The most humbling moment for a father is stooping down to apologize to his child and ask forgiveness…again. For the same sin. Again.
I did today. Again. I got at eye-level with my three-year-old son and apologized for getting angry with him and yelling. Before I could ask, he pronounced, “I forgive you.” I would be proud that he responded so quickly with forgiveness if it were not for the fact that this means I’ve sinned against him enough that he’s learned how we handle the situation.
Perhaps some fathers would never apologize to their sons or ask for their forgiveness. Maybe they think it betrays weakness. I disagree. Our children are not blind to our sins. They have front row seats. They have matinee tickets, late-night passes, and early morning access. They’re just sitting there eating popcorn and watching us sin. They know our sins better than we know our sins. The question is do they know what Christian men are to do with their sins.
I believe, when they sin against or in front of their children, Christian fathers should confess their sin, apologize to their children, and ask for their forgiveness for at least four reasons:
1. Doing so acknowledges a higher authority in the home than the father.
Like the Centurion in Matthew 8, fathers are both in authority and under authority. They are in authority over their families. Children are to obey their fathers. But they are also under the authority of God and His Word. When a father confesses his sin to his child he is acknowledging and teaching about an authority greater than his own. He is saying to his child: we both are under God’s authority; we both must obey him. A Christian father is not a dictator in his home. He does not get to make up separate rules for himself. Confessing sin to a child—when the sin is against the child or in front of the child—emphasizes that Dad plays by the same rules: God’s rules.
2. Doing so models what Christians do when they sin.
Our children are going to sin. A lot. Every day. This will continue sinning for the rest of their lives. They need to learn what to do with their sin. They need to know that they are to confess their sin, to apologize to those they hurt, and to ask for forgiveness. They need to learn that they are sinners and actually need to be forgiven by God. They will learn by watching their parents. When Dad sins, what does he do? Is he humble? Does he make himself vulnerable and rely only on grace? Or is he proud, rebellious, and digging in his heels in self-protection? Christians deal with their sin by grace. Kids need to see Dad relying on grace.
3. Doing so gives an opportunity to explain the Gospel to your children.
Confessing sin, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness is an opportune time to explain that you sinned, not only against your child, but against God. This time is also quite suited to explain how God deals with—and has dealt with—our sin against him: His Son died to atone for it. Don’t just use your child’s sin to point him to the Gospel. Use your own sin to do so as well.
4. Doing so is the right thing to do because you sinned against a fellow Image-bearer.
Just because your toddler is a little person does not mean that he is not a person—one made in the Image of God. When you sin against another person, another Image-bearer, the right thing to do is own your sin. To apologize and ask for forgiveness. Just because that person is smaller than you, related to you, and under your authority does not mean that you do not owe him neighbor love. Your children are among your closest neighbors. Love them in this way.
What keeps you from confessing, apologizing, and asking your child’s forgiveness when you sin against or in front of them? What fruit have you seen in their lives when you have done this?