How do you teach the gospel to a 3-year-old? Bedtime is a great time for Theology 101! Hear more from guests Voddie Baucham, Bruce Ware, Sally Lloyd-Jones, and Jim Elliff.
How do you teach the gospel to a 3-year-old? Bedtime is a great time for Theology 101! Hear more from guests Voddie Baucham, Bruce Ware, Sally Lloyd-Jones, and Jim Elliff.
Bob: One of our jobs, as parents, is to help our children grow spiritually. Let’s face it—in this culture, it’s easy for kids to be confused about God, Jesus, and the Bible. Here’s Sally Lloyd-Jones.
Sally: When I grew up, I thought the Bible was about me and what I’m supposed to be doing so that God would love me. I thought it was a book of rules that you had to keep and then God would be pleased with you and love you; or else, it was a book of heroes you’re supposed to copy. But the Bible isn’t a book of rules or a book of heroes. It’s, most of all, a story—and it is the story of how God loves His children and comes to rescue them. At the center of the story, there’s a baby; and every single story in the Bible whispers His name.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Are your kids confused about anything related to God, or Jesus, or the Bible? What are you doing to help get them pointed in the right direction? We’ll have that conversation today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. You know, we did a survey of listeners—this was many years ago—where we asked: “What are the parenting issues that you would most like to have us address on FamilyLife Today?” And I remember thinking, before the survey went out, “I bet the answer’s going to be discipline.” That’s what I thought would come in first.
Dennis: And, frankly, I would have thought it might have been character issues—you know, the book of Proverbs--helping your children make wise choices—
Dennis: —and not foolish ones.
Bob: Obedience would be in there somewhere; but the survey came back—you remember what it showed?
Dennis: I do.
Bob: It showed that the spiritual development of your children is the number one thing that parents wanted help with. I guess I was a little surprised; and then I thought, “Well, that’s the number one priority that we’ve got at our house—is how our kids are doing, walking with the Lord.”
Dennis: Well, that’s kind of what I thought, too, Bob. I thought, “You know, it’s a big idea.”
Dennis: And it’s such a big idea that I think most parents don’t feel equipped to be able to do that in an effective way. If you remember, in Deuteronomy 6, when God was commanding Israel to shape a new nation, He commanded them to teach their children diligently—as they lie down, rose up, walked by the way—but to teach the precepts and truth of God’s Word to their children. The reason God did that is—He knows that a country / a nation can’t survive if it doesn’t have a generational relay race.
Bob, it’s been our privilege, here on FamilyLife Today,to be a part of exhorting, imploring, challenging, and encouraging parents to make a good hand-off to the next generation, now for 25 years.
Bob: Yes; this year, we will be celebrating our 25th birthday—that comes up later this year.
As a part of the birthday celebration, we thought it would be fun to take a theme, like the theme of your child’s spiritual development, and go back through the years and hear some of the voices / some of the people, who have been guests with us—
Dennis: The best of the best!
Bob: —to hear how these folks addressed these issues. For example, I had the opportunity—this was in front of an audience—I was talking to Voddie Baucham. Voddie, as many of our listeners know, was a pastor in Houston. He now is living with his family in Africa, where he heads a seminary in Zambia, Africa. I asked Voddie, because he had been talking about the need to teach your kids the gospel. He said that it is more than just teaching them how to pray a prayer to ask Jesus into their heart—teaching them the gospel from the time they’re little. So I thought, “Okay; I’ve got a question for you.”
How do I preach the gospel to a three-year-old?
Voddie: Oh! It’s great! Your three-year-old does something—your three-year-old lies—
—now, my three year-old has lied! “Do you understand that you lied?” “Yes; I understand that I lied.”
Hopefully, my three-year-old will know something about the Ten Commandments—he knows that God says that you’re not to lie / he knows about the warnings that we have in the Scriptures about lying. Then, I have two choices. I could tell him, “Okay; now, don’t lie anymore. Go tell the truth,”—that’s works-based righteousness.
Instead, say, “Do you know why you lied?” Now, we get to his heart / now, we get to his sin. When I let him know that he’s lying, because of his heart and because of his sin, I remind him, once again, that that’s just another indication that what he needs is for Jesus to save him from his sin. See, now, I’m not moving toward works righteousness—I’m moving toward the gospel. With a three-year-old, that’s all day, every day, that you have an opportunity to do that.
Bob: And when you say, “Save him from his sin,” you’re not just talking about saving him from hell—you’re talking about: “Forgive him for what he’s done, but also transform him into the kind of young person who doesn’t tell lies anymore—
Bob: —“or who doesn’t want to tell lies anymore.”
Dennis: And, Bob, the thing I like about what Voddie said is—he’s addressing the issue of the heart and calling a child back to the Savior. That’s who he needs to reckon with on a daily basis: “Will I surrender to Jesus Christ and let Him live His life in and through me and love other people and do the right thing?”
