Teaching the Bible to Children (Part 1): Teaching a Gospel of Grace or Morality?

September 6, 2016

At home, I have a three year old (that turns 4 this weekend!) and a one year old that mean the world to me.  It is such a joy to watch them grow and see them experience something for the first time.  As a parent, I have a responsibility to teach them about God (i.e., Deut. 6:1-8; Proverbs 22).  This is a mighty calling that we should not take lightly.

Intentional discipleship exists to ensure that Gospel truths are properly understood and effectively passed from one person/generation to the next.  Every truth learned helps avoid making preventable mistakes.  We already have a big enough task ahead of us through the Great Commission calling us “to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Because of this charge, we must invest in our children while we can, and be good stewards of the season we are given to teach them the Bible.  As we do this, we continue to play our part in helping to reach the nations as we train up the next generation to continue in the charge, to one day hopefully complete the task!  We teach the next generation with the hope that their generation will be the one to help reach the nations with the Gospel message.

Focusing on teaching the Bible to children, it becomes clear the Bible was written by adults for adults.  Parents and teachers must then invest themselves in (1) understanding the Bible in its proper context (what is the big picture?), and (2) identifying ways to simplify the message in a way that engages children at their current developmental state.  This article explores understanding the Gospel message in its proper context for children, and the next article will focus on simplifying the message and engaging children at their developmental state.

Teach Them God is the Main Character

One temptation when teaching children is to make the Bible a book of moral rules, creating a list of dos and don’ts.  We must be careful what we allow to become the central core of our teaching.  Are we teaching our children that Christianity is all about them and how they act, or are we teaching them that the central core of our teaching is God’s and His love for His creation?

In Creative Bible Teaching, Gary Bredfeldt and Lawrence Richards note, “Our teaching to children must be true to God’s revelation.  Surely the Bible contains objective truth, objective dos and don’ts.  But the Bible is given primarily that we might meet and come to know God Himself.  Only when behavior is presented as a response to God, whom we have met and come to love, is Bible teaching true to His revelation.  The weak moralizing of many lessons simply is not Bible teaching!” (p. 272).

Teach Them To Respond to His Love

Bredfeldt and Richards so perfectly remind us that focusing on a merit-centered works righteousness will replace the biblical core of grace and the foundation that “the biblical concept that human response is an expression of love to a God whose grace enables it is clouded and lost” (Creative Bible Teaching, p. 271).

The Bible does give insight to a moral standard and expectation, but while laying the foundation of a child’s Biblical understanding, there is a potential danger to establish a works based expectation to salvation that will be difficult for the child to unlearn later in life.  We teach our children to “love one another,” but why?  Not because God will be mad at us if we do not love one another, but because we are called to love one another since God first loved us, and the others that we are called to love have been made in His image!

Teach Them To Long For God’s Love

The difference between merit-centered righteousness in morality and the biblical core of grace becomes noticeable through the act of repentance.  Acknowledging that repentance includes remorse for inward corruption and sin, John Piper defines repentance as “a change of mind and heart about sin and righteousness and about Christ” (Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, p. 138).  The focus becomes not on doing good to avoid punishment, but rather on responding to God’s goodness and love and mercy and grace through living a life that is pleasing to Him.

How do we teach children the importance of distinguishing between living a life of morality to avoid punishment and a life of response to God’s love?  We show them His love and make them long for it.

To do this, Piper suggests, “God and His way of holiness must first become your joy before you can weep over not having them.  You must fall in love before estrangement truly hurts.  We must taste the pleasure of knowing God before we will experience the God-honoring pain of remorse for sin” (p. 142).

Show God’s love in every way you relate to children.  Help them to learn who God is, teach them their value in having been made in His image, teach them about God’s love for all creation, teach them about the loving act of Jesus on the cross, let them long for His return and the promised eternity that awaits His people.

Tell them the Gospel, live the Gospel, show them the Gospel, create in them a season of life that they can reflect on knowing they felt the presence of God through the body of Christ.  Be faithful in passing the Gospel message to the next generation so that they experience the awesome nature of God’s truths.

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