Part I: Acknowledging My Own
When I titled this series of posts, Lessons Learned in the Principal’s Office: Talking with Kids about Their Sin, there was some intended irony. The lessons I want to share are lessons learned by me, not lessons learned by the children. (What they learned I wouldn’t presume to know.) Of the many responsibilities I have as principal of Tall Oaks, one of the most important—and most humbling—is guiding our students as they deal with their own sin. It is most important, because if we educate young men or women without shaping their hearts and affections toward God, our efforts have been in vain. We have trained up a warrior for the enemy. It is most humbling because it is so often clear to me that as they sit before me in their sin, I sit before them in mine. While little Johnny bobs and weaves with lies, half-truths and rationalizations for his bad behavior, I think, “That sounds an awful lot like the excuses I made for myself for being late this morning.” When little Suzy sobs and tries to manipulate me into not dealing with her sin, I think back on the ways I have tried to avoid facing mine.
So how can one sinner counsel another sinner without hypocrisy? Who am I to set myself up as an authority on God’s goodness when I sin a thousand times a day? While it may at first glance seem like a bad thing that it is old sinners who are guiding our young sinners, I have come to see that this is just another beautiful provision of God for us and for our children. I have often said that it is not the absence of sin that makes for peace in this world (to the degree to which that is possible), but it is the proper recognition of and dealing with sin that produces peaceful fruit. We cannot properly deal with the sins of our children unless we are properly dealing with our own.
Christians are often accused of being judgmental hypocrites. Often this is a fair assessment. Yet it can be a fundamental misunderstanding of the Gospel that causes outsiders to feel this way toward Christians. They mistakenly believe that we Christians think we are “getting into heaven” because we have been good. Nothing could be further from the truth. True Christians believe that we are too wretched for heaven and we are desperate for the good works that our Savior did on our behalves to deal with our sin. It is easy to see how an unbeliever who misunderstands this can become resentful of people who seem to think themselves better than others when they are quite obviously not. Isn’t a similar resentment understandable in our children if we approach them about their sin and pretend we have none of our own?
The writer of Hebrews tells us:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 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. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Because Christ took on human flesh and walked the earth, He knows what it is like for us. According to these words, this should give us the confidence to approach God and with Him find mercy and grace. We cannot claim to our children that we have been tempted without sinning as Christ has done. But we can present ourselves to them as fellow sinners and show them how to do battle against their sin—not in their own strength, but in the strength of the Savior in whom they may find mercy and grace. Let me battle beside you, we can say. We will confess together, and having received forgiveness from His gracious hand, we will turn together from the City of Darkness and walk toward the light. When we struggle, we will encourage one another. When we stumble, He will lift us up.
Notice how different this mercy is from the world’s mercy. We are not saying to Johnny, “Yes, Dear, you are weak, but I am weak, too. God understands and it’s not so bad.” This approach brushes sin away without ever dealing with it. If sin is not acknowledged, how can we ask forgiveness for it? Rather we offer to fight beside our children as they struggle against their sin and we give them the tools for that warfare. We tell them what forgiveness is like until they see its beauty and long for it. We lead them in confession. We show them the difference between merely speaking the words of repentance and calling on God’s strength to walk in it. We strip them of the hindrances to that walk: blame-shifting, excuses, pride and self-deception.
Who is a better trainer for warfare than a soldier who has seen many battles and prevailed? We must not present ourselves to our children as people who have never had a battle to fight or people who merely laid down our arms and surrendered. We must present ourselves as fellow soldiers, fighting sin with and for a mighty King who has guaranteed our victory so that we can with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
This article is cross-posted on the Tall Oaks Classical School blog.