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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.

The gospel is always the agenda in correction.

God’s people are called to be light and salt to others. God has provided for our redemption through Christ’s perfect life, atoning death, resurrection, and high priestly office. We are His ambassadors. We are to bring the ministry of reconciliation to others (see 2 Cor. 5:18–19). For parents, that calling is to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. It is to bring instruction, correction, and discipline that keeps their need and God’s provision front and center. Understanding our mission to take the gospel to the whole world, starting “in Jerusalem” (think: your home), animates our desire to bring life-giving truth to our children.

Second, “How can my child and I find help and hope for our struggles with sin?” Imitate Christ’s response to your sin. Come alongside your struggling child rather than standing over him. Imitate what Christ did in the incarnation. He entered our world. He looked at the world through our eyes so that He could identify with our struggle. Hebrews 4:15 proclaims that our High Priest is able to help us because He was tempted in every way, yet without sin. Here are some important considerations for correcting your children.

Be transparent and quick to acknowledge your own sin. Let your child know that you understand and are sympathetic to his struggle. Be quick to ask forgiveness when your sin has had implications for your child. Perhaps your impatience has led to harsh words or anger. Perhaps your sin has contributed to his struggle or discouraged his confidence in gospel hope. Ask his forgiveness for your heart attitudes (fear, pride, self-love, etc.) and for your resulting sinful behavior.

Share Scripture insight to describe the sin and its consequences and Scriptures that promise hope to overcome. What Scripture passages have helped you identify the desires and struggles of your heart? Use your personal heart-searching journey to help your child on her journey. What promises of God and descriptions of Christ’s enabling have filled you with hope and energized your faith? Give your child appropriate insight into your own struggles that can encourage her that there is hope and help for you both in Christ.

Help your child understand that Christian growth doesn’t mean that we never again struggle with sin. Christian growth is learning how to access the gospel in our time of need. Help your child learn to flee to the cross of Christ in times of temptation. Help him understand the power and personal import of Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

How can we respond to our children when they commit the same sins that we are guilty of? Think of your calling as a privilege and responsibility to bring the same life-changing instruction and correction to your child that you have known from the Savior. Imitate Christ’s response to your sin with humble, gospel-embracing help and hope for your child.

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