My favorite part of the day is getting off work. Maybe I should be more specific.
It’s not the being done with work so much but the going home. Every day when I get home, my two boys greet me with a great shout, “Dad’s home!” And they run to give me the biggest hug their strength will allow. They are truly my greatest fan club, and I love it.
However, one day as my boys were running to smother me at the door, my oldest boy, who is nine, went from racing his younger brother to me to a slow walk as he hung his head in shame, greeting me with a shy side hug rather than his usual bear-like grip. He remembered mid-run what his mom had said to him earlier that day. She had explained that when I got home, I would deal with the attitude he had had with her.
When our boys were young we decided we would homeschool them. This has had its ups and downs, but on this particular day, it was rough. My oldest son decided he didn’t want to do school. He had a terrible attitude and was fighting his mom on everything all day. The last straw, however, was when she asked him to do something. He looked at her, said “No,” and then turned away. This kind of behavior is unacceptable, and he knew better. So now that I was home, it was time to pay the piper. It’s funny how that works.
As a kid, Dad coming home can be the highlight of your day or the worst part of your day. He put his arm around me and gave me a weak “Hi, Dad.” I took him by the hand and said, “Let’s go talk.” I took him into the bedroom and asked him what had happened. Of course, I already knew what had happened because I got the phone call earlier that day. You know the kind of call where your wife says, “While you’ve been having fun at work, I have been here trying not to murder your children.” She didn’t say it like that, but she probably would have been justified in saying it.
He struggled to get the words out. “I don’t know, Dad. I guess I just didn’t have a good attitude today, and I wasn’t being respectful.”
“Yeah, but why did you do that?” I said, sitting next to him on the bed. He looked away from me, not sure how to answer.
“I guess because I wasn’t being nice.”
I pressed him further, “But why.”
He looked at me, confused, struggling to know the answer.
“Son, you did what you did not because you didn’t try hard enough to be good but because there’s sin in your heart.” As soon as I said that, I could see the light go on in his head.
“That’s it, Dad. I think there’s sin in my heart.”
“What do you think we should do about that?” I asked, surprised that he seemed to be picking up on the point I was trying to make.
“I need to pray and ask God to help me.”
“Let’s do it,” I said.
We got on our knees together, and he began to pray. I loved his prayer. It was humble, honest, and raw. No fancy words, just his heart on display before God. He prayed that God would forgive him and help him to have a better attitude, that he would be obedient to his parents and that God would give him a new heart.
He said amen, stood up tall, and said, “Ok, Dad, let’s get this over with.” At that moment, I couldn’t have been more proud of him. He didn’t protest and didn’t cry (though there had been tears the whole time). He stood up straight and braced himself for the punishment he deserved. I was proud of him because I didn’t see a little boy at that moment. I saw a man. He was taking responsibility for his actions and wasn’t running from the consequences.
“That’s how a man acts,” I thought to myself. I put my arm around his shoulder and said, “I think you’re good.” He looked at me more confused than ever. “I thought I was going to get spanked?”
“You deserve a spanking, son, but I can’t spank you every time you make a mistake. That’s not the point. The point is for you to realize that it’s not about your behavior it’s about your heart.”
“So I’m not getting a spanking?” he said half confused half overflowing with joy. “Nope, you’re getting grace,” I said with a smile.
Ephesians 2:7–10 (ESV) says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
We tend to think that if we sin, we owe God and have to pay him back for what we did, but if we do good deeds, he owes us. The truth is that we deserve eternal death for our sins, and no amount of good deeds can ever change that. We owe a debt that we could never repay. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death. That’s what we have earned, yet Christ took the father’s wrath so that we could know grace. It has been given freely, and it can never be bought.
That grace is what gives us the ability to live like a Christian. He gives us a new heart. It’s not about trying to be a better person so we can somehow impress a holy God, but looking to God to give us his nature, his heart.
When the father comes, will we know his grace — or his wrath? His wrath is what we should get, but his grace is available for those who bow their knee to him, confess their sins, and allow him to create a new heart in them.
Trevor Rickard is an Associate Pastor at New Life Christian Fellowship.