FamilyLife Today® Podcast

From Legalism to Liberation

with Tim Kimmel | July 27, 2004
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Tim Kimmel, author of Grace-Based Parenting, talks about the freedom parents will experience when they turn away from legalism and embrace a parenting style built on grace.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Tim Kimmel, author of Grace-Based Parenting, talks about the freedom parents will experience when they turn away from legalism and embrace a parenting style built on grace.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Tim Kimmel talks about embracing a parenting style built on grace.

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From Legalism to Liberation

With Tim Kimmel
July 27, 2004
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Bob: The way you relate to your children as a parent reflects on their understanding of who God is.  Here's Tim Kimmel.

Tim: Grace-based parenting brings the fun back into parenting.  It takes the fear out of parenting, because you have relationship with a child that makes it easier to enforce the rules.  And what that does is, it makes it easier for them to get more intimate with Jesus Christ, because we are emulating, in our relationship with them, the way God treats His kids.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 27th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  What are your children learning about who God is as a result of their relationship with you?  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.  We're talking this week about parenting with grace – grace-based parenting.  And I faced one of those dilemmas a number of years ago.  One of our children had gotten a ride home from school – from a school event with a member of the opposite sex, and it had just been the two of them riding home from school.  Now, they didn't like each other, you know, it wasn't a boyfriend-girlfriend deal.  It was just a "Hey, I'll grab a ride home."  Well, we've said one of the boundaries, one of the standards that we have at our house is that we don't want you riding around in a car with a member of the opposite sex, just the two of you.  We don't think that's a safe, kind of, a healthy thing to do on a regular basis.

 And this child had been dropped off at home and came into the house, and Mary Ann said to me, "I'm not sure, but I think maybe the child got a ride home with their friend who is a member of the opposite sex."  So the next day I said, "Who dropped you off yesterday?"  And the child kind of said, "It was so-and-so."  And looked …

Dennis: … looked a little guilty?

Bob: The child knew that …

Dennis: … stepped outside the lines.

Bob: Yeah, the child knew that – and I'll say "he" in this case, had stepped outside the lines, and he shouldn't have done it, and at that moment I thought, "Okay, what do I do?  Do I impose a sanction – violated a standard."  You know, you violate a standard – consequences.  Or do I say I'll reinforce the principle, but there's not going to be a consequence at this moment.  Have you ever faced a dilemma like that as a parent?

Dennis: Many times.

Bob: Yeah. 

Dennis: You're stalling.  You're looking for time.  Put your game plan together.

Bob: And I also am thinking, in the back of my mind, which decision I make is going to win with my wife, you know?  Because she would have her own way of interpreting the facts and deciding what needed to be done.

 Those dilemmas that we face as parents are maybe the most challenging dilemmas, and you hear about a book like the one we're talking about this week – "Grace-Based Parenting," by Tim Kimmel – and you would think to yourself, "Well, that means every time your child steps outside of one of the boundaries that you've established, you say, 'We'll let it go this time.'"  But that's not what grace always looks like.  At least, it doesn't look that way in my life.  God sometimes brings consequences into my life, even in the context of grace for my own disobedience.

Dennis: And, Bob, the family that you came from and how you were raised – that fits into this in no small measure.

Bob: And I'm not telling you what I did with this particular child.  I'm just not going to answer that.

Dennis: Who shall still remain …

Bob: … nameless, although he knows who he is, right?  Or she knows who she is.

Dennis: You know, what we want to do on today's broadcast is help you, as a single person, married, parent, better understand what grace is, because that's how God relates to you.  But we just don't want you to understand it, we want you to become a conduit – someone who knows how and is equipped to express it to others.  Specifically, we're going to apply this within parenting today, because that is the name of Tim Kimmel's new book, "Grace-Based Parenting," and many of our listeners know Tim.  He's spoken at our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences, Rekindling the Romance.  He and Darcy have been married since 1972, two weeks longer than Barbara and me.  He has four children, two grandchildren, one son-in-law.

