Of Dispensations and Parenting (#2)

Posted on Aug 14 2015 - 4:09pm by Rebekah Schrepfer

In Part 1 of this article, we looked at The Child of God under Law.  I drew a correlation between Law and Childhood because that’s what Paul did in Galatians 3:21-25.  God has treated us differently in the Age of Law than He does in the Age of Grace.  Likewise, parents treat their children differently in the “Dispensation of Childhood” than they do in the “Dispensation of Adulthood.”  The differing methods used in bringing hearts and minds to submission to God are not incompatible with each other.  The crux of my thoughts is that parents ought not to feel insecure about setting high standards for their children any more than God did for the Israelites.  On the other side of the coin, true believers in the Age of Grace often need to appreciate their freedom, not by despising the Old Testament, but by fulfilling their current responsibilities under Grace.  

To be clear, this discussion is about the conduct of life, not about the Gospel.  A soul is saved from hell by faith alone in the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross apart from good works. However, being pleasing to God in some instances in Scripture has to do with the sanctification process, not with salvation (1 Thess. 4:1).  I’ve addressed this issue in my article “It’s a Relationship and a Religion.”  So in this article, I’m dealing with sanctification, not with conversion.

I’ve tried to summarize my thoughts with this chart:

(Click to enlarge)

Law vs Grace Chart

The Children of God under Grace

While it may be easy to point to children and tell them what to do under the law of the parents, it takes some humility and wisdom to apply what we’ve learned in childhood to our own hearts and minds in adulthood.  I see some applications of this principle in that adults must begin to “act their age” for Galatians 3 to make sense.  

Hebrews 8:7-13 also points us to the change from the Law to Grace:  

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.  For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:  And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.  For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.  In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.

The Law became obsolete and was inferior to Grace, but it isn’t to be despised or condemned.  Rather, Christ is the fulfillment of the righteousness of the Law under Grace through faith.  For a New Testament believer, living by faith must be based in a respect for the Law.  While it’s true that we are not under the Mosaic Law, we are now “under” Grace (Rom. 6:14-19).  “Spirit-controlled believers are free from the Law of sin and death, but exhibit the righteous requirement of the Law in their lives” (Law and Grace, Hougton, p.120).  “Being ‘under grace’ may cause believers to fear the consequences of disobedience and to feel sorrow for failure, but generally grace motivates believers to obedience by love (1 John 4:17-19).  Spirit-controlled believers are motivated to fulfill the righteous standard of the law (Rom. 8:1-4), not as an obligation inspired by terror of God, but as an opportunity for obedient children prompted by respectful reverence (1 Peter 1:14-19)” (Law and Grace, Hougton, p.121).

For instance, regarding acts of worship, the Law prescribed Sabbath-keeping as a requirement under the law, but in the New Testament we see the church meeting on the first day of the week (Resurrection Day, or the Lord’s Day, Rev. 1:10) rather than the seventh.  There is no priesthood or special filling of the Spirit for works of service today as there was under the Law.  Rather, believers have the Holy Spirit at all times to help us if we are yielded to Him.  There is no mediator priest between the believer and God, because Christ Himself is our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5).  We have been left with an abundance of principles of how to come before God with reverence and awe.  The New Testament worship might be characterized by being more simple than strict, but nonetheless worthy of the God whom we serve. 

No one is standing over my shoulder making sure I read my Bible and have private devotions and give faithfully.  No one is able to look on my heart to see if my motivations are pure.  But I still ought to be faithful in normal Christian disciplines.  We no longer have holy days or holy places (sanctuaries), but we ought to be faithful attenders of church.  We ought to be rooting out any corrupt thoughts or actions.  Now our whole lives are to be holy from the inside out!

Distortions of this Principle

I tend to cringe at the phrase “Grace Living” or “Gospel Living” because it seems to celebrate the end of the Law even despising that law.  It smacks of disdain that looks down its nose at anyone who might want to carry on the same standards as his parents.  No respect is shown.  Freedom is the theme!  Liberty! But is it Grace?  Is it gracious?  I fear that this Grace-Living perspective is off the mark as it is practically played out.  Just as an adult who sneers at his good and noble upbringing for being strict and unyielding missed the whole point.  Hebrews 12:9 continues the discussion about Law and Grace and reminds us that we are to give “reverence” to our earthly fathers and more so to our heavenly Father.

I think that if we move outside of these principles we tend to run into problems.  It would be an irresponsible adult who completely rejects all teaching from his godly parents.  Does an adult have to do everything just the same way as under his parents to be honoring to that upbringing?  No.  In fact he has a different set of “rules” that now apply.  These rules affect community and decency and safety.  “The Law makes demands.  The Gospel makes no demands.  Grace makes demands for the believer” (Houghton, Law & Grace, 12-13).

