In June of 2005, the Office of National Drug Control Policy launched a new advertisement aimed to help parents take action against teen drug use. The new ad, titled "Hypocrite", addressed a common concern among parents who used drugs in the past. A press release for the ad stated, "Often, parents who used believe it's hypocritical to tell their children not to smoke marijuana. The ad acknowledges these concerns and urges parents to help their teens stay away from drugs."
This sort of concern is not just limited to those parents who once used drugs. Sometimes, Christian parents find themselves in a situation where they are telling and teaching their teenage children not to engage in some sort of sinful activity in which they themselves once participated. Under such circumstances, a parent may soften what he or she teaches or hesitate to act because of a desire to avoid conflict or to avoid being seen as a hypocrite by his or her child.
But what does the Bible say about teaching our children? Fathers are instructed to "bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). Fathers are not instructed to bring them up in training that is convenient or will not cause conflict. Parents are exhorted to "train up a child in the way he should go" (Prov. 22:6). Parents are not exhorted to train up a child in the way that the parents went. On and on we could go, but I think you get the point: parents are to teach their children the whole counsel of God regardless of their own past mistakes and sins.
So what can Christian parents do when talking to their teenagers about a sinful activity in which they themselves once participated? First and foremost, parents must show their children what the Bible teaches on the matter and do so without apology. In addition to that, it may be helpful for those parents who are concerned about the appearance of hypocrisy to keep the following things in mind:
- Realize that everyone has sinned (Rom. 3:10, 23). Jesus is the only sinless person to have walked this earth (Heb. 4:14,15). Admitting to your children that you have sinned doesn't make you less of a parent. On the contrary, it shows that you are honest and human.
- Realize that teaching your children to learn from the mistakes of others--including yours--is a critical part of your children's education. Doing so will prevent them from having to learn everything the hard way.
- Realize that doing something in the past and speaking against it in the present does not automatically make one a hypocrite. There is a difference between inconsistency and hypocrisy. Inconsistencies between our past and present are to be expected since we should be growing in knowledge and understanding. While it may make us appear inconsistent, making changes for the better is always a good thing. Hypocrisy, on the other hand, generally occurs when a person either says one thing and then turns around and does something else or when a person publicly condemns the very things that he or she practices privately. Such was the condition of the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day (Matt. 23:1-3). They lacked a penitent spirit for their inconsistencies and were, as a result, hypocrites. If we have truly repented of a past sin, it is not hypocritical for us to speak against it in the present. If it were, all Christians who spoke out against sin would automatically be hypocrites, but that is simply not the case.
- Remember the consequences you suffered (and perhaps still suffer) as a result of the past sin you committed. Do you really want to see your child go through that? What if the consequences are greater than you experienced and your child is unable to bear them or break free of them?
- Realize that, whether they admit it or not, your teenagers are relying upon you to teach them the difference between right and wrong and how God wants them to live. If you don't do it, who will?
Parents, we should never compromise our teaching of right and wrong to our children because of our own past mistakes and sins. If anything, the mistakes and sins of our past (and the knowledge of their consequences) should be a strong motivator in the present for us to teach our children what is right and what is wrong with total conviction and faith in God's word.