Call it What it Is
Recently, we caught our son in a lie. For two weeks, he had been crushing his math homework. My wife and I were so proud of him. Then the truth came out. He had been copying the answers from the back of the book. I was surprised he would do that. He is smart and knows the stuff, so there was no need. As a parent, this was one of the first times he’s been in big trouble. How do I handle two weeks of lying to us? How do I convey how he broke our trust? In light of Good Friday coming up, this could be an excellent time to have some talks about sin, the penalty of it, and Christ’s work to redeem us.
The issue is sin
I often think that my children are amazing tiny humans and that their mistakes are cute little quirks that need to be redirected. I feel that my response to their sin is sometimes that laughing parent when a 3-year-old tells you “No” with incredible sass. It’s cute and funny, but there is a bigger truth at hand. Our culture calls these offenses, outbursts, mistakes, misunderstandings, or choices. God’s Word calls it something completely different—sin.
The New City Catechism defines sin this way, “Sin is rejecting or ignoring God in the world he created, rebelling against him by living without reference to him, not being or doing what he requires in his law—resulting in our death and the disintegration of all creation.” That is a great definition that applies to my kids and yours, whether they are two or 20. Their issue is that their hearts are far from God and that they are sinful beings. Let’s call it what it is. Sin is not a bad word. Sin is the reason and reality of why Jesus came to this world.
I know there have been times when I failed and DID tell my kid that he made a mistake and completely ignored that they have a heart issue. I did not take that moment to lovingly teach them of their heart’s condition—sinful. We need our students to know that God is holy and perfect and expects us to be so too. They need to know that we all fall short (Romans 3:23).
Galatians 5:19-21 (ESV)says,“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Feel the weight of it
As a parent, there are times I want to spare my kids pain and sorrow. That is one of the many reasons we have “adult conversations” at home and kick the kids out. There are some things kids and teenagers don’t need to know. Their sin is not one of those times. I believe sharing with our students the truth of their actions and having them bear the weight of guilt and shame for a moment is good.
Again, in light of Good Friday, that is why we pause and reflect on the cross. It was their sin, my sin, all sin that put Jesus there on the cross. 2 Timothy 3:16 commands us to rebuke and correct when we see sinful behavior. We need to start using the Bible in our correction of young people. Using the Bible will help reveal that our foundation for right and wrong is not our culture or mood that day but God’s Word. Scripture is our authority. Show students exactly how their actions have gone against God’s Word.
Remind students that God desires for them to confess their sins to him (Matthew 6:12), and that God has forgiven their sins (1 John 1:9). Encourage them to see this forgiveness for what it is: an all-encompassing grace that Christ purchased on the cross. Explain that the debt their sin earned has been paid by Christ, wiped away, never to be thought of again by God. Do not miss the opportunity to lead them in a prayer where they confess to God their shortcomings. But then close the prayer assuring the student of God’s grace, love, and mercy, and that our righteousness is found in Christ. Reaffirming these truths can help cut off feelings of shame that might emerge later.
Repentance is key and seemingly gets passed over sometimes. Repentance is a HUGE aspect of our relationship with Christ. When Matthew denotes the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, he reveals the powerful simplicity of Jesus’ message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Repentance is the willful decision to stop sinning. It is the Spirit-empowered act of turning in the opposite direction of our sinful ways. It is not enough for students to confess their sin and be assured of God’s grace. You must impart to them the importance of turning from the sin in their life. And you must be willing to play a part in the equation, helping them wherever necessary.
Deal with consequences relationally
Once you have dealt with the spiritual issues surrounding the student’s sin, you must shepherd them through any consequences of their sin. Students may need help understanding the consequences of their actions. And based on their sin, you may need to help walk with them through this time. If it is an issue that necessitates a meeting with other students (parents) to bring about true repentance, you will need to take the lead in that. (It’s a good idea to make that appointment to talk with the student’s parents at some point. And tell the student that this is something you are going to do.) As painful as it might be, encourage the student to begin to deal with the consequences immediately. Waiting will only lessen the urgency of the situation. Help students move to work through the implications as soon as possible.
We all know the painful reality of sin in our lives. But by shepherding students through this process, you may be facilitating a time of tremendous spiritual growth, where students grow closer to God through the paring away of sin in their lives.
 The Gospel Coalition and Redeemer Presbyterian Church, The New City Catechism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), Question 16.