Wednesday, August 18, 2021


Last week's post was one of the most-read articles that I have ever posted on Writing Belle (and I've posted many articles since 2012!), which makes me think that there are a lot of people who are searching for a little encouragement in the form of God's word. These are troubling times indeed, so it's encouraging to see that readers are gravitating toward and searching for the love and truth that is found in Scripture! Having said that, today I'm going to switch gears and talk about something that's really important: teaching foundational gospel basics to little ones. Clearly, I'm not the most experienced parent in the world, so I'll start with this little disclaimer that I'm SURE there are many other people who have better advice than I do. I just want to share how I've been building the foundation for Biblical truth in the life of my toddler, who is racing toward her 3rd birthday, and will be off to kindergarten before I know it (*sobs quietly*). 

The reason I want to address this today is because I feel that there is a disconnect in the church - and just in general in the Christian community - when it comes to accurately communicating the core tenants of the gospel to children. After years of working in children's ministries and subsequently watching 4 and 5 year-olds look utterly bewildered at the idea of a man named Jesus who was crucified on a cross so He could be our Savior, I have often thought that there must be a better way to explain the gospel to very small children. Most kids that I have worked with since high school have walked out of Wednesday night church ministries with a confused, jigsawed understanding of the gospel, with many kindergartners asking questions like, "Why is Jesus called the Life-Saver of the world?" (My answer: "No, Jesus is not a Life Saver candy.") And I'll never forget the oh-so-interesting presentation on Roman-era crucifixion torture methods, including a replica of a cat-o-nine-tails. This lesson was given by a well-meaning parishioner to a group of 5-year-olds, and every child in the room was so overwhelmed with confusion that they walked away from the entire lesson with their focus in the wrong place. 

There are two things you have to understand when it comes to children. First, they are able to understand far more than anyone gives them credit for. And second, the Bible makes it clear that little children are very special to Jesus, and that we should all have the childlike faith that most little ones have (Matthew 19:14). 

There are problems with how the gospel is sometimes presented to children (and frankly, even to adults) in the modern American church. When I was a little girl, I was told many times that if I "accepted Jesus into my heart," He would come into my life and save me from my sins. Unfortunately, this oft-touted lesson that is given to kids across the country is simply not theologically whole. I'm not saying that it's wrong - I'm just saying that it's only one piece of the salvation issue. Salvation, according to the Bible, requires two very simple things: 

1: Recognize that you are a sinner, depraved, and in active rebellion against God. Repent of your sins, recognizing that you need forgiveness, and this genuine repentance, if authentic, will regenerate the heart. 

2: Confess with your mouth in faith that Jesus Christ is the Savior and the Son of God, the sacrifice for your sins, and the one and only intercessor between you and the Father for those sins. 

These two points are backed up in the Bible by verses like these: 

Romans 10:9-10: "That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."

Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Repentance and faith (through grace, of course!). That's what it takes. I'm not saying that praying to Jesus is a bad idea - not at all. I'm just saying that sometimes, Sunday School methodology makes Jesus out to be some kind of transcendent guru who is just hanging out, waiting for us to accept Him, when in reality, what He's waiting for is for us to repent from our sins and confess Him as Lord and Savior. If you miss this very important part of theology, there is a good chance that your kindergarten converts either have no idea what they have done by asking Jesus into their hearts (raising the controversy of false conversion - but that's a whole different conversation, guys), or they will end up becoming really confused about the gospel and Biblical principles later in life. Why? Because the single most important and basic thing to know about Christianity is to understand what you need to do in order to be saved. Without this knowledge, it's easy to get confused. I certainly was confused for a good portion of my life. I thought I understood the gospel, but I didn't. I thought that I had invited Jesus to come hang out in my heart, like my well-meaning Sunday School teachers had told me, but I felt pretty lonely. Why? Well, I didn't understand what was required of me as a Christian, and that frustrated me for years. I was constantly asking forgiveness for my sins every few hours, every day, terrified that if I didn't constantly confess my sins, Jesus might forget about me and I might not get on the right list to get into heaven (seriously - and I would wager that many other kids have had similar experiences and feelings). I had a hard time sleeping at night because I was terrified of dying in my sleep, and so I would spend time constantly praying for Jesus to come into my heart over and over. I had no security in my salvation, because the entire idea of it was predicated on me. The gospel message that I understood was one that put the ball into my court: I needed to accept Jesus. It's little wonder that I had such anxiety over it - because I was giving myself way too much authority over the situation. In reality, I had already done the two things that were needed, based on the Bible: I believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and I had repented of my sins. I had anxiety because nobody had ever explained the basics of the gospel to me in a matter-of-fact way. I had the faith and the heart, but I suffered because I didn't understand how simple the gospel actually was. 

