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How do I talk to my kids about sin?

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Recently we received a question from a parent who, after reading this blog post, was confused about how to use scripture to talk with her kids about sin.

Q: How can I talk to my kids about sin?
I think the word sin is lost in our culture since most people generally don’t like that word, other than some adults may use the phrase, “I was living in sin.” My children don’t really have an idea of when they ever sin. It’s a little confusing as I feel I use scripture for reproof so that my children can see when they are grieving the heart of God. And, that leads to confession as it’s hard to confess when you don’t feel you have done anything wrong in your life.

A: Thank you for the insightful question.
Yes — we ought to talk about sin with our kids — but when they aren’t sinning. It is not our job to convict of sin. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job. If we become the “sin police” when they are sinning we are taking over for the Holy Spirit — except not really. Because when the effort to convict kids of their sin comes from me, it actually keeps kids from learning to listen to the “still small voice” of God’s spirit.

In our home, we talked about sin outside the context of the misbehavior. We helped kids understand what it was and how it showed up and made sure they knew we were all sinners, able to receive God’s grace. We taught them about their God-given conscience and conviction, and the resulting knot in their stomach when they know they’ve done something wrong. We used examples from our own lives and confessed our sin to them when we had sinned against them. This was leading with grace, not pointing a finger. When they had sinned, we made room for the Holy Spirit to convict them of sin by helping kids understand the natural impacts of their behavior. We facilitated and celebrated true reconciliation after they had sinned against each other.

In this way, we helped them see that the conviction of the Holy Spirit was a gift to protect their lives and their relationships. Over time they learned to pay attention to it and value it so they didn’t need us to help them think through questions like “What’s the impact of what I’ve done? How does it feel to have created that impact? And how can I reconcile with God and people?”

If it’s hard to let go of the need to confront kids’ sin with scripture when they misbehave, consider Jesus’ example. It appears that when he used scripture to confront sin, it was with self-righteous leaders. When dealing with “typical messy sinners”, he generally did not use scripture (i.e. a prostitute, woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, etc.). His responses are creative, connective, and good examples of “God’s kindness [that] is intended to lead you to repentance.” Food for thought….

You need consequences that work.

You need consequences that work.

Because your kids aren’t perfect. Neither are you. That’s why you need a plan for discipling your kids in the hard moments.

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Consequences That Actually Work

Jim and Lynne Jackson
Jim and Lynne Jackson
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