by Andrew Hebert
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time. Hebrews 4:15-16 (HCSB)
Our children are born sinful. They do not become sinners because they sin; they sin because they are sinners. The older our kids get, the more we see this sin nature on display.
The other day I could see that my four year-old daughter was faced with a dilemma. She had done something she knew was wrong. When I asked her what happened, I could see the struggle on her face – she wanted to tell me the truth about what she had done, but she knew she would get punished. On the other hand, if she lied about what she had done, she knew that while I might believe the lie and let her go unpunished, she was taking the risk that if she got caught in the lie, she would be punished not only for lying but also for the original misdemeanor. She was afraid to come clean with me because she feared how I might react to her confession.
In that moment, I realized that this was the beginning of what will be a lifetime of watching my children sin and then struggle with how to tell me what they did. I see this take place in the church all the time. A young teenage girl sleeps with her boyfriend but can’t bring herself to tell her father. A young man gets drunk with his friends, but he doesn’t confess it to his parents because he is afraid of their reaction. How we respond when our children confess impacts how or if they ever come to understand what the gospel is all about.
One of the most terrifying things about being a father is that my children will learn about the nature of grace and the gospel primarily by watching me. Their understanding of what it means for God to be Father will be drawn from their experience with their own father. If I am a harsh father, they will believe God is a harsh Father. If I do not show them I care about them, they will not believe God cares for them. If I teach them that their value is dependent on how well they meet my expectations, they will believe that God’s love is attached to their performance as well.
Part of the call my wife and I have to reflect and live out the gospel accurately in front of our children is the need to create an environment where confession and repentance can take place in our home. Too often, the message children receive is that they will be rejected if they fail their parents. Nothing could be further from the truth of the gospel.
For centuries, the thought of direct access to God’s presence was ludicrous. Access to the Holy of Holies was limited to one man (the high priest) on one day of the year (the Day of Atonement) who approached God in a very specific way (with fear and trembling as the high priest entered through the veil).
Jesus changed all of that.
The Bible says that Jesus entered through the veil (Hebrews 6:20), opening access to all who believe in Christ to approach God any time and in a new way of confidence and boldness (Hebrews 4:16). Practically, this means that when we sin we can run to God and not from Him. If we have placed our faith in Christ, we do not need to fear His condemnation (Romans 8:1), but rather realize that His grace is sufficient for us. He now wants from us a lifestyle of sensitivity to sin and continual repentance.
I’m afraid that too often our children feel that when they sin, they must not only run from God but that they also must run from their family. This ethos has been reinforced culturally in many ways, including through television and movie depictions of family life (see, for instance, the rejection of the penguin son by his father in the movie Happy Feet). There were periods in American history when a daughter who got pregnant was sent away from the family for several months so as not to bring shame on the family. In contrast to this shunning, Jesus takes our shame upon Himself and forgives, frees, and redeems us. He then calls us to extend grace and forgiveness to one another. The church itself is to be a place where we confess our sins one to another (James 5:16). Likewise, I want my home to be a safe place for my children to confess sin, find grace, and learn how to repent.
When my children sin, I want them to run to me, not from me.
If I teach my children that God is a God of grace that receives sinners, I must model to them the grace that God gives. I must follow the example of the prodigals’ father who both received his youngest son back in repentance and encouraged his older son to be conformed more to the image of Christ by extending grace to the younger brother (Luke 15). Like the father who shamelessly and scandalously runs out to receive his son, we must maintain a posture of grace that reflects God’s pursuit of rebellious creation. Our children need to know that like the shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to find the one lost sheep, Daddy will come looking for them if they stray and will lovingly put them on his shoulders and bring them back home.
So what are some practical steps you can take as a dad to create this kind of environment in your home? I would encourage you to keep a few things in mind.
1. Keep the lines of communication open. Your children don’t need you to be a friend in whom they can confide. They need you to be their father. Yet part of parenting well is creating an atmosphere where your children feel they can trust you enough to talk with you about what’s going on in their lives. Many children feel they can tell their true feelings to friends or teachers but have to hide those things from their parents. This shouldn’t be. Create a culture of open and honest communication in your home.
2. Be intentional with your tone of voice, physical posture, and facial expressions. I’ve seen it too many times. A dad who crushes his little daughter’s spirit by yelling at her. A son who feels as if he never is good enough because he never receives a smile or compliment from his dad. A boy or girl who live in constant fear that they will be physically abused in some way if they admit to wrongdoing. Dad, take pains to show love to your children by how you speak to them, how you look at them, and how you touch them. Sometimes a hug will go a lot further than a raised eyebrow.
3. Model confession and repentance. If your children don’t see you be honest about sin and intentional about repentance, they will not know why they need to repent or how. Conversely, if your children watch you demonstrate an attitude of humble repentance, they will follow suit. Children can spot hypocrisy in their parents. We do them a disservice by building up a façade of morality while failing to be real about our shortcomings and willing to turn from our own sin back to Jesus. An elderly man recently told me of how he committed adultery as a young husband. It was such a refreshing blessing to see an older Christian be transparent about his failings and explain to me the process of repentance.
4. Constantly point your kids to Jesus. Preach the gospel to your kids continually. Teach them from a young age about the God who redeems. Use the Jesus Storybook Bible with your young children to trace the theme of God’s grace through Scripture. As they get older, look for ways to discuss the gospel as part of the natural flow of life. Take the initiative to lead your family spiritually by teaching them what the gospel is. If you will teach them rightly that we don’t obey for the status of acceptance but we obey from the status of acceptance they will learn to run both to God and to you when they sin.
Martin Luther once said, “I am seeking and thirsting for nothing else than a gracious God.” Our children are seeking and thirsting for nothing else than a gracious father who will show them a gracious Father. Show your children Jesus by showing them grace when they confess and leading them to come to Him in repentance.
Andrew Hebert is the lead pastor of Taylor Memorial Baptist Church in Hobbs, New Mexico. You can follow him on Twitter at @andrewhebert86.
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