I share this because if we can impress our children with good theology, good understanding of Biblical truths, and strong, solid Biblical philosophy with which to combat secular intellectualism, you will never have to worry about the state of their souls. Children are sponges. They absorb everything, and what happens during their childhoods sticks with them forever. Use this time to impress upon them the easy facts about the gospel, in an age-appropriate manner. Because, honestly, the gospel really is simple. So, here are a few things that I think would really clear up the confusion for children: 

1. Remember that children under the age of 5 relate everything to their limited experience of 5 years. I find that children understand the concept of having a Heavenly Father extremely well - better than most adults. They get this, because kids understand the idea of having a parental authority in their lives. A lot of people forget that kids just want things simple and direct: Jesus is God. He made them. He loves them. He is the good shepherd. He is the vine, and they are the branches. He is the bread of life. These are all easy, simple ideas that a child can grasp. I recommend using catechisms and primers to really drive these ideas home. My daughter is only 2.5 years-old, but she is very quick to correct me if I say something like, "Hey, I made you, kid, so that means Mommy is in charge." She will respond with a resounding, "NO MOMMY. GOD MADE ME." It's hard to argue with her after that, let's be real. 

2. Kids cannot understand salvation unless they understand that there is a need for it. Kids are very presently-oriented, meaning that, when they are really little, the concept of yesterday or tomorrow are abstract ideas at best. The concept of needing Jesus because they are going to die someday is a really weird and really confusing idea. So how do you explain what they need to be saved from? The horror and nightmare of Hell? Well, yeah. But forget trying to explain that to a toddler. Their impressionable young brains will latch onto one idea: Hell. I hate to tell you this, but that's how kids' brains work. They will take one thing away from that conversation (just like I did as a kid), and that is the terrifying idea that when they die, they might be cast into a lake of fire. To a 4-year-old, What does that even mean? One step at a time, people. And no, for my theological-alarmist friends, I am not suggesting that Hell should never be discussed. I am simply saying that there are age-appropriate ways to introduce the idea, but if it's not done correctly, their precious little hearts could be genuinely traumatized. 

In my opinion, presenting the gospel is as easy as this when they are little: 

You: "Sometimes you do naughty things, don't you? Sometimes you disobey mommy and daddy. And what happens?" 

Them: "I get in trouble!" 

You: "That's right! And everyone, even Mommy, does bad things sometimes and deserves to get in trouble. But Jesus loves us so much that He took our punishment away for the naughty things that we do every day." 

You can obviously use a word that is easier to understand than punishment, but I can guarantee you that most kids understand the idea of doing something wrong and having to suffer a consequence for it. My daughter understands this, and she's really young. This is the easiest way to explain Christ's sacrifice for us - that He loves us even though we are naughty, and that we should say sorry to Him for what we've done wrong once we recognize that our actions were negative, and that we should always strive to do better. Kids won't feel like they need the gospel unless they understand that they're doing something wrong...just like adults. Am I right? 

