5 Elements of Helping Your Son Become a Child of God

Mike Fabarez
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To become a child of God not by “the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13) is something that will always involve a few fundamental elements. Encounters with these elements is what we should pray for and seek to continually clarify as our sons grow and mature in their understanding of biblical truth.

1. A Well-Rounded View of God

Don’t get me wrong, but in one sense it is unfortunate that the first verse our boys traditionally learn is John 3:16 (i.e., “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son . . .”). Yes, that is a fantastic and essential summary of God’s saving work motivated by His love. But it assumes a lot of foundational truths that many don’t learn until much later. In a sense, teaching our boys first about God’s love is out of biblical sequence. It’s like having someone in high school tell you that “Jennifer loves you!” If I know little or next to nothing about Jennifer, or worse yet, if I imagine Jennifer to be someone she is not, learning that Jennifer loves me will end up being meaningless.

The Bible doesn’t begin with God’s love; it begins with God’s position over us as the sovereign Creator. “In the beginning, God created . . .” (Gen. 1:1). That is where a person’s understanding needs to start, and our boys need to learn this right out of the gate. God is the ultimate authority over all things in creation by virtue of His position as our Creator. I often liked to explain this to my boys by reminding them of how they felt about the things they created. They felt a certain sovereignty—an authority or rule—over those things, whether it was a tower they built with Lego blocks or some hard-to-decipher sculpture they made with modeling clay. When they went about displaying (or destroying) it, I would point out to them that they felt a sense of “lordship” over those creations because they made them. From the earliest days, we parents need to underscore God’s absolute sovereign authority over the things and people He has made. He is the Potter and we are the clay (Isa. 64:8).

The Bible doesn’t begin with God’s love; it begins with God’s position over us as the sovereign Creator.

A parent also can make clear that this divine Potter is a perfect, holy, and righteous Potter. Though His very complex pots have re-belled and messed up His creation, He remains holy and righteous. He does no wrong and has a perfect standard for us, which He calls us to keep. The problem, as we all know, is that we don’t keep that standard. But the standard is good. As the apostle Paul said, “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). From the very beginning, we always want to affirm this with our boys, even when we fall so short of it. The standard remains: “as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15).

A third foundational truth about the character of God we must consistently impress upon our boys is that our holy God is also a just God. After affirming God’s holy standard, Peter adds: “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (v. 17). This “old-fashioned” and forgotten virtue of the fear of God may be one of the main reasons so many kids grow up in Christian homes devoid of it, and therefore never embrace the grace of the gospel. When we understand the position, perfection, and justice of God, we are truly prepared to understand the gracious and merciful love of God.

This is why a well-rounded view of God cannot be produced on the singular attribute of God’s love. Throughout our boys’ develop-mental years, we as parents must train them in understanding that God is the “Boss of us” because He is our Creator. He is a perfect Boss with perfectly righteous rules, He is a just God who punishes sin and rebellion, and thankfully He is also a loving God who has extended grace to contrite sinners and rebels.

2. Conviction of Sin and the Need for Grace

Those facts can be understood as objective truths, but real conversion requires that they are internalized, and that the Holy Spirit produces the conviction that all truly converted sinners have experienced. This may be one of the most difficult realities for modern parents to recognize. Today’s moms and dads want to shelter their boys from every negative emotion, and what is more negative than the true feeling of guilt? Yet the apostle Paul is clear:

For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor. 7:8–10)

Without the tears of truly owning one’s sinful rebellion, there is no hope of genuine salvation. As parents we must be much more willing to pray that our boys will get caught in their sins, if not by us or some other human, by God Himself. We must pray that their sense of exposure and guilt they feel before a holy Father will result in indignation about their sin, and will lead them to echo the words of that familiar hymn:

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see. ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed! [1]

3. The Provision of Christ

In Scripture, the gospel presents God as maintaining His justice in dispensing grace toward sinners because of the substitutionary work of Christ. This, our boys should learn early, is the reason we give such central worship and adoration to Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus is presented to us as fully God, but because He is also fully man, He has selflessly taken the Christian’s place before God’s just tribunal and incurred the penalty for sin that we deserve. God was willing to treat Jesus, His perfect Son, as though He were the sinners that we are.

Without the tears of truly owning one’s sinful rebellion, there is no hope of genuine salvation.

As our sons—yours and mine—grow up with a repeated reinforcement of what that transaction provided, we should pray that a day will come when, because of the conviction of God’s Spirit over their sin, they cling to the cross by faith—hearing the words “paid in full” on their behalf. When that life-changing conviction comes, we want to be sure they know where to turn in their hearts. We want them to have a well-informed theology that takes them immediately by faith to that place where atonement has been made for their transgressions.