Tim: Yes, I do.

Dennis: Yeah, you'll get more of those before this is over.

Tim: He's a wonderful guy.

Dennis: Yeah.  But let's go to Bob's illustration – because of the family you came from initially you might have just kind of clamped down on your son, right?

Tim: Let me tell you something – one of the reasons why I have to write about grace is how easily I could fall into the trap of legalistic parenting.  I was brought up in a legalistic family.  My parents – wonderful people – became Christians right after they got married.  Dad came home from World War II and a guy led him to Christ, and it took two years before my mother accepted Christ, and they started going to this church, and they didn't know anything different, and so they just believed whatever the pastor said – that's what you did.

Dennis: So they went to a church that really preached legalism?

Tim: They did.  It was a nice church in many ways, and I am so grateful for a lot of my spiritual roots and heritage in this church, but what they like to do is when God said something in the Bible, they liked to really define that and put a little extra to it.  So, for instance, what does it mean to not forsake the gathering together of the saints?  Well, that means that you're at church every time it's open; you're there early; everybody brings their Bible.  They even wanted us to – parents to put a little, tiny New Testament in the bassinet or whatever you carried your child to the nursery in to get them in the habit of bringing their Bible.

 Well, that's nice, except it doesn't say that in the Bible – that you have to do that.  And Sabbath was really taken literally, and Sabbath was defined by this church that you came to church, and then you went home, and you had dinner.  You didn't go out to lunch with anybody, and you took a nap.  You see, all these things – there's nothing wrong with any of them, especially when you have little children, but when they made it law, and then they imposed it on the families, and the families tried to carry it out, it caused trouble. 

 A good example – I was just a little kid, seven, eight years old, and it was a Sunday afternoon.  We'd finished lunch, and it was before I had to take my nap, and I went out, and I had a rubber ball.  We had a brick – yellow brick house.  And so I took the ball out, and I decided to play a game of catch with myself – throwing it up against the brick wall and catching it, and I had done this several times.  All of a sudden, my mother came flying out of the house – what are you doing?  "I'm playing catch."  "Well, you can't do that.  It's Sunday."  "Why not?"  "Well, it's Sunday.  You just don't do that on Sunday."  "Who said?"  "Well, God said."

 You see, she, at that point, didn't realize that it's possible for some of the voices of God to add onto His Word like, a well meaning but misguided pastor.  And then she says, "What would the people think if somebody drove by our house and saw you doing that?"  So, you see, that's a lot of what drives us, Dennis, to make our kids behave, is image control.

Dennis: Right.  Did you feel like you had to earn your parents' love?

Tim: I did.  And I felt like, on top of that, I had to earn God's love.  I was constantly trying to make sure I didn't upset God, because He had a lot of rules, and my parents had them, and so it affected my ability to enjoy the grace of God – where God was not grading me the way my parents were, and He's not dealing with me according to my sin the way my parents were.

 Now, all that said, I was very fortunate that I, first of all, did have wonderful parents, and I never doubted that they loved me deep down in their heart.  And then a great thing happened – two great things happened.  One is, the 1960s arrived, and we were six kids – five boys, one girl – right in the middle of the most turbulent decade of the 20th century, and we moved to another state, went to a little church, a little Baptist church, and a young man came straight out of seminary who understood the grace of God.  And he started teaching it to us.  And it really helped my parents process a very traumatic decade.

Dennis: Did you immediately feel that difference, as a boy?

Tim: Absolutely.

Dennis: How?

Tim: Absolutely, well, for one thing the pastor taught my parents how to lighten up and not make issues out of non-issues.  Did you carry your Bible to church?  And I would get a lecture if I didn't.  Did I memorize the Scripture from Sunday school?  And I would get a lecture if I didn't.  There was something – I was falling short of that.  

 Well, they started to lighten up.  I'll give you an example – do you remember in the '60s when John Lennon made that statement that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus – remember that?  This caused a lot of pastors in churches to pop a blood vein in their neck.  They went rabid.  Some of them did burning of the Beatle records.

