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Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3
I will never forget the moment when our ﬁrstborn child, Hudson, gave his life to Jesus. He and Daddy had been pulling weeds together in the backyard, and Eric began talking with him about spiritual things, and about the condition of his soul. Hudson, though only six at the time, was responsive and attentive – which in hindsight can only be attributed to the grace of God, since he had a very short attention span at that time in his life! Eric lovingly and thoroughly explained the Gospel to Hudson. About two hours later, Hudson fully understood his complete and utter need for a Savior, and he asked Jesus Christ to wash him clean and overtake his life.
As a parent, there is nothing greater than seeing your children come into the Kingdom of God. It’s easy to get sidetracked with tending to our kids’ health, social development, education, and athletics. All these things are certainly valuable, but if we never tend to their souls, we will overlook the most important need in their lives. God has given our children a child-like faith and readiness to understand and receive the Gospel, unlike any other time in their lives. It’s up to us as parents to sow the seeds of truth into this fertile ground, while we have the chance.
Many Christian parents today focus on instilling godly character in their children, but fail to undergird them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I wholeheartedly believe that character training is of great importance in a child’s life, as I’ve shared in previous articles. But if we never introduce our children to the Person of Jesus Christ and help them cultivate a personal, intimate, daily relationship with Him, then all our character training will be meaningless in the long run.
Studies show that a disturbingly large number of young people who have grown up in Christian homes have left the faith by the time they graduate from college. Many of these young people had godly parents who spent hours training them in godly behaviors. They attended Sunday school and church. They went to youth group and had Christian friends.
And yet, they never made a covenant exchange with the King of all kings. All the character training, Bible knowledge, and church activities in the world can never replace a genuine, personal relationship with Jesus Christ and an unshakable foundation in the Gospel-life.
We have the amazing opportunity and privilege of leading our little ones into a relationship with Christ, which should be the foundation of every godly behavior pattern in their lives. In the early years, our children must be taught to comply with correct behavior simply because of the requirements and expectations of their parents and other authorities. But our ultimate goal should be for our children to turn their lives wholeheartedly over to Jesus Christ and embrace godly behavior patterns not merely out of duty or fear of punishment, but out of a heart-felt desire to love, honor, and please their King.
This process takes time, especially when our children are young. But if we learn to build our family life around the Gospel, we will give our kids a foundation of Truth that will last eternally.
A lot of Christian parents seem to think that others are more qualiﬁed than they are to share the Truth of Jesus Christ with their kids. It’s tempting to believe that if our kids attend Sunday school and Bible clubs, they’ll be introduced to the Gospel, which can then be reinforced at home. But this is backwards reasoning.
God has entrusted us with the amazing privilege of leading our little ones to Christ. Following Jesus is the most crucial decision our child will ever make; the decision that will determine his or her eternal fate. Who better to facilitate this all-important decision than we as parents – the ones who have been anointed and appointed by God for this sacred task?
This certainly doesn’t mean that Sunday school and Bible clubs are to be avoided. Outside Christian inﬂuences can be a wonderful tool to help shape your child’s spiritual growth and development. But parents should take the lead in giving their children a strong foundation in the Gospel, and outside Christian inﬂuences should merely be tools to reinforce the Truth they are receiving at home. Remember, no matter how unqualiﬁed you may feel, God has given you a special anointing for this task. If you ask Him to equip you and lead you, He will provide all of the wisdom, creativity, and words you need to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with your children.
I would like to share some practical principles that have greatly helped my husband and I in sharing these life-changing truths with our kids.
Our children have all been quite young – between the ages of four and six–when we ﬁrst began speaking to them about the Gospel. When dealing with this age group, it’s tempting to focus only on the happy aspects of the Gospel, and downplay the notion of sin, death, and hell. After all, we don’t want to upset our kids with overly serious matters that their little minds are not ready for! But if children never recognize the seriousness of sin and the horrible destiny that awaits those who do not know Jesus Christ, their hearts will not be truly prepared to understand the “good news.” So it’s important not to sugar-coat the Truth. They need to be disturbed over their sin. They need to recognize their helplessness to be clean and justiﬁed before God. And they need to understand the terrible misery of hell. Before they can grasp the good news, they must fully comprehend the bad news.
