The concept that a child needs to be taught to sin is absolutely ludicrous. Sin seems to come quite naturally to all of us. Resentment and bitterness are normal, fleshly responses when we experience pain at the hands of other imperfect people. Despite the fact that all children grow up with the ability to sin easily and naturally, Scripture indicates that a parent’s sin can teach their child in all the wrong ways.
“And he walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God…” 1 Kings 15:3
“…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,” Exodus 20:5
Growing up, I watched my parents take painstaking efforts to model the truth for me. They didn’t always succeed, and they willingly and quickly admit that. All parents should. However, my parents demonstrated their understanding of two key truths for me:
- They recognized that their sin would leave a lasting impact on my life and choices. Their specific struggles and failures would create a deeper vulnerability in me in those areas.
- They understood that not only would their sin impact me, but their strengths would shape me. They were responsible before God to model Jesus Christ to me so that I could become mature.
Over and over again, the Bible commands parents and authorities to model the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the person of Jesus Christ to their children. One of the most fundamental principles of the Gospel is forgiveness. And yet, forgiveness is perhaps the number one thing that is lacking in Christian homes today. Without even knowing it, thousands of parents are teaching their children unforgiveness, both nonverbally and verbally. In what ways is this happening?
Forgiveness, in Practice, is Conditional
In many Christian homes, parents verbally express forgiveness of their children (or spouse) only when they apologize. Additionally, forgiveness may be denied if the apology is insincere or sloppy. This does not mean that the parent says, “I don’t forgive you.” Rather, they may respond by saying, “You don’t sound sorry” or “Do you really mean that? I’m not sure you do.” The resounding message received by the child is this: if you do not demonstrate a humble heart, and offer an acceptable apology, you will not receive forgiveness. This kind of “forgiveness” is not unconditional, but rather selfish and counter-Gospel.
Forgiveness is Spoken, but not Acted Upon
Also in many Christian homes, the words “I forgive you” are simply cliche’. They cease to mean anything when, for hours, days, months or years after the issue occurs, parents continue to bring up or use the offense against the child (or their spouse). Forgiveness is not forgetting. However, forgiveness is absorbing the debt that someone else owes us, and ceasing to treat them as a debtor from that point on. This is what Christ did for us. Forgiveness will either be Gospel-centered, or it will be a fleshly exercise that has no power.
Some Things Cannot be Forgiven
Most, if not all of us, would deny that this is true. After all, we’re Christians! We have benefitted from the lavish love of the Lord for us. Sadly, our beliefs often stop with our words. Again and again, I have watched Christian parents talk to their children about forgiveness, and then demonstrate an attitude of “I want nothing to do with you” towards people who have hurt them or their family. Their children watch, and inevitably learn. Many parents tell their children to forgive while reserving the right to define when that is necessary or reasonable. The cross of Christ was not reasonable. It was audacious. And so should our forgiveness be, out of gratitude for His undeserved pardon of us.
Are you teaching unforgiveness in your home? Jesus said that anyone who caused a child to stumble into sin through their example would be better off in the sea with a millstone hung about their neck. May our homes be filled with the exemplary forgiveness and remarkable love of the Savior, whom we profess to follow.