An adult may even set some rules for himself for no one’s benefit but his own!   Have you ever wondered about that incident when Paul shaved his head because he had taken an oath (Acts 18:18)?  That was an old Jewish thing to do.  Why would he make himself so conspicuous for something that didn’t mean anything to his salvation?  This was definitely not Gospel Living!  It is because of his personal devotion to God.  He wanted to do this exercise to focus his heart and mind in submission to his Lord.  It was just a remnant of the old Law, but it was still valuable to him.  

A rabbit trail >>> To me, Paul’s shaving his head for an oath is like a woman who has decided to wear only skirts and never pants. (Hang on with me here!)  The reason she does it is not because of modesty, because there are lots of activities where pants would definitely be more modest.  No, it is an outward show of her devotion to godly womanhood, and it can also be a way to show deference to an age of more respect for women even in our own American history.  If that is her attitude and motivation, then I say, God bless her!  Personally, I do not set that standard for myself because I’m not sure I could follow through completely because of the modesty situations.  I do think it is entirely possible to look and behave femininely without having to specify a skirt at all times especially in our culture today.  We are cautioned in the Bible against making unnecessary vows, and to me this is an unnecessary thing.  I have other reasons, but that is for another time.  If a believer wants to make that oath, then she must follow through with her vow.  Likewise, brothers and sisters in Christ should not look down on someone living a devoted life in a different way than we would.

Is an adult free from THE law of his parents?  Yes.  Is he free from ANY law? No.  In fact, we might say that this new law has weightier requirements and heavier consequences than he ever had as a child under his parents.   He is living by faith trusting that all the trouble he is going through is worth a better return in the future and that it will help him on the journey even before then. 

We find Christians who completely forget where they’ve come from, casting off all normal Christian behaviors because they are not under the Law anymore, using their liberty as a license.  This one is neither living under the Law, nor under Grace.  He says, “I don’t need to go to church, or read my Bible, or wear modest clothing, or be gracious, or control my speech, or worry about what I listen to or watch, etc.”  It is like an adult who is a slob, neglecting any lessons of manners or deportment. An adult who won’t bathe himself, or go to work, or support himself because he says “no one can make me!” is using his liberty as a license.  He’s right.  No one can “make” him.  But he should, and he should expect that others will try to help him and encourage him in better living.  He is a believer, yes, but an erring believer.

Distortion 1

We can also observe Christians who are trying to live back under the law with such things as dietary laws, holy days, or holy places.  Christians in this category may be trying to conjure up miracles, seeking temporal blessings like health and land and offspring, and trying to put behaviors ahead of saving faith.   Yes, this is like the Pharisees who washed the outside of their cups but not always the inside.  It was possible for one of these to come to Christ (Nicodemus) but it was with difficulty.  (Although, I might put a Pharisee in the chart above, because Jesus told them over and over that they were not practicing the Law but rather adding to it and nullifying it.  Luke 11:39-54.)

Distortion 2

If the picture we are to follow is that the Law of Moses was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ and that Grace is freedom that honors the former teaching and even loves it, then it follows that childhood years should be the time for rules and structure and at least outward conformity not because outward obedience is the goal, but because mature, responsible, disciplined adult is the goal.  An adult shouldn’t need to be told to eat nutritious food or to apologize when he is sorry.  He’ll do it partly because he was taught under the Law to do it, but he also acts this way because he’s deciding on his own with a good conscience what is appropriate behavior for himself.  In the same way, it would be ridiculous to see a mother giving an adult man a spit bath or telling him to brush his teeth and eat his vegetables, yet it’s perfectly normal to see her doing that to a six year old boy.

The parallels could continue.  We can talk about going back to visit grandparents for a holiday is joyful and honoring to them, but we can’t live there again.   What about when a mature adult seeks out the parents of his childhood for advice and friendship?  This is like when we look back at our Old Testament to refresh our minds again as to where we came from, how we got here, appreciating the character of the Law-Giver.  

Immaturity and maturity; childhood contrasted with adulthood:  We parents should not feel insecure about setting high standards for our children any more than God did for the Israelites.  When it comes time for them to move out of the house, let us do it with love and grace.  Under the Law, or under Grace? We are definitely under Grace.  However, I fear that we fail all too often in our “Grace Living”, and when we come to retirement age (spiritually speaking) we will have little to show to our Heavenly Father when we stand before Him. 


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