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How can I better communicate with my legalistic parents?

I know I'm called to honor my parents. I know God has given me different convictions than theirs. How do I honor God and them through this?


Both my parents and I are confident that we know the truth. But the problem is that we have both developed different conclusions.

I am 22 and was raised in an incredibly strict environment and raised to love God more than anything. Everything my parents did involved their love for us kids. They never wavered in their love. But they never wavered in the fact that they were right. There was never a doubt in their mind that they had interpreted Scripture right, and I/we could never question their doctrine or convictions.

I am now working at a Christian camp serving the Lord in this mission field. My parents are very nosy, because they really do care about me. About two months ago my dad asked me straightforward about alcohol. I avoided the answer as best I could because I knew judgment and condemnation were coming. I was afraid! So I avoided talking to my dad completely for two months. I didn’t want to dive into that topic!

Then about two weeks ago my aunt passed away, and it made me think through my life and regrets that I might have. So I decided that no matter the cost I was going to be honest with my dad and just spill the beans about my belief about alcohol. I wanted him to know that I felt like it was biblically OK to drink alcohol in certain environments and with purposeful motives, and lots of other restrictions.

Long story short, they think that I am going to hell and that they have to tell me the truth no matter what the cost is. They don’t want to see their daughter go to hell over this alcohol thing, so they must take charge of my sanctification process.

In the meantime, I have to wonder about how I am supposed to respond to this situation. I understand that I am called to honor my parents, I understand that they love me, I understand that God has given me different convictions than theirs, I understand that I must love no matter what. But they are telling all of my younger siblings that I am “lost” and addicted to sin and on the wrong path. I don’t know if I can go home and face them again. But I desperately want a relationship with them.

How do I honor God and them through this? How do I pursue a relationship with them?


I don’t believe this is really about drinking alcohol. I’m going to go out on a limb here and take a guess that your parents’ theology is not so much that drinking alcohol sends one to hell, but that acts of sin send one to hell, and that in your case, that sin happens to be drinking alcohol. In other words, the believer is only as good with God as his last act of sin and repentance.

If I’m right, then the heart of the issue is not alcohol, but the theology of holiness, sin, repentance, forgiveness and the eternal security (or lack thereof) of the believer. Those are waters too deep for us to wade into here, but know that there is often more than meets the eye when these kinds of issues arise.

But we’re not going to try to get them to agree with you or change their theology, nor are we going to try to get you to agree with them. Those beliefs are what they are, and only the Holy Spirit can bring us into His convictions about sin as we mature in Christ. There are times to battle on that hill, but I don’t think this is one of them. Right now we want to make peace.

Based on your description of your parents’ strong conviction, you will not change their minds by bringing a better argument or better logic.

First, if you are not regularly taking this before God in prayer, you shouldn’t expect anything to change. In fact, it will likely worsen. That’s just how much I believe in the power of prayer (really, the power of God) to bring miraculous change in the midst of situations that seemed there was no solution. (I realize that so much of my advice in my columns starts with prayer, but I’ve come to a place where I no longer assume that people are doing that, I mean really doing that, with their problems.)

Next, there comes a time, and you’re there, when we each must “work out” our own salvation. Your parents had to do it. Their parents had to do it. We all have to do it. Just like when the time comes to leave the house we grew up in and launch out on our own, so comes the time when we ease out of our reliance upon others’ faith and must know God and His heart for ourselves.

That is not always easy; it may even be costly in terms of our relationships. To follow a conviction we have from God that goes against the grain of even those we love the most can be painful. That’s when we need to count the cost of our convictions and decide whether we’re willing to pay the price for them.

You are 22 years old and out of the house and making it on your own. If as best as you can discern, Scripture and God are saying one thing and your parents are saying another, then you must make that hard choice of whom will you serve.

Also, I’m only one voice. Seek the advice of older Christians whom you respect and trust, and see what they have to say about this. Many have gone down this road before you and will likely have good wisdom to offer.

Finally, you walk this road in the way of grace and love. You can be right about everything, but if you don’t love, you’ve lost. Ask God to show you how to love and serve your parents extravagantly, in the midst of your disagreement, in a way that brings Him great glory. Over time, your life and the fruit of God’s Spirit in your life will make its own statement.

You can do little more than pray earnestly, follow God, seek wisdom, love and serve extravagantly. When these become your habits during disagreements, you can trust God to bring His solution. And that’s the one we all want.



Copyright 2009 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

John Thomas

John Thomas has been a Boundless contributor since its beginning in 1998. He and his wife, Alfie, have three children and live in Arkansas, where he serves as executive director of Ozark Camp and Conference Center, a youth camp and retreat center.


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