, just wait till he gets to be a teenager and then see how much reality he wants from you dad!

  8. Oh Paul,I can see by your darling sons smile he is full of life.I am sure he is smart like his daddy too.On the repeating “Let’s go to the movies” that is how they learn and our brain has a hard time with it.When I sing Jesus Loves me to my GD when I am watching her she is just absorbing it.I tried to change the song for variety and she would not hear of it.So………Jesus loves me,Jesus Loves me,Jesus Loves me.I am sure you are a wonderful dad and bringing your children up under grace.Wow what a blessing.

  9. Hello Paul was you a pastor at Rob Rufus church at one time? Do you take invitations to preach in other countries? Our church studies much of your blog. It has really helped us grow in grace. Thanks

    • Hi Presley, the answers to your questions are no and no thank you. Rob and I led different churches in Hong Kong. Occasionally our churches combined for various activities. I knew Rob for about 5 years before he moved to HK. I’m glad the blog has been a blessing. You may be interested to know that I have a book coming out soon that will serve as a deep introduction to the gospel of grace.

  10. Hi Paul. Thanks so much for sharing. What a great article! I am the publicity coordinator for my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group in the Atlanta area and would love to include your article in our monthly newsletter, but wanted to ask your permission first. I of course would give you byline and reference your blog. Please let me know if I have your go-ahead! Thanks!

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