Bob: To go past the behavior and ask the “Why” question, I think, is significant.
Dennis: And the thing I like about it is—it really reflects all the way back upon Deuteronomy 6, where God was saying to you, “…as you walk by the way,”—as your child lies / as your child is mean to another child—you use those moments as opportunities to help your child begin to rightly evaluate who he or she is, and fall into right standing with God, and walk with Him and be obedient to Him, going forward.
Bob: We had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Bruce Ware, who is a professor of systematic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.
Dennis: And you know what? Parents are listening to us, right now, and going, “Now, what do you mean?—systematic theology for a child?” Let me tell you something—you can teach anything to a child before they go to bed / they will do anything to escape.
Bob: —to stay awake! [Laughter]
Dennis: They will talk! You can get down on your knees, next to their bed, and have these discussions. So, Bob, you can actually teach systematic theology to your children! [Laughter]
Bob: Well, that’s what he was saying—he was saying, you know, when you’re walking with them by the way / when you’re on the way to school, when you’re at the breakfast table—all of those are good times to be sharing biblical truth with your sons and daughters. He said there is one time of day when they are fully engaged.
Dennis: You’ve dedicated this book to your daughters.
Dennis: How did you introduce the awesomeness, or the greatness, of God to them when they were little?
Bruce: Yes; well, I’ll tell you how this happened—actually, this book grew out of what Jodi and I did with our girls, growing up. I can remember when Bethany and Rachel were, oh, probably six and three years old—you know, squirrely, wiggly, happy little girls, who didn’t want to go to bed at night, you know? [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes; we used this technique as well! They’ll use anything! [Laughter]
Dennis: They’ll even talk about God to stay awake!
Bruce: So I thought, “If we can’t win this battle, let’s co-opt it—
Bruce: —and take advantage of it.
Bruce: So, I started meeting with each of the girls, at their bedside, after they got in their pajamas and got in bed. I would get down on my knees, and we would have Theology 101. For years, I did this and went through the whole of what I teach at the seminary. I would just introduce a verse and an idea / a truth. I would expose them to it, and then we would talk about it; and they’d ask questions.
You know, I think the main goal you have, whether they’re little or older, is to enable them, by God’s grace and through the revelation of His Word, to catch a vision of the greatness of God. We live in a culture where many other things are great. I mean, we use the word, “awesome,” for example, for almost everything—maybe even a hamburger, you know? We’ve lost the sense of the awe-someness of One—
Bruce: —of One and only One, of whom there is no equal—and that is our Creator
God / our Redeemer God. So helping children grow in a way, where they realize how great God really is; and how independent He is of this world; and how privileged it is for me, a finite, feeble human being to know Him through Christ—what He has done to make Himself known and draw me to Himself.
Dennis: I want all of the parents and grandparents to listen up! Your assignment / your privilege—you get the holy duty of being able to introduce your child to the awesome God of the universe and to use bedtime to make the introduction.
Bob: Somebody else, who had helpful teaching techniques for us, is the author of The Jesus Storybook Bible, which I know a lot of our listeners have used at bedtime or at dinnertime.
Dennis: Excellent! It’s really good—really good.
Bob: Sally Lloyd-Jones is a delightful author and was a delightful guest on FamilyLife Today. We talked to her about how she engages with young people / children around spiritual subjects.
Sally: I don’t presume to tell parents, or teachers, or anyone what they should be doing; but when I’m with children, what I want to, first of all, do is have a sense of fun with them—
—you know, make them comfortable / be on their level and talk to them. They’re people—they’re just smaller! Talking to them as someone—like you would talk to a friend—not sort of so you’re teaching them something all of the time, but having a conversation.
The other thing I’ve found helpful is asking “I wonder…” questions. You know, sometimes, I’ll be going around speaking about The Jesus Storybook Bible, and I tell the story on myself that—it’s very easy to read a story, and then, at the end of a story, go, “Well, what that really means is this.” Then you kill the story with some lesson that you’ve made up. Instead of doing that, just say—like with the boy and his lunch—it’s so easy / the easiest thing to do—and I’ve done it—is to say, “Now what does this story teach us about how we should behave?” But that’s not why the story’s there. The story’s there because Jesus did something incredible with what the little boy gave Him.
So what I’ve found more helpful is—to say / to wonder with the child so that you’re on their level—you’re not the teacher telling them. There’s a place for the teacher—
—but, as a parent, to sit with the child and be: “Well, I wonder what would happen if we gave God what we had? What would happen if you gave Him everything you had? What might He do with you?” Just open it up to the child so that the child—their imagination takes it from there, and God works from there.
