teaching children grace, not morals

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Have you ever wondered how to explain a section of scripture to a child? Maybe the verses are full of the amazing details of God’s might or mercy in a person’s life, but you’re left wondering what He’d want you to focus on as the story’s application?

Take the recorded account of David and Goliath: Do we tell children that they’re to be brave like David? Or that God will always knock down life’s scary things for them if they’ll only trust Him like David did? Do we tell them to “be like David”?

We inherently know there’s something deeper and better and more God-glorifying than telling children to shine up on the outside. We know we don’t just want moralism. We don’t  want moralistic applications that set children on trajectories toward white-washed-tomb, behavior-modification-only “Christianity.” But how do we, with each Bible story — in both the Old and the New Testament — point them to Jesus? How do we unfold the beauty of Scripture, from Genesis’s first verse to Revelation’s last, explaining each section and story as part of the one Big Story — the stunning story of God’s plan to redeem a people for Himself?

Back to the battle between David and Goliath, as recorded in I Samuel 17:

“Let’s take a minute and consider how one of the most well-known Bible stories is often taught and applied…Many of us were taught  that David was brave because he trusted in God, and God blessed his faith with a victory over Goliath. We were also told that there are giants in our lives and we need to be like David and be brave as we trust God for victory. There’s a problem with that application, though. Where’s Jesus? And who can actually live up to that application? … When we teach the Bible like this, we rob it of its power and we set our kids up for failure and frustration…The essence of the story is that an unlikely hero defeats a seemingly unbeatable enemy…This is the picture of the gospel. Jesus is the greater David…Jesus was resolute in facing sin and death and traveled to Jerusalem to go to battle on a cross…He struck down sin and death on the cross…This is what God wants us to see in this story, and that is what we need to teach our kids. As we teach this Bible story, our kids need to understand that David and Goliath were real and part of redemptive history. We need to honor this story in its immediate context. However, we cannot teach it in isolation of the big story of Jesus…When we show kids how David is the precursor to Jesus, we give them an opportunity to see more of the beauty and power behind the gospel. The story of David defeating a giant won’t stir our affections like the story of Jesus defeating sin and death will…There is nothing wrong with encouraging kids to be brave in light of David and Goliath–if we do it the right way. We don’t tell them to emulate David and be brave in life as they face giants. That’s teaching moralism. Instead, we tell kids they can be brave in life no matter what because Jesus has already defeated their greatest enemies: sin and death! …When we force immediate application out of a passage at the expense of understanding its place in the gospel narrative, we end up with moralism….We focus on what we are to do instead of what Jesus has already done. We find our worth in our actions for God instead of our identity in Christ. None of that brings life. None of that brings joy. None of that brings God glory…Our target is a transformed heart, not changed behavior…We want our kids to love Jesus so deeply that they desire to obey God’s commands as a byproduct of that love. They obey out of gratitude, not obligation. They obey with joy, not resentment. They obey out of an overflowing appreciation of the gospel…” (excerpt from Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry, Brian Dembowczyk)

Related: What do I want for my child?

Painting: David and Goliath by Robert Temple Ayres, 1954

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About Jill

I'm a wife, mom to three beautiful children, and currently work at two jobs for which I'm very grateful -- part-time at my kids' school, and as children's ministry director at Redeemer PCA in Athens, GA, a place our family treasures as our church home. It's been thirty years since the Lord saved me, and to this day I'm astounded at His steadfast love shed upon unfaithful me. My hope would be that I might speak and write in ways God would use to soften hearts toward Him, that we would together be enamored by the glorious beauty of Jesus and awakened to His love unimagined. Thanks so much for reading!
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