"I cannot believe that you would do that!"

That incredulous assertion is an all too familiar response from parents (including myself) who discover a child has sinned. But for Christian parents, such an assertion speaks as if the Gospel is not true. It represents the response for a parent who desires to rear a religious Pharisee. If a parent's goal is to keep up appearances and maintain an external image of righteousness, then it is right to myopically focus on outward performance. After all, we too often reason that we are not like "those people" who do things like that. We are the "good people." Such parenting is not cruciform (befitting the cross of Christ) even if the parents are Christians.

It is not uncommon for Christian parents to begin with good intentions then subtly fall into serving the dream of what they want for their children's lives rather than what God would want. Rather than loving God by loving their children, they begin loving their vision of what raising successful children will look like. A child successfully living out the parents' aspirations can grievously become the way parents validate themselves. Parents who make decisions based on how others will perceive them and their social standing are tragically treating their children like props in a public relations campaign.

In Ephesians, the apostle Paul declares that the triune God is at work in heaven and on earth summing up all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10). Like all things, Christian parenting is to be summed up in Christ. There is a Christ-centered, Gospel-saturated and cruciform distinctiveness to Christian parenting. Thus, our parenting must help create a culture in our home where the Gospel is becoming more intelligible, or we will inevitably design a culture where the Gospel is becoming unintelligible.

So how does a Christian whose life is committed to following Jesus think about sin in the life of their children? The initial reaction is to confront the child about their sin. Followed by letting the child know you are praying that God will use this to teach them that they need to ask forgiveness for sins committed. Parents must discipline and teach their children that sin has consequences.

Intentional, cruciform Christian parenting is not marked by self-pity when a child's sin is uncovered and exposed. Every revealed sin provides a unique Gospel opportunity. Parents must embrace their God-given responsibility as stewards of the Gospel in their children's lives (Ephesians 6:1-4). It would be a nightmare, not a blessing, if children were so adept at concealing their sin that their parents never caught them in a sinful deed. It is only when the Gospel has been eclipsed in our thinking that we wish we did not have to deal with our children's sin. It is only those who see and confess their sin that ever cry out, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" (Luke 18:13). When Christian parents communicate the real issue is our embarrassment that our children would do such a thing, we are implicitly endorsing the Pharisee, saying, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men" (Luke 18:11).

In some Christian circles it is not uncommon for parents to describe their permissive parenting as loving or showing grace. Such language fails to comport with a biblical understanding of Gospel love and grace. The Scripture describes parents who do not exercise authority and discipline as a demonstration of hatred rather than love (Proverbs 13:24). The Gospel is not God looking the other way when we sin and letting us off the hook. Rather, it declares that on the cross Jesus satisfied the wrath of God for sinners who put their faith in him. Authority without love leads to authority being despised, and love without authority makes love unintelligible.