3. Toddlers do not understand big words right away. Most children who come into church ministries (unless they have grown up in a Christian family that has taken the time to talk to their kids about Christian theology) have no concept of the definition of words like Crucifixion, Savior, Atonement, Sacrifice, Salvation, and so forth. Just to be clear, I'm not talking about teenage-level lessons here. I'm talking about Bible stories for kids between 0 and 5. Over the years I've seen and read and watched a lot of Bible lessons that are flying right over kids' heads. "Because of Jesus' love for you, He became the perfect sacrifice and atoned for our sins on the cross." This is a beautiful message, to be sure, but how can we break this idea down to make it easier to understand? One recommendation I have is the Big Theology for Little Hearts series from Crossway Books. They have a series of small board books for kids that present easy-to-understand ideas for big words and big ideas. They have a book for Jesus, Gospel, and God. I've been seeing these books pop up everywhere - and for good reason! I use them for my daughter, and although some of the ideas are over her head, I can use my own judgement to decide how to explain certain things and how to simplify them even more, if needed. Every child is different. Some can understand more at an earlier age, and some can't. 

4. Teach your kids young, while you have the chance.  I think the people of yesteryear had it right when they hammered the repetitive phrases of primers and catechisms into kids' heads. To pave the way for children to understand complex Biblical principles, the foundations need to be laid as soon as possible. Remember this: everyone on the planet is indoctrinated with some kind of bias or worldview. Even a "lack of" bias or worldview is a myth. There is no such thing as neutrality. Thus, it's important for parents to instill Biblical beliefs and foundations in their children because, guess what? If you're not teaching your kids about morality and objective truth, somebody else is. And that somebody else is usually the secular, fundamentally flawed agendas of the public school system or the hyper-sexual, politically-motivated garbage of television and social media influencers. If you don't take control of your child's evolving worldview, you will lose your chance to do so - and you'll lose to the world. 

5. Integrate God into everyday conversations. Little children easily grasp and understand the idea of Creator and Creation. When my daughter was 1.5 years-old, I told her the Creation story quite frequently, and she understood: her world had a beginning, and someone named God created it. When we would go for walks, I would talk to her about the birds and the trees and the flowers, and I would ask her, "Who made all of these beautiful things?" She answered, "God made it." It's important to instill an awareness for the presence of God in every day life. When kids get a little older, you can begin to explain the basics of the Trinity to them, but let's face it: most toddlers aren't going to get it yet. And you know what? That's okay. The toddler years are about laying the foundation. The basics!

6. Why are primers and catechisms useful? Not so long ago, it was standard operating procedure for most churches to teach catechisms to their parishioners, beginning when children were very young. So, what is a catechism? Well, for a simple definition, Encyclopedia Brittanica defines it like this: Catechism, a manual of religious instruction usually arranged in the form of questions and answers used to instruct the young, to win converts, and to testify to the faith. 

Basically, you begin by asking your child basic questions, like: 

Who created you? 


Who created the world? 


What is the purpose of man? 

To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. 

This simple but effective method of teaching Biblical truths will stick with them for the rest of their lives. The wise man builds his house upon the rock, but the foolish man builds his house upon the sand, after all (Matthew 7:24-27). 

7. Do not count on the church to take care of the spiritual health of your child. I'm not saying that the church is not an important part of the Christian life, because it is (Romans 12:5, 1 John 1:7, etc). I'm saying that if you are handing over the responsibility of spiritual education to the church and avoiding engaging with your kids about Biblical subjects at home, don't be surprised when your children grow up, go to college, and "fall away" from the Christian faith. The church is a great community, but as a parent, it's your responsibility to raise up your child in the way he should go, so that when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). And, let's face it, a lot of churches aren't even teaching the gospel correctly (hello, progressive gospel). Heck, even if they are, Sunday School amounts to 1 hour a week. You, dear parent, are with your child far more than that. The burden of transferring the knowledge of the power and grace of God is on you. You cannot escape that - and trust me, I've tried (and subsequently failed). The single most important thing that you could do as a parent is to raise up warriors in our broken society who will fight for Biblical truth and morality. Forget the idiots who petition for one-child households (or no-child households). Push aside the scientists who claim that our overpopulated Earth can't handle any more kids. Throw out the environmentalists who encourage couples to give up on their dreams of having families because of the environmental footprint it might imprint on the planet. Do you know why they don't want you to have children - and more importantly, to raise them up in the way that they should go, according to Biblical wisdom? Because well-raised children grow up to be well-adjusted, moral, and contributing members of society. They are able to critically analyze and assess. They are able to see truth versus falsehood. Mature, reasonable adults threaten the wicked plans of evil people everywhere. 

