Offering Our Children Forgiveness Instead of Fear
“I write to you, young children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake.” (I John 2:12)
If there is one scene in a movie that consistently wrecks me, it is this scene that comes at the tail end of Pixar’s Inside Out. The basic breakdown is this: the movie’s main character Riley returns home after a brief attempt to run away after a cross country move. In the days leading up to this moment, Riley had struggled with her family’s move, resented the forced changes, mourned the loss of her old home, and missed her now distant friends. But, in an attempt to respond to the encouragement given by her parents, she had attempted to maintain a generally happy disposition and keep her sadness hidden. When she returns home from her brief attempt to run away, however, all attempts to hide that sadness are finished as she stands before her worried parents on the verge of an emotional breakdown. As she holds back her tears, she attempts to offer her most sincere apology for her inability to meet their expectations.
In response to her apology, the parents do what any loving parent would do in that moment. They hug their daughter, reassure her that they are not disappointed, and welcome her home. In that moment, Riley’s concerns over failing to live up to what she perceived to be her parents’ expectations are replaced with a new understanding of how much her parents love her.
Every mom and dad can relate to the heart of the parents as they embrace their daughter in that scene. We know how deeply we love our child even in the midst of their personal struggles. We know, deep down, that our love for them is never dependent on their ability to live up to our expectations. As parents, we don’t question our deep love for our kids. Still, it is so very easy to unintentionally cover up that love beneath endless layers of hopes, expectations, and concerns we have for our children. How can we ensure that our love is louder than our fears and concerns?
The Apostle John certainly understood those concerns as he wrote 1 John. Although he is not writing to his own children, he does write as a loving spiritual father who is deeply concerned for believers he has cared for since their conversion. John speaks of his concerns over the false teachers who have caused great confusion in the church by rejecting the atoning work of Christ (I John 2:22), proclaiming sinless perfection (I John 1:8), and abandoning the Church and its members (I John 2:7-11). To encourage his readers to avoid the traps of those false teachers, John draws clear distinctions between those false teachers and true converts. Those distinctions include our doctrine (I John 2:1-2) as well as our consistent love for our brothers and sisters in Christ (I John 2:7-11). In the words of John, the difference between those who accept these standards and those who attempt to change them is the difference between dwelling in the light of God’s Kingdom and remaining in the darkness (I John 2:11).
Any one of John’s followers must have been struck by the concern of their beloved leader and the blunt manner in which he drew a clear line between those in the Kingdom and those outside of the Kingdom. And one can only assume that, particularly in the hearts of younger believers, his bluntness must have been initially a cause for doubt in their own security. As they considered John’s writing, then, it is easy to imagine some of those original recipients standing before John just as Riley stands before her parents in Inside Out, knowing they have fallen short and just hopeful that their dad isn’t angry or disappointed.
Knowing this potential response to his writing, John seeks to reaffirm his confidence and love for those believers not simply with a hug but with these precious words of promise:
“I write to you, young children, because your sins have been forgiven.”
Imagine the moment those believers first read these words! The Apostle John, who stood at the side of Jesus Christ, who has given up everything for Christ, who must have looked like a giant in the faith, who is well aware of your shortcomings and the cunning work of the enemy, writes to you and says, “I know your sins are forgiven, too.” In other words, John is not disappointed nor is he concerned you’re going to fail him. And the reason for that confidence is because he knows Christ has already forgiven you.
John is clearly worried about the safety and ongoing sanctification of his readers. Like any loving father, he could have written pages and pages consisting of nothing more than his concerns and fears. This reality is made clear as he does not dwell long on that promised faithfulness of God before he returns to his concerns for the church just three verses later in I John 2:15.
Yet even after he returns to speaking to those concerns, John never leaves too great a distance between his concerns and his confidence in this promised forgiveness from God. Read through his letter and you, too, can hear John’s repeated confidence in the spiritual status of his audience, whose sins are forgiven, who are declared children of God (I John 3:1-2), who John knows will continue to be purified by the work of God (I John 3:3), and who are beloved of God (I John 4:10-11).
What an example John’s letter is to us as parents! All of us know all too well the concerns for our kids that can consume every waking thought. We know the dangers of this world, the pain of broken relationships, and the destructive nature of all sin. In response we are wise to lay out rules for our children and we must stick to those consequences we have determined.
Still, though, let us never allow too great a distance to grow between our words of worry and our words of forgiveness that communicate confidence not just in our kids but in the one who preserves them. For our children who have already professed faith in Christ, our confident forgiveness and embrace is a powerful reminder of the greater forgiveness that is already theirs in Christ. For our children who have not yet professed faith, our confident forgiveness and embrace offers the slightest taste of what can be theirs in Christ and, as such, is a powerful tool in our evangelism.
As a parent, as a pastor, and as a child of God, I can think of no greater promise and no greater word of confidence than this:
I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven.
May we as parents be strengthened by that word of confidence in our own hearts; may we be all the more eager to communicate that confidence to our kids daily.