Identifying the Rebel


In my last blog I discussed the danger of going our own way, and how we need to recognize the propensity for evil that is in all of us. Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. used to say, “Any sin any sinner ever committed, every sinner under proper provocation could commit.” But today I want to talk about your kids. As a dad, you need to recognize not only your own proneness to sin but that of your children. No matter how compliant the child, or how wonderful they seem to be, they possess this same sinful bent to go their own way.

You can help your children grow spiritually by understanding their own personal bent and by teaching them to recognize it in themselves.

Most parents understand that every child is different and do not have the same desires. James tells us that we are led into sin by our “own lusts.” (James 1:14) Because desires are unique to each person, the way their sinful nature manifests itself will also be different. You can help your children grow spiritually by understanding their own personal bent and by teaching them to recognize it in themselves. There are three common ways the rebel in your child will present itself.*

1. The Confrontational Rebel

This is the child prone to defiance. He or she may lie, steal, or cheat to get his or her own way. It’s the same attitude of the prodigal in Luke 15 who, driven by his selfishness, wanted what was coming to him and left home to do his own thing. The confrontational rebel will often engage in self-destructive behavior such as taking illicit drugs or abusing alcohol. They have little respect for parental authority.

In addition to God’s gracious discipline, this child needs a father who loves unconditionally and who lives a consistent Christian life. He must not compromise but maintain biblical standards for the home. Inconsistency and compromise will only further tear down this rebel’s respect for parental authority.

2. The Compliant Rebel

This rebel will comply with authority because it gets him what he wants: recognition, status, or more freedom. At times this rebel may reluctantly obey but will eventually comply because he's calculated the payoff and believe it will best serve his own selfish desires. This rebel loves the attention that comes from being good and the reputation of being known as a good kid. These young Pharisees love the praise of men more than the praise of God.

C.S. Lewis reminds us that, “if you are a nice person—if virtue comes easily for you—beware! If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above a chimpanzee."

Spotting this rebel requires spiritual discernment and a commitment to carefully communicate the dangers of our going their own way. Teach them that Christianity is a religion of the heart transformed by grace. This rebel needs a dad who is willing to invest the time to really get to know their heart.

3. The Careless Rebel

If you have a child that “forgets” to obey, or professes he or she “didn’t know” to obey, or perhaps delays to obey, you have a careless rebel in your home. This is the kid who lives by excuses. They love to play the victim card, are lazy, and often keep themselves isolated. They are adept at rationalizing their disobedience.

King Saul exemplified this kind of rebel when he tried to pass the blame for his disobedience on the people (see 1 Samuel 15). Like Saul, the careless rebel is all about himself. The prophet Samuel paid no heed to his excuses and held him accountable, which is exactly what the parent of such a child should do.

I’m not saying every child will manifest rebellion--only that the potential is there. Your child may already recognize the evil in his or her heart. Hopefully they daily rely on the Holy Spirit in seeking to do God’s will and not their own. If you are blessed with such a child, be grateful and avoid taking any credit for it because that in itself is the way of the flesh.

*Much of this material comes from class notes I took under Dr. Jim Berg, who is Dean of Biblical Studies at Bob Jones University. Jim is a certified biblical counselor with the Association of Biblical Counselors and with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. He holds an addiction specialization with ACBC and is a Commissioned Addiction Biblical Counselor under The Addiction Connection. He is also a council member with the Biblical Counseling Coalition (BCC).

Three common ways the rebel in your child will present itself, what to look for and how to guide them.