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“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:20-24)
A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to a well-meaning pastor teaching on parenting. He was explaining how he and his wife teach their four pre-teen children to obey right away, all the way, and with enthusiasm. He then went on to declare, “Obedience is so important. After all, the gospel is all about obedience.”
Objection, your honor!
The gospel is NOT all about obedience. Ironically, the day before attending that seminar, I had been reading a book called The Pastor’s Kid, by Barnabas Piper (son of the well-known pastor and author John Piper). In one particular chapter on the importance of grace, Barnabas writes:
We hear “sinners need grace,” but what do we see? Too often it is a lack of need, or rather a lack of admission of need. Too often we see parents who strive to present themselves as the flawless heroes they can never be instead of the flawed, idiosyncratic, weird, and sinful people they really are… What the Pastor’s Kid (PK) needs is parents who not only admit to being sinners but actually admit to sins. It is far more powerful for a child to see his parents admitting, apologizing for, and working to correct real, actual sins… We know what sins our dad commits, but if he doesn’t admit to them, we can lose respect for him. We also fail to learn to recognize sins in our own lives, and even if we do see them, we won’t admit them. Why should we? Dad doesn’t… Add up all those responses and there is an even worse potential outcome: PKs never gain a sense of their own need for grace. We may have deep guilt because of an innate recognition of badness or incompleteness. We may suffer from identity issues. But none of this adds up in the PK’s mind to I need the grace of Jesus to fix all this.
Barnabas makes the astute observation in his book that focusing on obedience and not displaying grace creates children who learn to hide their flaws and mistakes and wear a mask to the world (especially for a Pastor’s Kid). They can say and do all the right things, and appear to be disciples of Christ, but their heart does not match their actions. They are, in a word, Pharisees.
Whether or not you are a parent (let alone a pastor), this principle holds true in our witness and discipleship. Focusing on obedience and believing that the gospel is about rule-keeping might produce decent, well-mannered citizens, but doesn’t actually bring anyone to salvation. On the contrary, admitting that we are all sinners in need of grace – and not being afraid to confess specific sins to others and repent of them – points people to the amazing grace of Jesus. Instead of producing hypocritical, Pharisaic Christians who can say and do all the right things but who have learned to hide their sin, we produce men and women who know that it is not by their works that they are justified but by Jesus’ work on the cross for them.
May you find the courage and humility to confess your sin to those in your life, and to point them not to your perfection but to the grace and salvation found in Jesus Christ.
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