Speak often of the cross, and not always in those familiar poetic phrases that frequently obscure the legal aspects of the transaction. When your son’s heart is contrite, he may need more than a lyrical understanding of what happened on that Roman execution rack. His conscience will likely need a more concrete sense of God’s justice being perfectly satisfied because someone has suffered the consequences of his rebellion for him. Yes, speak often of the cross, and talk about it in varied and assorted terms throughout your son’s childhood.

4. Genuine Repentance

The Bible tells us the repentance that accompanies salvation is much more than being sorry for one’s wrongdoing. It is more than being sad about the consequences of one’s mistakes. It is more than the embarrassment of being caught in a misdeed. Genuine repentance in both the Old and New Testaments depicts a turning from sin to God (Isa. 55:6–7; Ezek. 18:30–31; Acts 3:19; 26:20). It is an indignation about what sin is (2 Cor. 7:11) and the grief and damage it brings to God. It is a sincere and wholehearted abandonment of continuing in those same things. It is an about-face from a life lived for self to a life that is lived for the One who died for us (2 Cor. 5:15).

Repentance doesn’t mean that Christians don’t sin anymore (1 John 1:8), but it does mean that the pattern and trajectory of sinful behavior is seriously changed:

And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. (1 John 3:3-7)

As someone once said, the repentance that is granted by God’s Spirit when we are genuinely converted does not make us sinless, but it does make us sin less. It doesn’t mean a truly saved teenager doesn’t commit sin, but it does mean he doesn’t practice it like his non- Christian counterparts. Recognizing true repentance in a person’s spiritual life shouldn’t be much harder than recognizing it in his biological life. If someone told you he had “repented” of eating unhealthy foods and was on a new path, no longer eating junk food and fattening desserts, it wouldn’t be hard to assess whether his “repentance” was real. Time would tell. His practice would be determinative. If it were only “turning over a new leaf” for a week or two, you’d conclude it wasn’t real “repentance.” If he, like all frail dieters, had momentary lapses, you’d understand. You’d also see a different kind of “post-repentance” response to that kind of dietary stumbling. There would be a kind of disdain and indignation about his dietary failures, which he never had prior to his “repentance.”

So a healthy caution about just any proclamation of your son’s spiritual repentance is in order. Not that we don’t want to celebrate heartfelt moves toward Christ, but we also don’t want to heap on our boys a false assurance about their salvation if their repentance has a human rather than divine origin.

5. Abiding Faith

Like repentance that lasts and has a lasting effect throughout the remainder of your son’s life, an accompanying saving faith in Christ is also the kind that endures. Real saving faith is a kind of trust that continues to trust in Christ as the only solution to our sin problem. It is not Christ plus anything else. It is an abiding faith in what God transacted at the cross by having His Son absorb our acts of sin and rebellion; it is the all-sufficient payment and qualifies us to be a part of God’s family.

Your son’s faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ should transfer his trust from anything he can do to make up for his sinful behavior. It is the assurance that Jesus has adequately lived the perfect life in his place and has died a sufficiently painful death for all that his sins deserve. That is a profound kind of faith. It is far more than affirming some facts about God or merely believing the truthfulness of what the Bible teaches. Such abiding faith in Christ can be sustained—even through their college years.

Every Christian parent of a son wants that boy to come to a place of genuine repentance and faith.

Yet we know many young adults walk away from their faith once they leave home, whether from college experiences or challenges to their faith by acquaintances or coworkers. (See sidebar.) Here is some practical help in this regard. Give your son firsthand experiences and connections with other mature and thoughtful Christians beyond “Mom and Dad”—especially Christian men! Throughout his childhood, open your son’s exposure to intelligent, accomplished, and fruitful Christian men. Bring them over for dinner. Take them out to lunch. Allow your son to ask these men questions. Let your son witness rational and thought-provoking discussions between you and these men. Your son will undoubtedly benefit from interacting with strong examples of Christian faithfulness.

Every Christian parent of a son wants that boy to come to a place of genuine repentance and faith. Keep praying for him, teaching him the Scriptures, discussing your Christian worldview, modeling the truth, and clarifying the gospel. Both my wife and I prayed persistently that our boys would come to saving faith in Christ. And by God’s grace, both of our boys have professed a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ and are currently showing what appears to be evidence of genuine repentance and an abiding faith. We praise God for this, and I pray that you will be able to say the same of your boys.

[1]  John Newton, “Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound,” Worship and Service Hymnal (Chicago: Hope Publishing, 1957), 227.

For Further Reading:

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