Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

One of the great anxieties that parents face is the fear of what our own sins could do to corrupt our kids. It can be a paralyzing anxiety, one that has come up on the podcast in many different forms.

It’s the fear of those who believe in God’s judgment on generational sins, sins of the past being visited on future generations. More commonly, it’s the fear of young men and women born out of wedlock, or born into dysfunctional homes, who wonder if their past dooms their future family to a similar broken fate. It’s the fear of Christian parents of prodigals who are left wondering what they did to mess up their children so badly. It’s the fear of young men and women awakened to the potency of sin in their own hearts, and afraid to even have children because of what their own sins could do to corrupt those future kids. In each of these scenarios, we find the same haunting question lurking behind it all: Did my sin — or will my sin — ruin my child? In our new APJ book, you can see these scenarios on pages 192–93.

And the same question echoes in this heartbreaking email from a broken dad. He writes in anonymously. “Pastor John, my wife and I have four sons, ranging from twenty to eight. We recently found out our twenty- and fifteen-year-olds both claim to suffer from so-called ‘gender dysphoria.’ The twenty-year-old is walking with the Lord and knows it’s wrong, fighting his temptations, and trying to dwell in God for strength, and attends a solid, Bible-believing church. But he’s in college two hours away, and we are still worried for him.

“Our fifteen-year-old is not a believer. He’s in a public school, and we are now looking to move him to private Christian school and will continue to help support him. But he has been cold and not receptive. We have talked to our pastors and asked for prayer, but we feel so broken and so alone and so helpless in this season. What do we do to fight against the despair we face every day as failed parents? How did we fail them? Please help us, Pastor John. We are so torn and heartbroken.”

As I have thought and prayed more than usual about this question and this situation — which, of course, is multiplied ten thousandfold for Christian parents across the world — there are ten suggestions that I have for parents to consider (and I just say consider) when a child moves away from obedience to Jesus. It might be completely away; it might be partially away — whatever form it takes.

Here they are.

1. Grieve with hope.

Grieve deeply but not despairingly. Grieve while holding fast to the sovereign goodness and wisdom of God. Be like Job, who fell on the ground, tore his robe, shaved his head, no doubt wept his eyes out at the loss of his children, and said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). So, grieve deeply but not despairingly.

2. Look to the God of the impossible.

Do not assume while your child lives that he will not return to the path of obedience. “What is impossible with man” — and it surely seems impossible at times — “is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). Look to the God of the impossible.

3. Do not assume you’re decisively at fault.

Do not assume that your imperfections as a parent were decisive in causing this disobedience in your child. Don’t assume that. Read Ezekiel 18:1–32. I’ll sum it up:

Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die. If a righteous father begets a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, though the father himself has done none of these things, that son shall surely die. His blood shall be upon himself. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father for the iniquity of the son.

The father shall not suffer, the mother shall not suffer, for the iniquity of the son. In other words, we cannot draw a straight line from our own parenting to our children’s sin or righteousness. The refrain running through the Bible is that failing parents can have good children, and good parents can have failing children. So, repent of all remembered sin, but don’t assume that was the decisive cause of your child’s disobedience.

4. Love your children on God’s terms.

Resolve to love your children on God’s terms, not the world’s terms. That is, love them with a readiness to sacrifice your life while standing for what God calls right and what God calls true, not what the world calls right and true. The effort to be loving by forsaking God’s way of truth and righteousness — which many are trying to do today — is to fail in love. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” Jesus said in John 8:32. God’s truth is the path to love.

5. Speak truth to your child.

Whether in person or in letters or emails, speak truth to your child. Tell them what you believe, why you believe it, and why you believe it’s the path of love. Do not withdraw into self-pity or anger. Lean in with truth; speak to them. Once this is done, then wait. Don’t nag — don’t harass — but be sure you have spoken to them the fullness of the truth you believe is the path of love.

6. Communicate your love.

Communicate your love — the love that is willing and ready to go anywhere, do anything, at any cost to your life for the sake of the life of your children. Now, they may think that the truth you embrace cannot be loving because it does not affirm them in their sin, but they know in their heart when you are ready to give your life for them and that you are not selfish. They know. Your commitment to the Bible has made you ready to die for the good of others, especially your children. Communicate that readiness to them.

7. Pray without ceasing.

Pray without ceasing in the confidence that God is sovereign and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. And gather some friends — whether in person or in other ways — and join in prayer for each other’s children. Trust God as you pray that he will give good things to those who ask him, because that’s what it says in Matthew 7:11: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Expect him to give good things as you pray.

8. Discern how often to address the issue.

Measure — with prayerful, Bible-saturated wisdom — how often to address the issue with your child. I said a moment ago, “Don’t nag — don’t harass.” Some will be utterly closed to any communication. That’s tragic, but it’s real. So, rarely intrude where you have been forbidden. (Rarely — I didn’t say never.) Others will be more open. God will give you discernment. That’s what I trust. God will give you discernment — “wisdom from above,” as James calls it in James 3:17.

Sometimes you will just send a note of affection. “I love you.” That’s the text: “I love you.” Sometimes notes mentioning something precious about the Lord Jesus that you just read in your devotions. Maybe, “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:13 NKJV). You just say that. Sometimes the note will simply say, “Just thinking about you today.” That’s all.

9. Make the central gospel plain.

Periodically, make the simple, central gospel plain to the distant prodigal — the child who’s moving away. Make the central gospel plain. In other words, from time to time — God will make it plain how often (Once a year? Once every six months?) — remind them there’s always a way out, a way home to God and to you, because there may come a point when they want out.

They want out of their disobedience, but Satan is blinding them to any hope that it could happen, telling them there’s no way out; there’s no way back. And they may need help remembering what they once knew so well and has become cloudy. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

10. Press on with indomitable joy.

Press on with your ordinary life with brokenhearted but indomitable joy, and deny Satan the triumph of paralyzing you in your path of righteousness because of your child’s path of unrighteousness. Satan would love to take out two people with one bullet. Deny him that.

Yes, your child needs to see that you are not blithely indifferent to his disobedience. But just as important, he needs to see that Jesus is your supreme treasure and that the solar system of your life does not revolve around your child. He is not the sun in your solar system. Christ is. He doesn’t need you falling apart, retreating in self-pity, pouting. That’s not helpful. He needs you weak and triumphant in Christ.

Tidal Wave of Grace

Now, there are so many other things besides these ten things to say. When I finished them, I just kept thinking of others. We have to stop. But these are the thoughts that come to me just now as I was praying and preparing for this. So, let’s pray for each other, and may the Lord bring the day when there is a tidal wave of grace that sweeps thousands of precious prodigals into the arms of their parents and of the Lord Jesus.