This past Sunday we dedicated five children and their parents to the Lord. The children were all very young and looked very, very cute. But despite that obvious fact each one of these children were born in sin and will continue to live out of that nature until they are regenerated by the work of the Holy Spirit and come to faith in Jesus Christ. This is such an important point for us to recognize. Unless God regenerates a person and they come to faith they will not be saved. We have already discussed that God has put parents in an authoritative role in their families in order to lead them into the instruction of the gospel and to discipline them accordingly. We have already seen that the role of a parent is not simply to seek to control or change our kids behavior, but to focus on the heart of the child and to the problem of sin that lies there. We have also discussed that there is nothing we can do to make our children less sinful. Only the Spirit of God can do that.
God has told us that the way in which all people of all ages are saved is through the preaching of the gospel from the pages of Scripture - “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) He has also told us that this teaching needs to take place in the context of discipleship and broad biblical/theological teaching. (Romans 10:14-17; Matthew 28:19-20) This applies to young children as much as to adults. To parenting as much as to church ministry. To discipleship within our families as to the discipleship ministries of the local body. Sadly, in an overwhelming majority of Christian literature and church ministries teaching the gospel to our kids has been replaced with something that sounds Christian but is actually unbiblical. The focus is on behavior and habits, rather than on the heart. As mentioned in an earlier blog, the problem in each one of us, our kids included, is the sinfulness of our nature, a sinfulness that makes us totally depraved apart from Christ. If this is the reality for us, then the solution to sin cannot come from inside of us by anything we do, nor can the focus of our parenting be on anything external, on behavior or an attitude change or new habits or rewiring our neural pathways, because external changes do not lead to internal ones. Our children need an alien salvation, a true change of heart, a new nature, not encouragement to be better. They need something that comes from outside of them and changes them allowing them to come to Christ. (cf Romans 3:9-26) They need the gospel.
I do not want to assume we all know what the gospel is. It can be summarized easily in five words, but its implications for our spiritual life and our parenting are much more extensive.
God -- God is our holy Creator and our righteous Judge. He has made us in his image and he created us to glorify him and enjoy him forever. BUT. . .
Sin – We have rebelled against God by sinning against him, his holy character and law. We have all participated in this sinful rebellion, both in Adam when he sinned and in our own individual actions. As a result we have alienated ourselves from God and we are now subject to his wrath against the sin that is within us. This sin, if left undealt with and unforgiven, will continue to damage every aspect of our existence eventually leading to our banishment eternally to hell. BUT. . .
Christ – God sent Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, to live the life we should have lived and to die the death that we deserved for our sins - the righteous for the unrighteous, the innocent for the guilty – so that God might punish our sin in Christ and forgive us as a result of the work of Christ.
Response – The only response to this Good News that will save us is repentance and faith. We must repent of our sins (turn from them) and believe in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation to God.
Result -- When we come to Christ in faith and repentance we receive reconciliation with God, righteous standing before God, adoption into his covenantal family, the promised Holy Spirit, a new nature, victory over sin, eternal life and so much more.
How do we take this gospel and deliver it to our kids? Let me offer a few general suggestions. Specifics will come a bit later.
Consume it yourself -- If you don’t understand the gospel and its implications for your own life, how will you teach your kids the same? Doing this is easy, I think, but it takes at least three things. First, you will need to adjust the way you think about your spiritual life at all levels. Most churches do not preach the gospel as an integral part of Christian life. They give lip-service to the gospel, but preach works rather than grace. It’s no wonder that most believers think that the Christian life is all about our work, striving and effort. We need to be aware of how these dangerous ways of thinking have seeped into us and remove them like the dangerous tumors they are. Second, in order to truly change our spiritual mindset you need to get into a church that makes Jesus Christ and him crucified the center of every ministry. If the gospel is THE main thing as Paul says (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 15:1ff) you need to be part of a church that makes it the main thing. Third, you need to be consumed with the understanding and application of the gospel to all areas of your life. Never think you have made it. Listen to gospel centered sermons. Get involved in gospel-centered discipleship. Read books like - The Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson; The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever; By Grace Alone by Sinclair Ferguson; What’s So Great About the Doctrines of Grace by Richard Phillips; Gospel-Centered Parenting by William Farley.
Teach it to your kids -- Even when our kids are young you need to teach them the truths of the gospel. Make it the foundation of your interactions with your children in the everyday moments of life. Don’t settle for reading them Bible stories from books that merely make Scripture into ethics or lessons on good behavior. If you consume the gospel properly, you can take those stories and make them about the gospel as God intended for them to be read. Take the moments of life that come at your kids and your family and see them in light of the gospel. Spare no opportunity make the gospel the main thing, the central thing, the thing that is to be of first importance to all Christian families.
Model it for your kids -- The way we act MUST be consistent with the gospel we preach. Your kids see your sin and how you deal with it. They see your spiritual life in all of its ups and downs. Talk about your journey in the gospel with your kids; both its successes and failures. Talk about how sin drags you into death and how easily it can happen and how empty it is. Talk about your complete inability to deal with your sin. Talk about how Jesus is the only solution to your sin. Talk to your kids about faith and repentance and who them what they look like in your life. Let your kids see you battle against sin. Let them see you repent of your sin. Let them see how you, by faith, seek Christ alone for victory over sin.
Make a gospel-centered church an integral part of your family life -- Don’t just go to a church, go to the right church. Let me say something that may come across as odd. Going to church can actually be a detriment to raising your kids according to God’s desires. Choose the church you attend for the right biblical reasons. Going to a church in the same town in which you live is not the right reason. Going to the church your family has for generations is not the right reason. Going to a church that has a great kids program or good worship or a fancy building may mean your kids are entertained, but it does not mean that they are taught the gospel. The church you attend can actively work against how God wants your children to be raised. If you desire to be a gospel-centered home and your church preaches anything other than the gospel, going to church will confuse and damage to your kids. To put it simply if you want to raise your kids to be legalists or Pharisees or hypocrites, take them to a church that teaches ‘how to’s’, 5-steps, ethical Bible stories, lessons designed to change behavior and churn out good little Christian kids, etc. If you want to raise your kids to be gospel-centered people - true disciples of Christ - take them to a church that has the gospel as the center of everything they do. (If you are looking for a church that does it this way, CRC is exactly what you are looking for!) Then when you are a part of the right kind of church, don’t just go to it, make it an integral part of the ebb and flow of your family life. Make church attendance important. Serve, give, worship, and participate in as many ways as possible in the body of Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria