Life Theology

God Loves His Little Pharisees and Prodigals

Part 2 in a 4 part series. View series intro and index.

In my last post, I made the point that in raising children and teaching them the Bible, the goal is not to make them nice kids who obey the rules. All people, including our children, are sinners who need a Redeemer who will rescue and deliver them from God’s wrath. No amount of rule keeping will make us right with God. If we truly believe that, it should drastically alter the way we raise our kids and instruct them at home and in church.

At the risk of over-generalization, most kids probably fall into two categories. On one hand, we have law-keeping Lewis. He is a good boy who loves always doing what Mommy and Daddy tell him to do. He stands a little taller when he obeys, especially when his sister does not. Speaking of his sister, she’s rule-breaking Rachel. Rachel knows that she can’t stack up to Lewis, so she makes her own rules. She cheats during games, shirks her chores, and scowls at Lewis for always being Mom’s favorite.

Does this sound familiar? The parable of the two sons in Luke 15:11-32 might ring a bell. The point is not mainly that Rachel (the younger brother in the parable) is an awful, sinful child. Likewise, the point is not mainly that Lewis (the elder brother in the parable) is a proud, self-righteous child. The main point is that God offers grace and redemption to both of them because both need it. You might give Lewis five gold stars for minding manners and doing chores, but you and I both know his heart is just as crooked as Rachel’s. If we are content with Lewis’ “obedience,” calling him a “good boy” and Rachel a “bad girl,” we end up raising a legalistic person who thinks they are accepted by God because of their merit, and Rachel learns this false theology in the process.

Now we can see why turning a Bible story into a moral lesson is dangerous. The apostle Paul thought he was the most moral man in the world, yet it amounted to garbage (Phil. 3:1-11). God does not require morality. The law was given to show our sin (Rom. 3:20). And the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-8)—which includes the “golden rule”—was given by Jesus to pull the rug out from under the Pharisees who thought the law was only about the letter and not the heart. God demands perfect obedience, including motive and intention. Only Jesus provides that (see Phil. 2:8; Rom. 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). Perfect obedience is something neither Lewis nor Rachel can accomplish on their own.

Jesus’ perfect righteousness establishes our goodness before God, and our motivation for holy living. As Elyse Fitzpatrick writes in Give Them Grace:

Raising good kids is utterly impossible unless they are drawn by the Holy Spirit to put their faith in the goodness of another. You cannot raise good kids, because you’re not a good parent. There is only one good Parent, and he had one good Son. Together, this Father and Son accomplished everything that needed to be done to rescue us and our children from certain destruction. When we put our faith in him, he bestows the benediction upon us: ‘These are my beloved children, with whom I am well pleased’ (see Matt. 3:17)” (p. 50).

What do we as parents put our hope in then? The grace of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ for us! You might say, “That’s hard! My kids will go haywire if they hear about grace!” Really? Have you gone haywire because of God’s grace? If so, you don’t understand grace. I have heard it said before and I agree: I have never met a person who has been so captivated by God’s grace that they feel they have license to do whatever they want.

How does this all play out in children’s Bible lessons? We’ll tackle that in the next post.

Life Theology

Telling Our Kids the Best Story (Part 1)

Series Index:

  1. Telling Our Kids the Best Story
  2. God Loves His Little Pharisees and Prodigals
  3. Give Them Jesus, Not Morality
  4. Interpreting Stories With the Best Story

Part 1 in a 4 part series. View series intro and index.

The whole Bible is about Jesus. I say that lot on this blog. Probably in every post, one way or another. I say it so much so that I wonder if people get bored. Oh yeah, here comes the Jesus card again. What could be more exciting than the preeminent and all-satisfying Treasure of the universe? The challenge, then, is to be creative and fresh in pointing to Christ while still remaining biblical. We don’t want to allegorize or make an unwarranted connection. This takes hard work, but it’s possible.

This is necessary, of course, for preaching, teaching, and writing blogs. But it is also vital for children’s education. In fact, if we want our children to embrace the gospel and be salt and light in the world, we must make Christ the sum and focus of all our instruction.

If you have been around the church for any amount of time, the running joke is that the Sunday school answer is always “Jesus” to any given question. Despite this, many children’s ministries and Christian parents forget that, in fact, Jesus is the final answer for the Bible stories and spiritual lessons we teach our children.

The average children’s curriculum at an evangelical church is filled with Old Testament character studies or Jesus’ parables. A particular passage is read or the story is paraphrased, only to end with a line on how to be nice or kind or not lie. The point is clear: be more moral because that is what God wants! When we do this, little separates God’s self-revelation from Aesop’s Fables.

The goal of raising children and instructing them is not get them to be more moral. Our children are monsters on the inside from conception. They don’t learn to sin. They come out of the womb primed and ready, and they cannot learn to not sin. Our children, like us, are broken mirrors that need to be put back together in order to reflect his image. This cannot happen unless Jesus, the true image of God, is seen and embraced as the only Redeemer.

For the most part, children’s devotions remove a particular story of the from its redemptive-historical setting. This simply means that two things are being neglected: 1) the story’s original place along the timeline of history in God’s dealings with Israel, and 2) how the story testifies to the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is the fulfillment of all God’s dealings with Israel. You might respond, “Kids can’t understand this ‘theology’! But they can understand they aren’t supposed to lie!” I disagree. Kids are captivated by good stories, and good theology tells the best story.

When we reduce our gospel story to a moral lesson we are not helping our kids. That will only make them self-righteous little Pharisees. Even Jesus condemned the Pharisees for reading the Old Testament to find rules to follow (John 5:29; Matt. 23:1-39). Wouldn’t it be so much more glorious to tell our kids how the Bible is really one story with one Hero who has done for us all the things we are incapable of accomplishing for ourselves?