Bob: You hear Sally Lloyd-Jones talking about that and you think, “I can do that, as a parent!”
Bob: You can ask an “I wonder…” question; right?
Dennis: Yes; and it’s the key to unlocking a child’s heart—let the child imagine and answer the question.
You know, one of the things that we, as parents, need to use more frequently with our children—I think is just humor / it is fun—it’s having fun with them.
Yesterday, Bob, I was hosting a family for lunch, here at FamilyLife. They had four children. I thought, “These children are going to think I am the oldest fuddy-duddy grandpa in the world.”
I knew that a couple of them had already been through Passport2Purity®, and they were getting ready to go through Passport2Identity™. I thought, “You know, I want to kind of set them up to look forward to going through some of the teachings of Passport2Purity and Passport2Identity that will help them, as young adults, begin to hammer out their own spiritual walk with God.” I spent most of the lunch just having fun with those kids.
The thing is, Bob—if you’re having fun with your kids, then the opportunity to teach, I think, presents itself more frequently.
Dennis: And I think the children are ready to listen if they sense you’re a mom and a dad, who know how to have a good time with them, but also a mom and a dad who are on a mission, wanting to introduce their kids to Christ.
Bob: One of the hardest things that parents deal with is when a young child expresses some kind of a spiritual interest.
When a child comes, at age three or four and says, “I want to ask Jesus into my heart,” or “I want to be a Christian,” you may sit down with that child and talk with them about sin, about the gospel, about Jesus’ death and resurrection. You wonder how much they really understand. You pray a prayer with the child, and then, you think to yourself: “Did anything really happen there? Did they really…? Are they converted now?” I remember we wrestled with this.
We had a guest—this was back the first few years that FamilyLife Today was on the air—we had a guest—our friend, Jim Elliff, who had written a book about children coming to faith in Christ. We put that question to him.
Jim: In Chapter 15 of the Book of Romans, it says, “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning that we, through perseverance and comfort of the Scripture, might have hope.”
Well, hope means the confidence that the future’s going to work out alright. How am I going to have hope?
Jim: He says it’s through two means—one’s the “comfort of the Scripture.” We can look at that verse in John 6:47: “He who believes has everlasting life.”
Jim: I can get some comfort from that—assurance and help from that—that’s one place we look.
But the other side is to look at perseverance—that’s the work of God as well—because he goes on to say, “Now God who gives perseverance and comfort…” in the next verse. So He gives it, but we look at the evidence of God at work in our lives to know if that faith that we claim to have is a real saving faith.
Bob: So if your child comes home from a children’s meeting and says to you: “Dad, let me tell you what I just did. I became a Christian today. I prayed a prayer to receive Christ as my Lord and Savior,” what do you do?
Jim: Well, I’m positive / I’m encouraging. How do I know—that he might have come to Christ today!
Jim: So I’d say something like this to him: “I’m thrilled that you appear to be repenting and trusting in Christ!”
By the way, I prefer those terms rather than to “inviting Jesus into the life,” which I don’t really find in the Scripture. Let’s go back to the Bible’s terms: “repenting and trusting in Christ.”
Jim: “I’m thrilled that you’re repenting and trusting in Christ! More than anything, we want to know if God has really changed your heart. The way we’ll know is if you continue repenting of sin and trusting in Christ—and if you act like a true Christian—that is, you have a new heart that loves to obey God. Sometimes, we don’t know that until we’re in a place where it really costs us to be a Christian. We’ll just see what God does.”
But, as far as I can tell in the Scripture, we’re never told to discern whether we’re a Christian—not by going back to a decision—we look at our lives right now!
Jim: We look at fruit. We look to see: “Is this, that we call life, really demonstrating itself? Is there spiritual life in me?”
Dennis: What Jim Elliff was talking about here is how you walk through the process of introducing repentance, faith, and salvation to your children. It’s not a one-and-done deal. I think it’s done over and over and over again—
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: —in terms of introducing them to what’s at stake here: “Well, you’ve broken God’s laws / you’re a sinner. Practically speaking, that means you’ve missed the mark. The mark is perfection. We’re all broken / we all need salvation.” You just repeatedly talk about this in a practical way—not to shame the child or to put the child down—but just to talk about: “This is what God is up to! He wants to redeem you, make you a new person, and use you for the rest of your life on a mission by you being an ambassador and taking this news to other people.”
In fact, I just had a friend, who said that they had a buddy, who they went to school with who, years later—
—like a decade later—after graduating from high school / after college, came back and said to the Christian friend—said, “Your example of representing Christ to me, and inviting me to go to church, and inviting me to go to outreaches that had been hosted for young people—I just want you to know it didn’t mean that much then, but it means a lot now.”
Dennis: So you’re training your kids to know how to relate to their friends, who don’t know Christ as well.
