When my children were young and struggling with sinful behavior, I would quip, “I hope they pick up some of my strengths too!” Of course, it is natural to personalize everything our children say and do. And it’s true—our shaping influences profoundly affect our children. It shouldn’t surprise us that our children struggle in the same ways that we do. Children imitate their parents. In fact, we can promise ourselves that we will never duplicate our parents’ struggles, only to find ourselves struggling in the same ways. The apple never falls far from the tree.
But the reality is that our children sin because of their sinful nature, not because we sin. Actually, our struggles with sin can enable us to stand in solidarity with our children and give us insight to help them. So it is not hypocritical to correct our children when we struggle as well. Rather than lamenting that their sinful behavior often mirrors our own, our time would be better spent learning to bring them the same gospel help and hope that we have known.
We must answer two questions to overcome our uneasiness about correcting our children for the same sins we struggle with. First, “How can I correct my child when I fail in the same ways?” Think about how profoundly your Christian perspective should shape the way you respond to your child’s sin and your parenting role. The secular mind reasons: “What right do I have to correct others? I’m no better.” The Christian mind, however, must reason with a biblical view of sin and redemption. What gives us the right to speak to others about sin and the gospel remedy for sin? It is simple, yet so profound.
We have the right to speak because God has spoken, and we are His ambassadors. Proverbs 1:8–9 says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” God has called parents to instruct and correct children. Consider these foundational thoughts about correction.
The gospel is always the agenda in correction. Speaking to others about sin is not an end in itself. Rather, correction is God’s sovereign path to salvation. Galatians 3:24 (KJV) states, “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.” Sin—ours and our children’s—is a reminder that we need grace to atone for sin and to pursue sanctification. The law demonstrates our inability to obey in our own strength. Correction should always lead to the gospel.
Biblical correction focuses on the heart as the source of sinful behavior (see James 4:1–3). God has identified our struggle with sin first in the attitudes and desires of our hearts and then in our behavior. Behavior is a window into the desires of the heart. Changing only behavior short-circuits God’s purpose to invade the heart and bring true repentance and lasting change.