I have been conversing back and forth with my (now) seven year old about Jesus and the meaning of the gospel. My son knows all the basic answers about Jesus and the gospel, who he was and is (God), what he did (died on the cross for our sins—because we are sinners), what he requires (repentance; ask forgiveness), and what he does with our repentance (forgives us) and faith (saves us). In addition, he knows the basic answer to why we should obey our parents and not mistreat others—because that “does not please God.” Furthermore, he knows why he should share his things and why he should love others—because “God first loved us and displayed that love on the cross through him giving us his Son.” However, while he knows the basics, he doesn’t know specifics. In other words, he has head knowledge of Jesus and the gospel, but he still lacks heart knowledge of the gospel. Another way of stating this—he knows of the weights, but has not felt the weight.
For just the other day he was misbehaving, unpleasantly aggravating his younger sister (like many older brothers). In addition, not only was he ill-treating his sister, he had a bad attitude as to where we were going to eat. As we exited the vehicle, I put my arm around him and began to talk to Caleb about the gospel. I went through all the basic questions again, to which he correctly answered them. But, I went a little deeper. I began to explain, when Jesus forgives us, he doesn’t just save us from our sin, where we are then free from (eternal) punishment; he in fact reverses our behavior. Jesus forgives us, but also fills us in order to begin reversing our sinful behavior. To illustrate, I told him to picture a car going forward. I asked him, “What needs to happen in order for that car to start going backwards.” He said, “It needs to come to a stop, and then hit a button to go backwards.” Responding, I said, “Correct. So, just as the car is going forward, we are born going forward, living for ourselves, misbehaving and sinning. But Jesus is the button that begins the reversal process.”
Continuing, I explained how Jesus reverses the sin in every area of our life. Not that we will be perfect and sin-free, but we will begin to allow Jesus to control and live through us in every area of our life—from our obedience to our parents; to how we treat our sister and brother; to how we treat our friends and classmates; to how we listen to our gymnastic coach; etc. This was an attempt to explain that the gospel does not primarily save us from something, but to something. Think about this: What child, or what adult for that matter, would love not to experience punishment?
Peddling the gospel as a get-out-of-hell free card obviously strikes a cord within the realm of humanity—we don’t want to be punished. However, the gospel is so much more than a membership card for heaven. The gospel is the good news that Jesus has purchased us for himself, he is our liberating King, and has reclaimed and redeemed life for humans the way God intended life to be, thus reversing the curse of sin and breathing life and righteousness back into every sphere/area of our life.
My fear would be that many churches and parents (for what ever reason) allow children to make a “decision” for Christ in a way that is knowledgably correct, but spiritually and practically flawed (which can be a grave spiritual disaster later in life). While they may have all the head knowledge and bible knowledge about Jesus, they lack the heart transformation that Jesus performs. Let me go a step further; this fear is not just reserved for children, but for the way many churches and pastors present the gospel to adults. Therefore, there are a massive amount of children and adults sitting within the confines of the church, running around the community with the label of “Christian,” yet they are church members and “Christians” in a heady way. In all reality, they lack the heart transformation that the gospel truly brings. In other words, they see the weights, but have not felt the weights. [I speak of “weights” as dumbbells that are found in a gym.]
A knowledgably correct gospel (knowing all the right answers) does not equate into saving faith. Satan has the knowledge of both God and his word, yet he has chosen to reject the weight of the knowledge of who God is and his Word. James, soberly exclaims, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19). My prayer and goal as a parent, and even as a pastor, is to make sure that my children and others do not solely have the talking point answers about Jesus, but that they clearly know about Jesus and his work to redeem, restore, and begin the great reversal process in them. And, true salvation and saving faith is not confessing and regurgitating biblical information about Jesus in a heady (intellectual) way, but rather it is about surrendering to Jesus as King, Lord, and God over our life (personally experiencing the weight of Jesus and his lordship over our lives). The gospel is about the good news of redeeming all of our areas—handing all of our life over to him in order for him to conform us into the person, and the people, he desires us to be. Thus, the gospel does not necessarily save us from something (although we are saved from eternal punishment), but definitively saves us to something—living a life centered, controlled and conformed by Jesus and the Holy Spirit for the glory of God. Know that the gospel has freed you to live life to the fullest, experiencing life the way God intended—relationally, socially, and culturally. The gospel has awakened us to be fully alive! Thus, we live To Something, not from Something. And this is the weight I pray that my children will come to understand as I continue to live out and share with them the gospel.