As a young mom with a couple very little children, I remember the big relief I felt when I apologized to my oldest daughter for speaking harshly to her. She was probably two at the time. I may have apologized to her before that, but I think I remember that instance because she was able to understand what I said on some level and when I asked for forgiveness she said, “Yes, Mommy!”
This was a bit revolutionary for me. The quickness and completeness of her forgiveness surprised me.
As our children increased, so did the opportunities to sin against them. And so did my need to apologize when that happened. I found, with each child, that the willingness to forgive continued to be quick and complete. It carried none of the angst that sometimes comes from adults who’ve hurt one another.
I also noticed that there were times I was apologizing for the same sin on the same day, sometimes to multiple children. “Mommy’s sorry for the words she spoke in anger. Will you forgive me?” Then, two hours later, it would happen all over again. It’s not hard to identify the particular sin patterns I have struggled with by surveying for what it is I most frequently apologize - impatience, an assumption of guilt rather than withholding judgment until more information is given which is harshness. And, with that two-year-old now knocking on the door of fourteen, these are still the areas I fight against.
I was told by fellow parents and subsequently made sure to tell fellow parents, that when we apologize to our kids for sin, we’re setting a good example for them. We’re letting them know we know we’re sinners–no different from them–and we’re helping them know what to do when they sin. This is gloriously true. But I also think it provided me a false comfort that led me to take sin more lightly than I should have. I had fallen right into the misapplication of Romans 5:20–21 and needed Paul to give me God’s rebuke in Romans 6:1-4. Maybe you do too.
“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 5:20-21–6:4 ESV).
We might think that God is redeeming our sinfulness against our kids by teaching them about confession, forgiveness, and a parent willing to participate with them in it. And that’s true. But where we may run amok is forgetting that our confession and receiving of forgiveness should be effecting something significant in us. The way God redeems us from our sin isn’t by keeping us in it, but by moving us out of it. When we confess, we must do so to more than our children; we must confess to God. And after confessing we must repent. We must die to that sin, that harshness, that impatience, that irritation, that failure to serve. Why? Because it is dead already in Christ—nailed to the cross by God himself (Col. 2:14). And this needn’t take ten or twenty or thirty minutes. We can do it in ten seconds if we’re willing to get real as quickly as that. God is right there, willing to forgive, willing to aid.
We must refuse to multiply sin in order to multiply grace.
And God will better teach our children the power of the Gospel through a parent who takes sin seriously enough to turn from it, not merely apologize for it. This may seem impossible as we consider our inability to stop sinning, but God will help us. If we ask him, he will increasingly give us the grace we need on the front end before the need for repentance comes, and in that sense, his grace will abound all the more.
God gives us pre-repentance grace to turn from sin before it happens and that grace comes only through Christ. Only through walking in the giant footsteps of the perfect obedience that he walked on our behalf.
Yet, we will never stop sinning—this is not a call to futility and hopelessness in trying to be sinless. It’s a call to sin seriousness. As our children grow into young adults, we want them to know sin is not a game but that it’s something their parents not only asked for forgiveness for but went to every length to kill. By God’s grace through our Savior, may they do likewise.