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How to Call Your Children Out as Sinners

  • Carrie Dedrick What topic related to Christianity, faith, and the Bible is trending online and in social media today?
  • Updated Jun 10, 2016

Parents call their children a lot of different things: smart, generous, kind, talented, beautiful, responsible, caring, and brave, for example. 

But Pastor Mike McGarry writes in a Gospel Coalition blog that too many Christian parents are failing to call their children one very important name: sinner.

McGarry writes about an incident with his young son who knocked over his younger sister that resulted in the child being sent to his room (the sister was not physically harmed). According to McGarry, his son is battling the “me-first” mentality that is in human nature. 

He writes, “We desire self-glory more than God’s glory. We want to control more than to serve. We prefer pleasure to sacrifice. We listen to ourselves more than we listen to God.”

McGarry took the opportunity to explain to his son that he is a sinner, as we all are. 

“He sinned against his sister by knocking her over. He sinned against his parents by ignoring their admonition to slow down. He sinned against the Lord by putting himself first.”

McGarry says moments like this are not the time to tell children that they “made a bad choice” or that they should “try harder next time.” Instead, take these opportunities to instill real life lessons in your kids. Lessons straight from the gospel. 

The message parents should send is this: 

“God sent his son Jesus to die on the cross so we could be forgiven of our sin. Because we’re forgiven, we should live differently—not for his acceptance, but from his acceptance. We say no to ourselves and yes to God because he loves us and is making us more like himself. And when we look like Christ, the world sees a glimpse of the greatness of God.”

But the responsibility of parents does not end there. Parents should also be demonstrating what confession and repentance looks like. 

McGarry writes that as a youth pastor, he’s seen Christian children growing up with no need for grace. Their familiarity with Scripture has led to self-righteousness. They don’t see their parents practicing confession and repentance, and mimic the same behavior. 

He advises, instead, that parents must first share the bad news, so that there is reason to celebrate the good news. 

“When we confess our sin to our kids, we’re acknowledging what they already know: Mom and Dad are sinners who desperately need Jesus. If we aren’t willing to model confession, then we will be modeling self-righteousness. We’ll be subtly pointing to our own goodness without giving credit to the Holy Spirit who sanctifies.” 

McGarry continues, “When we don’t teach our kids about sin, we are actually making it difficult for them to become Christians.”

In the article “When Should I Admit My Mistakes to My Child?”, Beth Ann Baus writes:

“Sin is hard to talk about. Sin is hard to confess. But, when we allow our children to see our sinful nature and how God forgives us, we are helping them see their own sin and how God forgives them. Confession… allows us to share the goodness of God in a very personal way. When our children are young, our confessions will help them walk behind us, learning from us as parents. When our children are grown, our confessions will help them walk alongside of us, as we support each other, as brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Carrie Dedrick is an editor of When she is not writing or editing, she can usually be found teaching dance classes, running marathons, or reading with at least one adopted dog on her lap. 

Publication date: June 10, 2016