Courage is a buzzword in our culture, and there are a lot of messages out there telling our kids what it means to be brave: To take risks and follow their dreams; to bravely pursue self-actualization; to have the courage to be themselves, to accept themselves, to love themselves, and to live from a place of worthiness.
But the problem with this definition of courage is that it flows out of a lie. If I tell myself or my children that we’re enough, I’m lying to myself—and to them. The humble beginning of faith is accepting the reality that we’re not enough. We’re sinners deserving of God’s holy, just wrath (Eph. 2:1–3). And yet, God in his mercy provides everything we need for life and salvation in Christ.
We don’t need to lie to our kids and tell them they’re enough. We’re not enough, but Christ is. His obedience in our place earned us a perfect record of righteousness. His death on the cross paid the full penalty for our sins. And his grace is sufficient for all our weaknesses, temptations, and struggles.
So how does telling our children they’re not enough give them courage?
Fear the Right Thing
Biblical courage is not the absence of fear. Rather, it’s fearing the right thing: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7).
We’re all bent towards the fear of man. Fear of man drives us to live before others—to measure our words and actions in terms of how they’ll be perceived. Will they elevate our status? Will they help us belong? Will they gain us approval, appreciation, acceptance? It’s the fear of man that drives us towards cowardice. Rather than defending what’s true, laying down our interests for the sake of the outcast, or going against the crowd for the sake of Christ, we give in to peer pressure. We’d rather be liked. We want to belong.
And if we struggle with this as adults, imagine how much more strongly it wages war within our children.
The opposite of the fear of man isn’t no fear at all; it’s the fear of the Lord. We need to teach our children to live before God’s face. They fear the condemnation of their peers, but God is the only one with the power to condemn them (Rom. 8:33–34). But we’re not trying to motivate them with a fear of condemnation. No, we’re instilling courage by pointing them to the reality that Jesus already bore their condemnation (Rom. 8:34; 1 Pet. 2:24). They don’t have to fear their peers, because the Lord has already declared that there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1).
Biblical courage flows from the confidence that we’re God’s beloved children. We live to please him, but not to prove ourselves to him or to others. If we believe—and help our children believe—that God is truly for us, that he declares us righteous because of Christ, that we’re completely free from condemnation, then we can face all of life’s circumstances—any opposition—any accusation—with courage.