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Parenting with Grace: An Interview with Elyse Fitzpatrick

April 4–8, 2016   |   Vol. 126, Week 13

How should we respond when our kids break the rules? On today’s Homeschool Heartbeat, author Elyse Fitzpatrick offers a game plan for dealing with misbehavior in a loving way.

“Rules can’t change the heart—only the gospel of grace can do that.”—Elyse Fitzpatrick

This Week’s Offer

If you enjoyed Elyse Fitzpatrick’s approach to parenting, click on the link to learn more about her book, Give Them Grace.

Are you trying to raise your kids well, but just winding up frustrated? Our guest Elyse Fitzpatrick has encouragement and advice for you. Find out more on today’s Homeschool Heartbeat.

Mike Smith: This week our guest is Elyse Fitzpatrick, whose latest book, Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus, is written about parenting. Elyse, we’re so glad to have you with us today!

Elyse Fitzpatrick: Thanks Mike! I’m really honored to be with you.

Mike: Well Elyse, disciplining our children is never easy; we all know that. In your book, though, you say that rules aren’t necessarily the answer to training children—but grace is. Can you please explain the difference between parenting by rules and parenting by grace?

Elyse: At heart, the difference between parenting by rules and parenting by grace is really one of trust. We all want our children to grow up to be good, responsible adults. But the question is how do we get them there? Do we trust that our rules and our consistency in applying the rules will be enough? Or do we trust in the heart-transforming power of the gospel?

I think that the Bible makes it clear that rules can’t change the heart—only the gospel of grace can do that. Will we trust in our ability to make our kids good, or in Christ’s ability to transform them and make them perfectly righteous? Bottom line: what we trust in is the issue.

Goodness isn’t earned [1:21]

Mike: Elyse, why is teaching through grace more effective in training children, in your view?

Elyse: Grace is more effective than law because none of us responds well to the law, as Paul made clear in Romans 7. He said that rather than making him good, the law actually aroused a desire for sin in his heart. Of course, the problem is not with the law but rather with the sin that resides within us all.

The gospel makes it clear that we don’t need more rules to live by, but rather a Redeemer, who fulfilled the law, lived perfectly in our place, and freed us from it as a way to earn goodness. That’s why Jesus’ answer to the question in John 6 was so shocking. He was asked, “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” This would’ve been a great opportunity for Jesus to give us a list of rules. But instead He gave a command to believe on Him. He answered, “Believe on the Son, whom the Father has sent.” Period.

Do you want to work the works of God? Do you want your children to do so too? Believe that He’s done it all. Only this good news of God’s grace in Christ can transform our hearts.

What rules can (and can’t) do [2:28]

Mike: Elyse, parenting by grace sounds very attractive. But if grace is so effective, why are we as homeschooling parents so attracted to teaching our children through the law alone?

Elyse: We’re attracted to law for several reasons, Mike. First of all, we intuitively think that the law will make our lives tidy and well-ordered. And in some ways that’s true! Charts listing daily chores are helpful. But in our pride and unbelief we wrongly think that if we could just discover the right laws and put them on a nice chart, our kids will turn out the way we hope they will.

Of course the truth is that the law, without the gospel, can only serve to make us and our kids either proud or despairing. It will make us proud and judgmental if we think we can obey it, and it will make us despairing and rebellious when we see we can’t. The primary purpose of the law is not to transform our hearts, but rather to be the vehicle that drives us to Christ as our only hope.

Let’s face it: Although we believe that we need someone to save us from eternal damnation, we’re all hard-wired legalists. We don’t think we need salvation every day. Even though we believe the gospel, we’re still not convinced that the gospel is the only answer to a transformed heart and life.

Free to grow [3:44]

Mike: Well, Elyse, that’s certainly true about many of us. How does this shift in foundation affect the parent, though?

Elyse: This is actually the happiest news of all. As we’ve talked with parents about grace-driven parenting, we’ve seen something really wonderful begin to happen in their lives. Parents are being freed from the crushing burden of trying to carry the sole responsibility for their children’s salvation, and have been liberated to really enjoy their kids.

When we focus primarily on the law, we become nitpicky and all the time looking for sin or disobedience in our kids. It sets up an “us versus them” mentality. We think, “Oh, I can’t believe they acted like that! Why can’t they be more like us?”

On the other hand, when we focus on grace, we’re able to partner with them in the war against unbelief and sin because we’re living as forgiven, adopted, and justified sons and daughters who desperately need grace too. It makes us “grace detectives” rather than “sin-sniffers.” This is a wonderful freedom that comes to a parent who recognizes that salvation is of the Lord and there is only one good Parent and one good Son.    

Where grace meets the road [4:50]

Mike: Thanks, Elyse. To finish things off, would you give us an example or two of what parenting with grace really looks like?

Elyse: Sure. Wesley was furious with his brother Hayden because Hayden had messed up his Thomas trains. Wesley was beating Hayden up when my daughter Jessica pulled them apart and said to Wesley, “You have to love your brother!” To which Wesley responded, “I can’t!” She said, “Of course you can’t! That’s why you need a Rescuer.”

On another occasion, my granddaughter Allie had slapped two different little boys across the face within the space of about an hour. So after a time of discipline, Allie said, “I don’t deserve to be with the other kids.” Jessica told her that none of us deserved any of the good things God gives, like friends and family, but God loves mercy and loves to give good things to the undeserving. It was then that Allie burst into tears and said, “God really does love me!”

What Allie will remember about her sin and this time of discipline is the love and mercy of God—a God who loves little girls, even those who sin.

Mike: Well Elyse, this shift toward parenting with grace could make such a difference in the lives of our listeners. And thank you so much for being our guest this week. Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Elyse FitzpatrickElyse Fitzpatrick

Elyse Fitzpatrick has been counseling women since 1989. She holds a certificate in biblical counseling from CCEF (San Diego) and an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Trinity Theological Seminary, and is a member of the National Association of Nouthetic Counseling. She is the author of 16 books, including Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus.

A frequent speaker at women’s conferences, she has been married for over 30 years and has three adult children and six really adorable grandchildren. Along with her husband, Phil, Elyse is a member of Valley Center Community Church, a reformed congregation in the community of Valley Center.

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