By Don Gentry
I often joke that I was saved from a life of horrible sin. Then I say I was saved at the age of three. I still remember the church I went to in Colorado and my Sunday school class. How do I know when I became a follower of Christ, because I had just turned four when we moved from Colorado.
Many adults have challenged me with the question “Do you really think you were saved? Can a child really understand what it means to be a Christian?”
To understand how to be a “Christian” we need our children to understand one simple concept. I do bad things, sometimes on purpose and sometimes on accident, but it is called sin. Because of sin God says I need forgiveness and Jesus is the only way to take care of the bad things/sin I do. As we become adults we do develop a deeper understanding of our sin, but the reality is our children understand their bad behavior better than adults.
We have a very good picture of what Jesus thought of children and their love for him.
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them and he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
As parents we need to help our children better understand sin by simply calling sin—sin. As adults we often try to justify our actions and we teach our children how to do the same. As adults we often complicate the simplicity of the gospel. Jesus is the one that says adults must become more simple, not children become more complicated.
When your child sins (lies, hits, steals, throws a fit, has anger issues, cheats, etc), help them understand that it makes Jesus sad and when we love someone we don’t want to make them sad. Don’t pile on guilt; help them to learn to acknowledge their behavior and how God views it.
I have had the unique experience of ministering to several people in jail and in “juvie,” and all but one of them had a very unique thing in common. None of them did anything wrong, the police were corrupt, and it wasn’t their fault. I wonder when they learned that behavior. The “one” has an amazing story of repentance and reconciliation.
Our children must learn to take responsibility for their behavior. I am not saying we need to witness to our children every time they sin and say, “Johnny that is why you need Jesus.” We need to help them learn that their behavior is their responsibility; as long as they live they are going to struggle with doing bad things.
Our sins change as we get older, but no matter what the sin is Jesus loves us and died for us, and he helps us so we don’t have to keep on sinning. They just need to understand that when we sin we make Jesus sad and we should want to change our behavior.
Depending on how old your child is depends on the terminology you should use, but the concept remains the same into adulthood. Sin grieves the heart of God. As the parent or adult in a child’s life, if you are not grieved by your own sin, you are going to have a hard time teaching a proper response of sin to your children.
Our grief should lead to conviction and repentance NOT condemnation and guilt. Confess your sins, don’t cover your sins. If your behavior as an adult doesn’t fall in line with your words, you will never teach your children a proper response to sin.
I want to be as kind as possible in my closing statement, so please hear a voice of compassion and not condemnation. If we struggle with talking to our children about their sin, we probably struggle with talking to God about our own sin.
Helping your child acknowledge their sin won’t mess them up, it will help make them grateful for the love that Jesus offers. Our job as parents is to keep learning about the amazing love of Christ so that we can continue to pass along the information to the next generation. Let’s all keep on learning!