As parents, we must have a firm grip on the gospel ourselves, and be committed to teaching it, speaking of it, and illustrating it in our daily lives, so that our children will not only hear it, but see it and desire it for themselves. Our job is to imprint the truths of the gospel on their minds and hearts, and to pray diligently that the Holy Spirit will draw them, convict them of sin, and give them a clear understanding of the gospel.
A great concern for parents who are followers of Jesus is how to explain the gospel so that little hearts and minds can comprehend and believe. If we give our children nothing else, a right understanding of who Jesus is, why He came, and what our response should be is enough. Understanding and accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ lays a solid foundation for this life and affects their eternity. What else is there?
As parents who struggle with our own fallen nature, however, we often do a poor job of both modeling the effects of the gospel and explaining its truths. We might think that taking our children to Sunday School, youth group, and paying for summer experiences like church camp or sending them to a Christian school will do the trick. While these things are certainly valuable and impactful, it’s not enough. As parents, we must have a firm grip on the gospel ourselves, and be committed to teaching it, speaking of it, and illustrating it in our daily lives, so that our children will not only hear it, but see it and desire it for themselves. Our job is to imprint the truths of the gospel on their minds and hearts, and to pray diligently that the Holy Spirit will draw them, convict them of sin, and give them a clear understanding of the gospel.
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
This context of this passage is Moses’ instructions to the children of Israel as they prepared to enter the land which God had promised to give them. He knew if they were to survive as God’s people, the adults would need to make a firm commitment to love God only, making Him and His Word the priority and final authority in their lives. This commitment would permeate their homes and very lives, and in turn be passed on to their children, their grandchildren, and succeeding generations, as long as they remained faithful to God.
The plan was simple. Conversations about who God is and His commands and expectations for our lives was to be the continual topic as they moved throughout their daily lives.
While the Hebrew people lived under the old covenant – the laws given to Moses and the sacrificial system that provided a temporary covering for their sin – we can take this same way of life into the new covenant of salvation by grace that Jesus established on the cross. The pattern remains the same; after all, the “promised land” is a picture of salvation – the place where we desire our children to enter! We are to have continuing conversations with our children about who Jesus is, what the cross and resurrection means, and how we find our God-given identity only in Him.
So, What Exactly Is the Gospel?
What truths are important to nail down in the hearts and minds of our children? Here are four things every child needs to know and believe as they respond to the Holy Spirit’s conviction in their hearts.
1. God Created You for a Relationship with Him
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:26-27).
“For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your books were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:13-16).
As I type out these verses, my heart can’t help but be moved by their meaning, especially as I think of the millions of children and teenagers who are growing up without this wonderful knowledge. Every day we read in the news the stories of young people suffering with depression and hopelessness, confused about their identity, and looking to anything and everything to find meaning and purpose in life. As followers of Jesus, we have the answer to their seeking hearts.
God created. He created the world in which we live with deliberate, intentional purpose in an orderly manner. As you read the creation story, you will notice that everything up to a point was created by His words; He simply spoke things into existence. But at the end, when everything was perfect and ready, His mighty, holy, hands scooped up the dirt and He lovingly shaped a creature made in the likeness of the triune God (notice the use of “Us” and “Our” in the passage above)! And later we read that after Adam was made, His hands again reached down and shaped the woman, Eve, from the rib of Adam. As His final act of creation, He breathed the very breath of God into their nostrils, and they became living souls (Genesis 2:7). We are made in the image of God, body, soul, and spirit.
This is our beginning, and it is the same for every person ever made. God sees our unformed substance in our mother’s womb and knits us together with purpose and meaning and intentionality. He knows our days before they come to be, and we were created for a relationship with Him. What a powerful foundation we can lay for the gospel, to teach our children the miraculous, loving, amazing story of how they came to be!