Remember this

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
    offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
    are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
    when they contend with their opponents in court.

Psalm 127:3-5

Children are a reward, the Bible says. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior. They will grow up to do battle in the name of the Lord. The world needs more kids like this. And so the responsibility of training the next generation of Christian soldiers rests on you - the parent. Will you shrink back from your duty, or will you embrace it? I encourage you to embrace it.

8. Last, remember that you do not need to be a perfect parent to teach the gospel to your children. This is the issue that stopped me from wanting to teach my child anything about the Bible for a long time. While I was pregnant with my daughter, I saw myself as woefully unqualified - too human and too messed up. When she was born, I was even more intimidated by the idea of teaching my child anything about the Bible, since I had issues understanding it myself. So, eventually, I decided to stop running away from the issue and learn to embrace it. Doing so has helped me to grow in my spiritual life. When I mess up at home, my daughter can see how I try to handle situations in a way that brings glory to God. When I fail (which is definitely the majority of the time), she can see me get back up and try again. That is a part of the Christian journey, the pathway toward our eventual goal of sanctification. 

To wrap this up, I'm going to leave with you with a few resources that will help you reach your little ones with gospel basics. I want to also say that encouraging other people in their parenting journey brings myself encouragement. Like Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Parenting is hard, and life is hard, but we have a good Father in heaven who loves us, who is watching over us, and who will give us the wisdom that we need when we ask for it. 

Check out these great resources below as a starting point for talking to your littles about the gospel: 

Big Theology for Little Hearts Series 

This is the series I mentioned above. It's a great little introduction to who Jesus is, what the gospel message is, and who God is. 

Crossway Books

I love Crossway! They publish/distribute so many great books (some of which I discussed in last week's non-fiction article). I highly recommend digging through their website to find books for yourself and your kids. 

Baby Believer Books 

I love these books. They can be used for a few years with your kids. Each one is a beautiful, colorful primer that integrates numbers, colors, and emotions with theological ideas. Their series includes: First Bible Basics, Psalms of Praise, Let There Be Light, From Eden to Bethlehem, Holy Week, and Jesus Heals. 

Little Pilgrims Theology

I found this company somehow through Instagram. They are a wonderful resource for material that explains theology on a child's level. You can find worksheets, lesson plans, and information on just about every theological subject ever, from ecclesiology (the study of the church) to pneumatology (studying and understanding the Holy Spirit). 

Online Children's Catechism

This is just a simple example of what kind of questions you could ask your kids, available from 

Seeds Family Worship

In my house, music is the centerpiece of our daily lives. There is music on in the house pretty much 12 hours a day. Children love to listen to fun songs. Educators long ago figured out that kids can learn a lot from educational songs, and the same concept applies to Scripture. I like Seeds Family Worship because they take Bible verses and set them to music. That's it. It's all straight-up scripture, it's catchy, and it helps kids (and me!) retain Bible verses. I have actually been able to retain Bible verses from memory for the first time since I was a kid because of Seeds. I highly recommend playing the Seeds albums at home and in the car for your children. I especially love their lullaby album. The verse, Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10), is one that I play A LOT. 


Proverbs 1:8-9

“Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.”

All images are royalty-free, free for commercial use via Pixabay, no attribution required. 

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