Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace might also reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:20-21
As children grow, the number of opportunities to parent in a gospel direction grows. (Duh, you say). It is a little more complicated than that. I guess what I mean is that as my children grow older, I move from giving straightforward, simple commands (like “Don’t touch.” or “Come here.”) to giving directives where a whole counsel of rules take effect. I think of sending my older children outside to play with the admonishments to be respectful of our neighbors’ property and show love to them in the process (just to name two). All past simple commands combine and problem solving takes place. The more the rules increase as well as imparted wisdom, the more the opportunity to mess something up, somewhere.
When major messing up occurs, that presents a big opportunity for me as a mom. I realized this the other day as I considered disobedience that carried with it other failures— like lying and blaming others. The list of wrongs had piled against the child. I could tell that on this day, this particular child was feeling the crushing weight of the list of wrongs against him. The situation had moved from bad to much worse very quickly. Defenses mounted. Fear and shame were visible in his eyes and heard in his words.
Then there was my response. I must admit, many times, when failures and complications land at my feet in a heap, my frustrations pile with it. Instead of speaking life, I get bogged down by the consequences of actions. Even worse, I think of how this situation has affected me and breaks into my day. I get flustered and add my struggles to theirs. To up the ante even more, all the laws that have been written on my soul for 35 years accuse me all the more.
The worse the situation, the more opportunity for grace to be just what it is— it is and should always be good news. It washes away all the eternal weight of our failures and even makes temporary consequences bearable. In contrast, its beauty is unmatched when held against our worst. God help us not pile sins to see grace— yet grace is seen most clearly because of our piles of sins.
So if the ultimate goal of parenting from a Romans worldview is to train children who never fail, then I fail. Failure is inevitable. As the law increases, the trespasses increase. But what happens when they fail? Or when I fail? That is a distinctive Christian question.
Our worst is precisely where the gospel operates. There is something bigger than training children to keep rules. Sure, I want them to stay safe and love their neighbors. I want them to be good citizens and maintain a reputation of a trustworthy person. I want them to not bear hard consequences in the horizontal plain of this earthly domain for bad choices. But the function of the rules that speaks the loudest is the demonstration of how they (and I) need a rule keeper. What a better time when they are experiencing mounting failures to move into, “God has loved you so much that He sent Jesus to do everything all right for you… in your place. You can repent, believe and move on.” Even when the situation warrants a good grounding or time out, they will grow to know (by grace) they are safe to bear the consequences. My relationship and posture toward them has not changed nor has their relationship with God. I love them because they are mine. When I am able to speak good news into the situation the load lightens— every time. When I don’t, the gospel brings the good news to me.
Regardless of the failure or the success, our focus is out — not in — to the beauty of Jesus. Our sins are great, combined, and complicated, but the One who bore them is greater.
This is one way the gospel is relentless in taking hold of me these days.