One way to plant gospel seeds in the conversations you have with your kids is to explain to them why you do what you do. Listen to Kurt Gebhards:
When a parent makes important decisions in life, he should explain to his children how the gospel influenced that decision…explain why you do not buy certain things, do certain things, and constantly point back to the gospel as the motivation (taken from Evangelism: How to Share the Gospel Faithfully).
Now, in order for this to be genuine, you must actually make decisions because you have been influenced by the gospel. So, I think the point is that planting gospel seeds in conversation with your kids will not be difficult if, in fact, you are living a life that is focused on the gospel. Gospel conversations will take place simply because you are answering the question, “Why?”
First off, let me say that this post is not about whether parents should or should not pretend with their kids that Santa Clause is real. Rather, it is a post suggesting that parents use the story of Santa (whether in pretense or not) in order to more clearly reveal the glorious reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Parents, spend some time this season showing your kids the differences between the gospel and the Santa Clause story. Let the gospel speak for itself and it will make known it’s vast superiority in contrast. Here are three very fundamental differences between the two that you’ll want to bring to their attention:
- You have to work for Santa’s gifts, but the gift of salvation is free – Santa requires good works in order to be put on the nice list of kids who wake up on Christmas morning to find presents underneath the tree. On the other hand, through the sacrifice of Jesus, sinners who believe are saved by God’s free gift of grace; it is “not a result of works” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The gospel says we don’t have to work (our works are unworthy anyway) because Jesus already did all the work for us.
- Santa brings gifts that will end up in a dump some day, but Jesus brings eternal gifts – As fun as it is to get presents at Christmas time, we all get tired of them before too long… if they don’t break first. For believers, the gospel of Jesus Christ gives the forgiveness of every sin, entrance into God’s eternal family, perfect joy in heaven with God forever, and the list goes on (Ephesians 1:7; Galatians 4:4-7; Revelation 21:3-4).
- Santa gives gifts one night out of each year, but because of the gospel, we always live in God’s blessing – God is not limited in giving to his people. In fact he is always working everything together for our good, his mercies are new every morning and never come to an end, and he saved us in order to show us the immeasurable riches of his grace in the coming ages (Romans 8:28; Lamentations 3:22-23; Ephesians 2:5-7).
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). Christian parents have repeated these words to their kids countless times because their kids have failed to heed these words countless times. So, we parents use this verse to expose the wrongness of our children’s choices. This verse cuts it straight – for children, the right choice is to obey their parents… period. Therefore, we ask our kids, “Did you obey Daddy when you I told you to stop pummeling your brother?” “No”, they say, “Then according to God, you made the wrong choice because God tells us obeying our parents is right.”
The above is an aspect of good parenting. We need to reveal to our kids their disobedience so that they see they are not righteous before God (this sets us up to point them to the Savior). But there’s more to their sin on these occasions than simply being wrong. As parents, we must also help them understand that their failure to obey is an act of unbelief. Each time they disobey, our kids are making a wrong choice because they refuse to believe that God’s way is the right way and the best way; the way of truth, goodness and blessing. We need to take our kids back to Eden and explain to them the reality that when God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden and told Adam and Eve not to eat from it, he was not holding out on them. He was not playing games with them as if to say, “Here’s what you really want, but you can’t eat it or you’ll die.” May it never be! Rather, God was communicating to Adam and Eve, “I made you and I know what brings you perfect joy… it’s Me, and I’m not going to deny you that joy! So trust me when I say, ‘Don’t eat from that tree.'”
Our kids need to know that sin is the same today, it comes from an unbelieving heart that thinks God’s way is not what is right and best for us. This primes the pump for gospel conversation with our children, because while we ruined the way of perfect joy in the garden by disbelieving God, he has made another way for us to have that joy through the life, death and resurrection of his only Son, Jesus. But here’s the rub… as it was in the garden, so it is with Jesus: we must believe God. Since we blew it in the garden, the way for us and our kids to get back to perfect joy in God is through believing that his Son died in the place of sinners and rose again conquering death and sin.
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Having kids has enhanced my understanding of the gospel five-fold. Somehow the need to simplify the truth so that my kids can grasp it has required me to know the gospel more. Instead of having to forget the theological specifics I learned about the gospel in the hopes that I would put myself on their level, I have had to dive deeper into the gospel in order to come to the surface with an accurate, yet simplistic, gospel presentation to repeat to my children.
This has not been easy. I’m used to teaching grown-ups and young adults who can hang with me as I rattle off the implications of the doctrine of justification for progressive sanctification. If I try this with our almost five year-old, the seconds before the ceiling fan becomes the object of his focus could be counted on one hand. And while the almost five year-old is growing in his ability to handle more teaching, the real challenge has been trying to share the gospel with our two year-old. Some parents may not even try to explain the good news to their children at this age because they believe it to be too complex, but if I am responsible for raising these children in the admonition of the Lord, I don’t want to make that assumption.
So, how can parents share the gospel with their two year-olds without asking them to accelerate their brain development?
- First, take advantage of the moments when you catch them in their sin. Use discipline to help them see that sin is wrong.
- Second, tell them they sinned and God is not pleased with their choice.
- Third, tell them that sin hurts.
- Fourth, tell them that Jesus died to rescue sinners.
- Fifth, put the last two phrases together and have your child repeat them after you: “Sin hurts, but Jesus died to rescue sinners” (if they can’t repeat all of this, they will eventually).
- Sixth, tell them to run away from sin and run to Jesus.
In doing this, you explain to your child in simplified terms that God is the one we need to live for, that sin is a failure to live for God, that sin has consequences, that Jesus can rescue us from sin and it’s consequences through his death, and that they have a responsibility to repent and trust in Jesus to receive his salvation.
As your child gets older, it is your responsibility to begin fleshing out this gospel presentation and explaining in more detail what the different elements mean, but don’t hesitate to start sharing now. One thing I’ve learned in being a parent is that kids often have a bigger capacity for knowledge than we think. But even if they don’t get what you’re saying, it’s good practice for you.
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