 All right, this young pastor came to our youth group on this particular Sunday night shortly after this statement was made.  He said, "Why do you think John Lennon made that statement?"  We said, "Well, because, you know, there are Christian kids all over the country that listen more to the Beatles and they're more interested in their career than they are in church and Jesus Christ."  "Why do you think that is?"  And so we got a great discussion about some of the hypocrisy, some of the disconnect between our life at church and life in reality, and he says, "How do you think that affects the kids at school?"  And we talked about that, because I was going to a public school.  "How could we change their perception about Christians and make even Jesus look more attractive than the Beatles?"

 You see, he used it in a wonderful way to teach us how to be more salt and light.  He didn't react to it.  But we tend to be in a reactive mode, and anything that is different we assume is of the world; therefore, it's evil.  And in the process, our kids are savvy enough to know that what I am learning in Sunday school or at my Christian school is not paralleling what I'm feeling from my parents.  My parents are making issues out of non-issues, and it hurts them.  Many times, it incites them to rebel against God, and it's not necessary.

 Grace-based parenting brings the fun back into parenting.  It takes the fear out of parenting.  It also, I think, saves a lot of parents discipline problems, because you have relationship with a child that makes it easier to enforce the rules.

Dennis: You know, you're right, Tim.  I couldn't help but think, as I was listening to you describe that, how many of our listeners right now – in fact, Bob, I'm going to ask you this question – turn you into kind of a sample listener at this point.  Did you feel like you had to earn your parents' love?

Bob: Hm.  I don't know that I felt that I had to earn their love, but I did feel that I had to …

Dennis: … perform?

Bob: Act a certain way in order to gain their approval, sure.

Dennis: I wonder how many of our listeners would characterize the families they grew up in as performance-based. 

Tim: I know in my family, I had a tender heart towards God from early on.  I didn't give my heart to Him completely until I was a junior in high school, but my siblings really struggled, and I think they did believe that they had to earn God's love and affection; they had to earn their parents'.

Dennis: And, really, it's not until you come to the personal conviction and some kind of beginning of an understanding of what Grace is that you can really be motivated to serve Christ, realizing, you know what?  When I do fail, when I do sin, He is there to forgive me.  He is there to relate to me in mercy.  He is there to not just declare me not guilty, but his face does not turn away from me every time I sin.  That's a part of us understanding that grace so that we can pass it on to our children.

Bob: What you're talking about is saying there is nothing you can do that will ever threaten our relationship.  There is no behavior, no activity, nothing that you can do that will make our relationship null and void.  You may do things I don't like; you may do things that aren't healthy for you; you may do things that upset me, but none of those things will ever undermine the relationship.  When we have that confidence before God, that's liberating.  When our children have that confidence that parents – the relationship is never going to be damaged, even if you mess up big time, that's where grace flourishes, doesn't it?

Tim: And what that does is it makes it easier for them to get more intimate with Jesus Christ, because we are emulating, in our relationship with them, the way God treats His kids.  And so we're paralleling that instead of contradicting that.

Bob: Let me go back to what I talked about earlier – the child who had broken our guideline.  What is the grace-based response in that situation?  Because I think, still, many of our listeners are going to hear, "Well, the grace-based response means no consequences for that behavior.

Dennis: Yeah, you overlook it.

Bob: Right.

Tim: You see, you can't have grace-based families without consequences.  When David sinned with Bathsheba, God's grace to him was, "David, I'm not going to kill you," – that was His grace – "and I'm going to be with you through the consequences that you're going to get for the sin that you've committed." 

Dennis: So grace is not the absence of truth?

Tim: No.

Dennis: It's not the absence of a standard?

