I am far from the perfect parent.
That’s the line you always hear from someone, before they proceed to tell you exactly why they are the perfect parent and you should do it just like them. They try to sound humble, but they are dying to tell you how they are doing things perfectly with their children.
I’m not trying to sound humble. I’m being honest. I mess up every day.
Sometimes, I feel sorry for my oldest son. My wife and I had him after 10 months of marriage. We were only 22 and barely knew how to be married, much less be parents. We made lots of mistakes and continue to make lots of mistakes, especially me.
However (you knew it had to come eventually, didn’t you?), there is one thing that we have been intentional about in parenting that reinforces the message of the Gospel, while confronting the cultural status quo.
We don’t let them get by with simply saying, “I’m sorry” and responding “That’s OK.”
Yes, I know that may sound strange, but I believe that the words we use should line up with the doctrines we believe.
Take a normal day at our house. Our youngest son sees our oldest playing with a toy, until he gets up to leave for some reason. The youngest immediately grabs the toy and proceeds to taunt the older one with it. The older one, of course, retaliates by snatching the toy from his brothers hand. This all, of course, results in crying, whining and yelling for Mommy or Daddy.
They could both mumble, “I’m sorry” and then both reply “That’s OK” and never mean a word of it. They are not really acknowledging wrong doing in either their faux-apology or their response. They are glossing over it, which is exactly how our culture responds to sin.
Apologies are only given when absolutely forced by someone else, most likely because the one forcing the apology has power and influence over the individual. At the moment of the forced apology, everyone is supposed to act as if nothing has happened and say everything is fine.
That is the false gospel that so many trust in today. They tell God they are sorry and assume their statement makes all of their sin acceptable in His sight. Why would I not be a Christian, I said I was sorry about that mistake I made?
That is not the Gospel. The real Gospel tells us there is nothing that can make our sin acceptable. It is never “OK.” We do not apologize for our sin – we confess it as sin and trust in Christ’s finished work on the cross to justify us before God.
When our two boys get in an argument, as they so often do being brothers only a few years apart, the one (or both) who sinned must ask, “Will you forgive me?” and the other must respond, “I forgive you.”
When I sin against my children or my wife, I’m supposed to ask for forgiveness and they, in turn, respond with forgiveness. That better represents the Gospel we are trying to reinforce in our family, even if we sometimes forget or slip into the comfortable cultural phrases.
When someone has sinned against us and we respond with “That’s OK,” we do so in direct contradiction to what God has said. It is not OK. Sin is never OK. It can and should be forgiven, but it should be recognized first as sin and treated as such.
If we continually repeat phrases that belittle the severity of sin, we unintentionally construct a false gospel in our the hearts of our children. Sin is seen as something of little, if any, consequence, which requires little, if any, repentance.
Words matter and because they do, I want to continually affirm the true Gospel, not a counterfeit version, in the lives of my two sons.
I am not a perfect parent, by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not sure I would even feel comfortable saying I’m a Gospel-driven parent, but that is where I want to be.
One of the ways I believe I can get there is to reinforce the truth to my sons that sin matters more than we like to admit, but forgiveness is available more than we dare to dream.