Bob: And if God is really real in their lives—
Dennis: —they’ll do that!
Bob: —if they prayed with sincerity, and if they are sincerely believing the gospel, God will begin that transforming work. They won’t be perfect the next day, but you can begin to see godly fruit in your child’s life.
Dennis: But, as a parent, listen to me—we have to give our children a mission / we have to point them in the right direction. There’s a reason why they are compared to “…like arrows in the hand of a warrior.”
The arrows were meant to be pulled back by an archer and pointed in a direction at an object. As parents, we need to be purposeful / intentional about pointing our children in the right mission and in the right direction.
There was one other word of warning that came from Jim Eliff that I think is a good word for parents as children come and say, “I’ve given my life to Jesus.” Here was his counsel.
Jim: Well, I’d be careful about false comfort—I sure would. I think that it is better to know the truth, and to pray rightly, and to speak rightly in front of that child—that erring child—than it is to have some kind of euphemism or false hope. The hope only comes in God. God is the One who gives birth to people—brings them into the kingdom.
He does use the things that we have laid before them. He might still use them in the future. How many stories have you heard about people remembering the things they learned in childhood, and that sparking something there in their heart, and God working in them from that basis? So there is that kind of hope.
But I think—you know, when a person is told that they have cancer, that’s not a very good-sounding phrase; is it?—“You have cancer.” But it’s an accurate thing—it is better for us to know the accurate thing. Then, we can deal with it and do, perhaps, a better thing with it.
Bob: The warning there is clear. We don’t want to give our children a false sense of hope or security about their eternal condition if, in fact, their lives don’t reflect what their words say.
Dennis: And one of the statements I’ve made most often here, in talking about childhood conversions, is the statement by the great English preacher, C. H. Spurgeon:
“A child who knowingly sins can savingly believe.” So don’t underestimate the faith and belief of a young child, who wants to step toward Jesus Christ. It may be the point at which he or she becomes a believer in Christ, but it may be the first of many steps that they take toward Christ in their journey as a child.
Bob: And look for the evidence, because “He who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it.” If God has begun a good work in your child, you will see steps in that direction. Again, it may be three steps forward / two steps back; but you’ll see movement in that direction.
Dennis: It was—in terms of my life, Bob.
Dennis: I mean, you were a teenager—came to faith in Christ.
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: We have to wobble our way to the finish line; but the trajectory of our lives needs to be on the incline, headed toward becoming the young man / young lady that God created you to be.
Bob: We’ve already talked about the fact that this is an issue for moms and dads—how their children are doing spiritually. Third John, verse 4 says, “I have no greater joy than this, to know that my children are walking in the truth.” That’s true for us, as parents. There is no greater joy than to know that our children are doing well in their walk with Christ.
Here, at FamilyLife, over the years, we’ve assembled a number of resources designed to help parents help their kids understand the Bible and grow spiritually. Some of those are resources that we’ve created, here at FamilyLife—things like—well, you’ve mentioned Passport2Purity and Passport2Identity. Those are available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
But there are also resources like The Jesus Storybook Bible that Sally Lloyd-Jones wrote or Dr. Bruce Ware’s storybook for kids called Big Truths for Young Hearts.
And Phil Vischer, who was the co-creator of Veggie Tales, has put together a whole line of Bible-related videos called What’s in the Bible? that a lot of parents have been using to help their kids understand the whole scope of Scripture.
You can go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com to see the variety of resources that are available. I would encourage you, as a parent or a grandparent, just go and pick something out that you can begin using with your child. Find something that is age-appropriate / find something that you think will work for your family. Make a selection and start using one of these resources to maybe recalibrate things a little bit and to make the spiritual issues of life more central to the things you talk about in your home.
Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. If you have any questions about the resources available, or if you’d like to order by phone, call 1-800-FL-TODAY and someone on our team can answer any questions you have.
Now, let me say a quick word of thanks to those of you who have helped make today’s program possible. In fact, you’ve helped make the last 25 years possible—those of you who are regular contributors to FamilyLife Today—Legacy Partners, who give each month to support this ministry. We are grateful for your ongoing support and your partnership with us in this ministry. And we appreciate those of you who will, from time to time, as God prompts, make a donation to help support this work. Every time you donate, you’re making it possible for more people to have access to practical biblical help and hope on marriage and family issues. That’s what you’re investing in—marriages and families all around the globe.
So, if you’d like to make a donation, or if you’re ready to become a monthly Legacy Partner, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, where you can make an online donation; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate over the phone. Or you can mail a donation to us at FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now tomorrow, we’re going to continue to talk about this issue of the spiritual formation of our children. We want to talk specifically about those kids who may be faking it, because there are kids who are following the rules—you know, like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son? But there’s not real spiritual life there. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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