Tim: In fact, they are inseparable.  In John, chapter 1, that verse that you quoted earlier in the week – it says that Jesus was filled with grace and truth.  It isn't grace or truth.  It is grace and truth.  These are inseparable parts.  They are part – you can't have one without the other.  See, I can be very truthful but not very graceful.  Well, the Bible says in Ephesians 4, speaking the truth in love, you've got to have both there.  I can be graceful without truth.  Well, then, I've nullified either one.  I've got to have them simultaneously, and I think what happens in so many Christian homes is they have rules – no relationships.  Where they have no relationship, no rules.  Either one is going to cause problems.  And so grace is that balancing act.

Bob: So in my situation with this child who rode home with a member of the opposite sex – we told the child not to do that, the child confessed to me that, in fact, that's what had happened.  Is there one response that we would say, "This is the grace-based response?"

Tim: Well, I think that, yeah, in that one there should be consequences.  I think grace would say there should be consequences on that.  By the way, we have found it better in our home to separate our kids' infractions between felonies and misdemeanors.  Because, you see, what happens in a lot of Christian homes, everything is a felony, and we don't execute people for double-parking.  We give them a little fine.  So what are the felonies in the Christian life?  Well, lying, cheating, deceiving, being violent – that kind of stuff.  That's the felonies, and that's where the heavy artillery comes out.

 But this child of yours was basically acting according to his or her inclination as a teenager wanting to ride home with somebody else.  And so I think one of the things that grace does in that situation, if it's not shocked, it's not surprised.

Bob: You know, what I did at the time, I looked at what's in the heart of my child.  Why do I think my child did that?  And there's a difference between a child who says, "I'm going to do what I want to do, and I don't care what you think," and a child who says, "I messed up," and, in fact, this child did say, "I messed up.  I shouldn't have done it.  I should have called you.  I'm sorry."  That reflected something different to me and said the level of infraction is different because it's not a heart issue at this point, it's a behavior issue.

Tim: Right.  Grace-based parents are not surprised when their kids make mistakes or even sin.  But I think the typical Christian parent – well, they are surprised.  They're shocked, they're mad sometimes.  Grace-based parents don't ever say something like "Why did you do something stupid like that?"

Dennis: Even though you may be thinking it.

Tim: Well, because they know why they did something stupid like that – because they are sinners …

Dennis: … and because they are children …

Tim: … and they're children …

Dennis: … and they're foolish …

Tim: … and they're foolish, and they have an inclination when they start becoming teenagers as an attraction to the opposite sex.  And so rather than react to that, we respond to that with enough savvy to say, "Well, I can understand why they want to do that."

 Now, there has to be some consequences, because we did have an agreement on this, and if you want to be in a position under our roof to have the freedom to make those choices, you've got to be aligned with us right here, too, and we'll hand that over to you.  We don't write our rules in blood in the Kimmel home.  We don't even etch them in stone, we write them in pencil.  Now, the ones that are etched in stone are the ones that God etched in stone on Sinai.

Dennis: And those are your silver bullet issues.

Tim: Exactly.

Dennis: Those are the felonies.

Tim: We are not negotiating on any of those.

Dennis: The other day we took care of our grandsons.  Now, this is one who is almost three and another who is almost five.  And I had forgotten what a three-year-old and a five-year-old can get into.  I mean, they completely dismantled the rocks around our driveway – they're scattered all over the place.  They were pitching rocks, throwing rocks, fascinating.  Well, if you're not grace-based, you're going to run around trying to correct little toddlers' every wrong move, because they make a lot of wrong moves.

Tim: And we sometimes make – when we say "wrong" that's like "evil," when, in reality, they're just being three-year-olds.

Dennis: Boys, boys, yeah.

Tim: Yeah, I think we have criminalized boyhood behavior in a lot of our circles, especially in the feminization of boys.  We've got to look at this thing realistically.  What are the rules we make for a three- or five-year-old?  There are more safety rules.  And then we might have some things that are off limits to them but, for the most part, we understand these are going to be little boys that do this.  Listen, I know 15-year-old boys who would go out and throw those rocks.

Bob: That's right.  What I hear you saying is that grace-based parenting is not having a child off of a tether or with no fenceline around the property, but it is having a bigger playground or a longer rope than you see a lot of parents giving these days.  It's a little more freedom and a little more relaxation than some of us are comfortable with as parents.

