Being the only Christ-follower in my family, it inevitably happened.
One of my family members said the dreaded phrase “Oh my G - -.”
This is a saying we most certainly want our children to steer clear of, as we consider it a breach of the third commandment (Ex. 20:7).
Yet I remember being even more taken aback when my children started using this phrase as a form of willful disobedience. Our sweet three-year-old, who ends her prayers by blowing a kiss, doing an “invisible hug,” and saying, “I love you Jesus,” would turn on a dime to take God’s name in vain simply because she was seeking a reaction.
While it’s natural to be disappointed when something like this happens, it should not take us by surprise when our children, though raised in Christian homes, pick up the sinful habits of the culture around us.
We are not yet what we are meant to be, and neither are our children. As parents, we have to remind ourselves of this constantly.
We must remind ourselves and our children of our place in the biblical narrative.
THE GOSPEL STORY
The biblical narrative, in short, is this:
God created; humanity rebelled and the fall occurred; Jesus came to live the sinless life we’re incapable of and to die as a substitute for our sins; he rose from the dead; he will someday return and restore the fallen world to the way it was intended to be—free from sin and death.
Painting the entirety of the Bible in such broad strokes obviously has its drawbacks, but theologians have long recognized this breakdown as a helpful summary. Its four main parts by name are: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.
So, where are we in this story?
Currently, we are in between Jesus’ resurrection and return. We are redeemed, but the earth still waits to be restored to perfection. Because we have the full and trustworthy revelation of Scripture available to us, we are able to make an informed decision to trust Christ as savior (Luke 14:28), be saved from our sin and its consequences (Rom. 10:10), receive a new heart that is responsive to God (Ezek. 11:19), and enjoy restored fellowship with him (Rom. 5:10). Very good news indeed!
However, because Jesus has not yet returned to remove us from the presence of sin, even Christians retain the capacity of committing highly egregious forms of rebellion.
In this “already but not yet,” our children will be exposed to the sins of others as we navigate a fallen world as sojourners seeking that “new city” (Heb. 11:10).
But we must also be aware that the sin in their own hearts poses an even greater threat. Their hearts are, to quote a well-worn phrase, “factories for idols.”
NURTURING IN THE NOW / NOT YET
As parents, how are we to help our children navigate this world?
We need to teach our children where we currently reside in redemptive history. We live in the tension between the “now” (you can receive Christ and a new heart, know God personally, and be rescued from the sin that clings so closely) and the “not yet” (you will still experience immense pain and suffering, often as a result of your own sin). As Christians living at this point in redemptive history, the negative things our children see in the world around them should not come as a surprise.
My wife and I were abruptly thrown into the deep end of navigating this tension when we invited our lesbian neighbors over for our son’s birthday party. It wasn’t our plan to have an in-depth conversation about the complexities of same-sex attraction with our four-year-old, but as his line of questioning became more pointed, our answers had to be as well. How do you teach a four-year-old to hold the two truths that we want to love and live in community with our neighbors while also not condoning their unbiblical lifestyle choices?
There’s no script for how to ease our children into the cold reality of the depth of human sinfulness on an earth crying out for redemption (Rom. 8:22), but sooner or later our children will be exposed to all sorts of depravity.
We must teach our children the parallel skill sets of exegeting Scripture and human behavior in culture (Matt. 16:3). They must learn what God commands and where history is headed. They must understand that humanity is desperately evil and simultaneously capable of great good and achievement. Furthermore, they must recognize the capacity of their own heart to be drawn like a magnet to the sins of the culture around them.
THE CITY OF GOD AND THE CITY OF MAN
Sooner or later, our children need to know that being raised in a Christian family is an abnormality in a fallen world and that the view of the world we possess, while accurate, is a peculiarity to the world. They must also be sober-minded about the reality that they are capable of just as much sin as their neighbor.
I grew up in the post-Christian Northeast and, after a brief stint in the Mid-Atlantic, returned to the very secular city of Albany, NY to plant a church. As I sought ways to make connections, I found myself substitute teaching in an inner-city middle school. It was in an English class where I realized that tomorrow’s leaders are being equipped for adulthood in a much different way than I was.
The seventh-grade class was reading a timely book that peeled back the ugly layers of racially-charged crime in America. This is a lesson that the class definitely needed to be taught. I rejoiced at the relevance of the subject matter and then, naively, became wide-eyed at the prevalence of four-letter curse words throughout the book.
This is required reading in public schools these days?
However, as I reflected on it more, it dawned on me: this is the reality of the world we live in. The four-letter words were not new to these students, and sadly many of them have likely already had racial slurs hurled at them—a far more disturbing reality. But such is the heartrending truth of living in a world that once tasted the redeemer but still longs for his return.
So my encouragement you, parents, is to take heed and seize hope.
Take heed that we must raise up our children to be wise as serpents in this world, but also as harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16). Remind yourselves, and them, often of your place in the story God is telling. We are not who we are supposed to be, but we are not what we once were. We live in the in-between. Christ has come, he has died, he was raised, he will come again. We live in between those last two facts. We have hope, but we wait for it to be fully realized. We live in the setting sun of the city of man, but we can see in the distance the rising sun of the city of God.
Our children will witness things we never wanted them to know existed. This will break our hearts, but we need not despair. Our hope is not in this city of man.
Take hope and pray relentlessly that you and your children will be bastions of light in the dark until the day our prayer “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10) is answered when the new city descends and eclipses the old.
Remember the hope we hold: the hope that every tear will be wiped away, every sin will be redeemed, and every eye will see his glory undiluted.