2. Sin Entered the World and Broke the Relationship between Us and God
Anyone who has ever lived with a toddler knows that children are born with a sin nature. No parent needs to teach a child to say “no” in defiance or illustrate a temper tantrum. It comes as naturally as breathing, because while God created Adam by breathing into him both physical life and spirit, as descendants of Adam, we are born only with the capability of the physical. Sin has marred God’s creation, and we are born into sin, separated from God.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
Genesis 2-3 tells us all about “the fall of man.” God gave Adam and Eve one command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Before disobeying – before sinning against God – they were innocent and holy, in perfect fellowship with God. But as they took that first bite, God’s warning became a reality, and the spirit of life that communed with its creator died. Now they and all their descendants would be guided not by God’s Spirit, but by their own fallen nature which would result in more and more personal, sinful actions that continually grieved God’s heart.
In grace and mercy, God allowed them to continue to live physically, giving opportunity for repentance and faith in a Savior who would one day come to undo the effects of sin and death.
3. God Sent His Promised Son, Jesus, to Take Our Place and Our Sin on the Cross
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15).
These words, spoken by God in the Garden just after Adam and Eve’s sin, are the first prophetic revelation that He would send a Messiah. The rest of the Old Testament unfolds hundreds of prophetic details that Jesus, the Son of God, would fulfill as an eternal covenant made between God the Father and Jesus the Son long before the world was created. Jesus was not God’s “Plan B.” He knew when He created that man would sin and need a Savior to pay the wages of that sin – death.
Jesus came, born of a virgin woman so that the sinful nature of mankind would be bypassed as the Holy Spirit of God implanted God’s Son in Mary’s womb. He grew up, fully divine and fully human, perfect, and innocent without sin, and became the sacrifice for the sins of mankind on the cross. Within three days, He rose from the grave, defeating death forever. After forty days, He returned to the Father with a promise to come back one day to reign over the earth.
Jesus’s message was simple. Repent. Believe. Follow Me. All those who confess their sin and turn to Him as Savior, are saved. We are given a new Spirit and eternal life.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
“That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).
See also: 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Ephesians 1:13-14; Titus 3:5-7.
4. Salvation in Jesus Restores Us Back to a Relationship with God, as It Was in the Garden
Jesus’ death removes the barrier of sin between man and His Creator. Salvation is a gift of grace, unmerited and unearned; it is simply to be received by faith as we acknowledge that our sin has separated us from God and place our trust – our very lives – in the finished work of Christ.
Our physical bodies are not yet redeemed (Romans 8:20-23); we are still flesh and must learn to walk as those who have been crucified in Christ, allowing the Holy Spirit in us to transform us and conform us to the image of our Savior. One day, however, all things will be restored back to the relationship God desired with us before time began. We will receive glorified bodies that will live in the presence of God forever, without sin, without end.
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
See also: Revelation 22:1-5.
How Can We, as Parents, Explain the Gospel to Our Children?
First, by believing and accepting these truths by faith ourselves, and then by living them out in front of our children. Let the wonderful story of the gospel permeate and saturate your every word, every action, and every purpose of your life.
Children learn by repetition. Help them memorize verses that support the gospel message. Talk about Jesus with your children. Teach kids about their sinful nature by together asking God and each other for forgiveness often. Take the opportunity to pray together and ask God to help them, recognizing their need for a Savior. Help them see their identity can only be realized as one who is created by God. And tell them the good news. Jesus came to show us how much God loves us, and did what was necessary to restore us, if we by faith, believe.
Finally, pray for the Holy Spirit to give your precious little ones understanding and draw them to the Father. Salvation is a work of God on a human heart. Be faithful to do your part, and trust Him to do His.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Tutye
Author Sheila Alewine is a pastor’s wife, mother, and grandmother of five. She and her husband lead Around The Corner Ministries, which serves to equip Christ-followers to share the gospel where they live, work and play. She has written seven devotionals including Just Pray: God’s Not Done With You Yet, Grace & Glory: 50 Days in the Purpose & Plan of God, and her newest one, Give Me A Faith Like That, as well as Going Around The Corner, a Bible study for small groups who desire to reach their communities for Christ. Their ministry also offers disciple-making resources like One-To-One Disciple-Making in partnership with Multiplication Ministries. Sheila has a passion for God’s Word and shares what God is teaching her on her blog, The Way of The Word. Connect with her on her blog, Facebook, and Instagram.