A few months ago, we had a Sunday morning “church service” in our living room, with only our family present. My husband and I spent about two hours walking through the Gospel with our three youngest children.We started out with the story of Adam and Eve, and the saddest day in history when sin entered the world. We talked about the perfect righteousness and holiness of God, and how no one can come into His presence unless they are perfect too. We talked about sin, and what sin does in our lives.
We talked about the “place of pain” - an eternity of sadness and separation from God, for everyone who has ever sinned even once in their life. Along the way, the children interrupted to ask questions or repeat things back to us, and we found ourselves having to clarify and re-explain things a few times, but overall, they seemed to grasp the seriousness of the “bad news.”
They began to spontaneously confess different sins they had committed – disobedience, lying, and even stealing (our youngest son solemnly admitted to taking a matchbox car from the church toy bin when he was three.) As they recognized how sinful they were, they began to realize that they could simply never get to Heaven on their own. They were quiet and sober as this fact became clear. Then, we were able to introduce them to the amazing, wonderful, incredible, jubilant reality of the Gospel. How Jesus Christ, who knew no sin, became a sacriﬁce for us to make a way to the Father. How He took our place on the Cross and bore the punishment that should have been ours. What glorious news! The kids were excited to recognize how much Jesus loved them, and how much He had sacriﬁced for them. Then we explained to them what it means to be “in Christ.” We told them what it means to be washed clean by His blood, to turn our lives over to His rulership, and to be clothed in His righteousness. They were happy and excited as they realized what an amazing gift and opportunity Jesus was offering to each of One by one, they took turns praying, confessing their sin, and expressing their desire for Jesus Christ to forgive them, wash them clean, and take over their lives.
At the end of the prayer, something was different. They felt a newfound life and freedom, and a security in knowing that they now belonged to Jesus. And ever since that day, they boldly declare that they are “in Christ” and that they will be with Him in Heaven someday.
Sharing the Gospel with children is a lot more than getting them to say a “sinner’s prayer.” At very young ages, they may not be able to fully grasp all the depths of the saving power of Christ. But they are capable of comprehending more than we typically give them credit for. It is vital that we don’t short-change them on the truths that will help them really understand the sacred covenant exchange they are making when their give their lives to Jesus. It took a little over two hours for us to truly walk through the Gospel with our children. This is because we took the time to walk through the seriousness of sin and the reality of hell, the amazing redemptive gift of salvation, and what it means to truly be “in Christ.”
If you feel a little rusty in your own life in grasping the full reality of the Gospel, I encourage you to listen to the messages “In Christ,” and “The Carpet-Bag Gospel” available for download at www.ellerslie.com. Meditating on the powerful work of the Cross is a wonderful way to prepare your heart and mind to share this vital Truth with your children!
After walking our children through the Gospel, and joyfully watching them give their lives to Jesus, one of the most important principles we have had to continually remind them of is the concept of the “old man” and the “new man” (See Romans 6:8-13). As they are newly planted in Christ, our children need to learn the principle of reckoning themselves dead unto sin and alive unto righteousness. When we see a sinful behavior pattern surfacing in their lives, we will often ask them where “old Kipling” or “old Harper” is. And they will remember that their “old man” is dead and buried, and that they are now “new Kipling” or “new Harper” who is in Christ Jesus. In their new position “in Christ,” they have the power to reckon themselves dead unto sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. It may sound like a complicated truth for preschoolers to grasp. But we have found that they truly do “get it.” They are very aware of the difference between their “old” and “new” man. The old man has no ability to overcome sin. But now that they are “new creations in Christ,” old things have passed away. Through Christ, they have been given the power to choose righteousness over sin. When we remind them of these truths often, we see an incredible difference in the way they live their lives.
