How Do You Talk to Your Kids About Repentance?

In the last blog, we explored how to weave the biblically weighty word faith into conversations when we talk to our kids about their sexuality. Using the language of Scripture, such as the word and concept of “faith”, elevates our conversations with our kids from merely addressing rule-breaking to matters of the heart and their relationship with God. But what do we do with other biblical words, such as “repentance” and “love”?

Using the word “faith” is not hard, but here’s a question for you: Would you use the word “repentance” in conversations with your kid? Would that just be too weird, and would you fear sounding like a Puritan who just got off the Mayflower?

Despite how old-fashioned the word may seem, repentance is central to knowing Christ. In Mark 1:15 Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.” Faith and repentance go hand in hand. Martin Luther’s first of his famous 95 Theses was, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”

I’d like to encourage you to use not only the word “faith” but also “repentance” regularly in your parenting, and not just when one of your children stumbles into a sexual sin. To incorporate repentance into your language as a natural part of your conversation, let’s look at two things repentance isn’t, one thing it is, and why using the word is so good despite its puritanical associations.

 Two Things Repentance Is Not

First, tears, remorse, and regrets are not repentance. Many of us are looking for the signs of repentance in our kids. And we can be fooled by tears, but those may be the signs of what Paul calls “worldly sorrow” in 2 Cor. 7:10. Your children may be extremely sorry they got caught, but their sorrow might be selfish: “I no longer get to enjoy this,” or “I’m frustrated that I got caught.” Worldly sorrow is not repentance.

Second, begrudging “repentance” isn’t true repentance, either. This is where repentance gets a bad public relations image. It has all the allure of a dentist drilling cavities without Novocain. This view of repentance is principally about having to give up something you enjoy. You resent God whom you see as a killjoy instead of a good God who wants what is best for your life. This is a religious (moralistic) mind-set, where one repents to gain favor with God, to obtain a ticket to eternal reward. If we approach repentance as a necessary evil, we have failed to truly repent.

What is Repentance?

So what is genuine repentance?  Repentance is a turning from sin and turning to God. True repentance is a change of heart and mind that results in action. Romans 2:4 says that it “is the kindness of God the leads (us) to repentance.” Genuine repentance leads us to see that the “fun” of sin is slavery to an awful idol. In turn, we see knowing God as the great reward and His blessings as the truly good life.

Scripture speaks of the “fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25), and we still need to remember that sin does not magically become un-tempting in the heart of a repenting believer–particularly for a child! Repentance is often a series of steps that move toward God; it’s not often an immediate, complete turnaround. And it is in these steps that we can experience joy, peace, and a delighting and soul-satisfying fellowship with God—a fellowship in the love of God. A Christian kid can, indeed, experience this loving fellowship and grow in newfound desires, as David writes in Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Since genuine repentance always displays itself in practical steps in faith and obedience, we can enter into conversations with a sexually struggling child by asking two questions:

 How can I help you turn from this?

If your child’s sin struggle was facilitated by a device (say, looking at online porn), parents need to help students install a filter/blocker or replace a smartphone with a dumbphone. If the sin committed was with a person or peers, we need to step-in to oversee, limit, or stop the relationship.

How can I help you turn toward Jesus?

The second question goes further and deeper with our kids. Here we want to guide our children into the means of grace. Or, in other words, we want to shepherd them into ways they can seek the Lord and learn to delight in him. We can help them do this by praying with them, getting them a devotional book or Christian music for them. You might even suggest, “Would it help if we went out for breakfast once a week to spend some time in prayer and Scripture together?”

 What About Our Repentance?

The language of repentance won’t seem like such a foreign language if we are actively sharing about our repentance. You might say to your kids:

Kids, recently I’ve needed to repent of … how angry I was getting stuck in traffic … of how much time I have been spending on Facebook … looking at the news … participating in fantasy football … binging on Netflix

 And I have been asking the Lord help me turn from my idols of … entertainment, comfort, worry, etc.

When we incorporate repentance language when describing our life, it can become a normal part of our conversation. Even more, when our kids observe us turning from our familiar sins, they see evidence that we are fellowshipping with God. When they see us delighting in the Lord, then they will see the value of a life of repentance as something good.

I hope you have caught the vision of building your kids faith by using the word repentance accurately. This is how we can rehab its negative reputation, and show that it is the path toward enjoying God and experiencing his blessings.

In the next blog, we will put faith and repentance together with love, to form a triad of crucial terms for living the Christian life and helping our kids be conformed more and more into the image of Christ.

Dan Wilson
About The Author
Dan is excited to lead the STUDENT OUTREACH because of its unique mission to the emerging generation of the Church in today’s cultural climate! Before moving to the national office in Philadelphia, Dan served for nine years with Harvest USA’s Chattanooga regional office. He is also an ordained minister in the PCA and has served as a youth minister, education minister, pastor with para-church ministries, and taught New Testament at Bryan College (TN). Dan, a Tennessee native, has a B.A. in History from the University of Memphis, a M.Div. and a Ph.D. in New Testament and Greek from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary (TN). Dan is married to Heather, his lovely wife, and they have four children. He loves Kingdom theology and is a huge U2 fan.