Tim: It's not making issues out of non-issues, and it's raising them according to their inner bent.  Whereas a lot of kids, they're just different and weird and strange and quirky, and they annoy us, and they bother us, and they irritate us, but nothing that they are doing is evil or sinful or unbiblical.  It's just annoying.

Dennis: And back to your illustration, Bob, that it's giving them a longer tether – within the fences, it's also pursuing a relationship.  It is loving them, affirming them, relating with respect to them, honoring them, forgiving them, giving them mercy, giving them more of this grace that we've been talking about here.  And, again, I have to go back to the Scripture and say we've got to learn from this book how God relates to us – that He forgave us seven times seventy; that He relates to us not on the basis of what we deserve but on the basis of His character, and we, as His children, need to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit relating to our children with that same kind of God-like love.  Now, we're not going to do it perfectly, but wasn't the Apostle Paul that says, "Imitate me as I follow Christ."  I think that's what parents are to do.

Bob: You know, the odds are there are two-parent families who are listening, where one parent is more oriented toward being relaxed and letting the boundaries kind of go loose.  And another parent is more oriented toward a tighter tether on a child.

Dennis: And in your family, which one might you be like most?

Bob: I would relax things a little bit.

Dennis: Longer tether.

Bob: Right.  Now, the person who really needs to read grace-based parenting is probably not me, but it's probably the other member in the family, the one who is not as relaxed as I am.

Dennis: You know what, though?  I might disagree with you, Bob.

Bob: Really?

Dennis: Because I think some of us get a little – well, we think we have kind of the inside scoop on grace because we are so free.  But what Tim has done here in this book is he has given us the grace that is inseparably tied to truth, and so he explains grace always throughout the pages of this book, reminding us that there must be boundaries.

Bob: That's a good point.

Dennis: That there's freedom in those boundaries, safety in those boundaries.

Bob: The book does strike that balance and, as a result, would be healthy for the more relaxed parent to read or for the tighter-tethered parent to read, right?  We've got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and if you'd like to get a copy, contact us at 1-800-FLTODAY or go online at  We have it both in book form and as an audio book so you can order either way.  We also have copies of Tim's book, "Little House on the Freeway," which talks about the busy-ness that all of us face as families today and offers some very practical solutions for dealing with those issues of busy-ness.

 If you'd like to order both books – "Grace-Based Parenting" and "Little House on the Freeway," we'll include, at no additional cost, the audio CDs or cassettes of our week-long visit with Tim Kimmel.  Contact us for more information on any of these resources – 1-800-FLTODAY is the number or go online at, and you can order online if you'd like.  Again, our Web address is and the toll-free number is 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-FLTODAY.

 I don't know if you saw the note we got from Kelsey in Charlotte.  This was neat – Kelsey wrote and said, "Dear FamilyLife Today, Thanks for everything you do.  I am 14.  I listen to your program every night."  She sent in a donation to FamilyLife Today; sent $20 in.  She said, "I felt like God was telling me to give this money to you.  Your program has totally changed my outlook on dating and guys and has made me more particular about boyfriends.  Thank you."  Well, that's a pretty cool note, and thank you, Kelsey, for your support of FamilyLife Today.  It's folks like you who support us who keep us on the air, and we're excited to hear that you're listening to the program and that God is using the program in your life.  So thanks for getting in touch with us.

We love hearing from listeners.  If it's been a while since you've jotted us a note, we'd love to have you write us.  You can do it online if you'd like at or if you need our mailing address, it's on our website as well.  And if you are able to include a donation when you write, that's always appreciated as well.  Again, go to and send us an e-mail from there or give us a call at 1-800-FLTODAY, and we'll pass the mailing address along to you as well.  And, Kelsey, thanks again for getting in touch with us.

Well, tomorrow we're going to find out what a lot of Christian parents are doing that is causing them to raise spiritual wimps.  I hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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