This certainly doesn’t mean we have perfect, sinless children. (Ha! Wouldn’t that be nice?!) But they are beginning to grasp the secret to living a godly life, and they are starting to understand the fact that sin no longer needs to control them. For instance, when my youngest son begins to whine and resist obeying, I appeal to his understanding of the Gospel. “Remember that you are ‘new Kipling,’” I will remind him. “You can ask Jesus for the grace to say ‘no’ to sin right now. You are in Christ, Kipling. Disobedience no longer needs to control you. If sin can’t get to Jesus, it doesn’t need to get to you!” Often, these words will motivate him to stop the downward spiral he’s on and ask for the grace to behave like “new Kipling” who is “in Christ Jesus.” Frequently there is a marked difference in his attitude after taking the time to remind him of these truths. It’s truly a marvelous thing to watch God at work in his little soul. When you are working with your kid’s behavior issues, don’t stop short and rely only on discipline and character training principles. Incorporate the message of the Gospel, and frequently remind them of the covenant they have made with Jesus Christ. As they grow and develop, the victory and power of the Gospel will become an unshakable foundation in their lives.
Our children won’t effectively learn the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study, and seeking God unless we model it for them, and provide opportunities for them to practice these things. Our older son has a quiet time each morning, in which he listens to the Word of Promise audio Bible through his headphones, while following along reading the same passage in his Bible. Both seeing and hearing Scripture at the same time helps him grasp it at a much deeper level. At breakfast, we like to spend a few minutes letting him share what he’s learning from the Word of God.
With our younger kids, we are working on the basics of prayer. We model prayer for them, and then invite them to pray. Sometimes they just go through the motions. But other times, there is a genuine and heartfelt “casting their burdens” on the One who cares for them, and a precious demonstration of child-like faith in Him.
We try to start each day with prayer and discussions about spiritual truths, and end each day with worship and prayer. Whenever fears, behavioral issues, or conﬂicts arise, our goal is to point our kids back to their personal relationship with Jesus Christ and teach them to immediately turn to Him for anything and everything they need. Are they afraid? Let’s pray and ask Jesus to give you His peace and remind you that He is always with you. Are they angry? Let’s ask Jesus to change your heart right now so you can forgive your sister the way He forgave you. Did they do something sinful and disobedient? Let’s think about how that makes Jesus feel. What should you to do to make things right in your relationship with Him?
About a year ago, our youngest son was having trouble falling asleep at night because he was scared of bad dreams and of being alone in his room. Leaving the hall light on with the door cracked open only provided a small amount of comfort. I reminded him that Jesus was always with him, watching over him, and if something scary couldn’t hurt Jesus, then it couldn’t hurt him. Kipling seemed comforted by this revelation, but he wanted some additional reinforcement. “Can you get me a picture of Jesus watching over me, so I can hang it up in my room?” he wanted to know. Since it was about nine p.m. and Eric was out of town, it was completely impossible for me to go out shopping for a Jesus picture. I told him to wait for a few minutes while I tried to ﬁnd some kind of image online that I could print out. After a little bit of searching, I found the perfect picture - a beautiful image of Jesus comforting a small boy, who just happened to look almost exactly like Kipling! I quickly printed it out and took it to his room. As soon as he saw it, a huge smile creased his face and he declared, “Yep, Jesus is watching over me all right!” Then he asked me to tape it on the window next to his bed. As soon as I did, he fell peacefully asleep. Children are usually very eager and ready to build a personal relationship with Christ. They respond to spiritual truths with a simple, uncomplicated faith. All we must do is take the opportunities that are in front of us each and every day, and continually point their hearts back to the One who loves them more than we ever will.
If sharing the Gospel with your children and discipling them in the Christian life feels overwhelming, take some time to ask Jesus for speciﬁc guidance and grace. He will be faithful to show you exactly what to say, and when to say it. Remember, He cares more about your children’s souls even more than you do! And while you have been given the amazing privilege of leading your children to Christ, it is He Himself who must accomplish that amazing miracle within their soul. You are simply a vessel in His faithful hands.
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