Gospel Reflexes and Forgetful Dads
“Dad, God loves me even when I sin.”
I remember hearing my son say this when he was only three years old. He actually became really good at saying it. Maybe he was speaking from a place of early childhood biblical understanding, but his tone told me he was deflecting any hint of responsibility for his actions. My wife and I quietly laughed together at the truthfulness of the statement, but we also realized our need to teach and model the pursuit of holiness in a grace-drenched environment.
From our kids’ earliest days we have talked to them about the holiness of God, our sin and rebellion as people, the work of Christ that redeems us, and how we should live in response to this good news. We have worked to make the gospel and its mark on our lives very clear. We want our children to have gospel reflexes when they sin, but that means pursuing holiness in response to the love of God. Our prayer is that they walk in truth, love Jesus and his church, flee sin, and live their lives with God’s glory as their aim. We must teach our children that while, yes, God loves them even when they sin, God also loves them enough to not let them stay there.
A Forgetful Dad
Over the years, the same boy who said, “Dad, God loves me even when I sin,” (along with “Dad, you’re a sinner too.”) is now learning to pull the weeds of selfishness and pride from the garden of his own heart. A few weeks ago while we sat together in my home office I was trying to show him the significance of his sin in a particular (and regular) situation. I was angry with him, with his sin, and felt defeated. Eventually, I even yelled at him out of frustration of seeing no change and him not wanting to take responsibility for his sin.
Then, in the middle of my attempts to diagnose his sin, it seemed like every sentence coming out of my mouth revealed questions that I needed to answer as well.
“Do you not realize that in your actions you are showing that you only care about putting yourself first?”
“Can’t you see the effect your sin is having on our family when you continue to act this way toward the people you love?”
Over the course of a few minutes, the Lord showed me that what I was angry at in my son was actually the same sin I hold in my heart. Pride. Selfishness. It’s disgusting. Oh, it may look different. My sin may be easier to hide and more nuanced with age, but it is the same ugly root than needs to be killed. My son and I both need the good news of the gospel.
What I thought could be a teachable moment for him ended up being one for me. As I saw the heaviness of my own sin, the burning in my chest became too much to bear, and gave way to tears came streaming down my face. This was not the sweet, sentimental tears of television. This was the ugly cry, compete with sorrow and snot.
We sat and cried and talked together. It was one of those moments where you just want to sit in it for the afternoon and let whatever is happening silently run its course. We prayed for each other. We confessed our sin together. We grew.
I realized that my son is my brother in Christ. We are fellow heirs (Romans 8:17), working together in the war against sin. God’s grace is always at work in our lives, conforming us into the image and likeness of Jesus. One way this happens is when the Holy Spirit shines light into an area of our lives that needs to be addressed. Another way God’s grace is at work happens in encounters like this one between my son and me. It was a teachable moment for both of us.
As fathers we must pray for and practice gospel reflexes as we love, lead, protect, and serve our children. Fatherhood is a sacred trust with great responsibility, a stewardship of holding high the gospel of grace and allowing our sin to be exposed in its light. If as fathers we need grace, it’s a crime to not communicate and demonstrate this grace to our children. This means getting our hands dirty in the work of the heart: starting in your own heart, then in the hearts of your children.
This Father’s Day I pray we look at our children with the end in sight: raising them to be men and women whose lives are unmistakably marked by the power of the gospel. May we be fathers who do our first work in pointing our children to the true and better Father. May we teach our children that God keeps loving us even when we sin, and God loves us enough to not let us stay there.