Just when you think you’re doing pretty well with your kids, your spouse, your life—God comes along and throws you a curve ball.
Last night as I was tucking my 10-year-old into bed, he started to cry. He said, “Mom, I’m afraid the plane we’re going on next week might crash and we’ll all die, and that I’ll go to hell.”
This blow came from my firstborn, a child who had been to church nearly every week of his life, who had accepted Jesus at Bible School three years ago. What had happened? Going to hell? How did he get to this?
I sat down, asking, “What makes you think you would go to hell if you died?” I held my breath for his response.
“Because I don’t like going to church. I don’t know how to show God I love Him,” was his tearful response.
I let out my breath and put my arms around him. We hugged and talked for a long time. We talked about God, and love, and death and whether or not he has to go to church. He felt better, but I’m not sure what I felt. Had I really let things go this long without checking on what he was hearing?
Last night brought me to a point I think I’ve been avoiding for a while.
How do I teach my children who God is and who they are compared to Him? How do I do this without making them feel so badly about themselves they think they aren’t even worth saving? How can I protect my children from the wounding distortion of the Gospel presented in so many churches? This misguided message says if they don’t love being at church, if they don’t love singing worship songs, if they’re not always good, then they must not be saved. They must not love Jesus enough, otherwise they would never want to sin.
What a perversion of the awesome love of Christ! To a young person or even a new Christian, this falsification is like saying to them, “Now that you know Jesus, if you keep sinning—especially if you choose to sin—you are not really saved.”
Growing up in the Bible Belt, I got this message a lot. God hated sin. And if I loved God, I would stop sinning, or at least stop wanting to sin.
The church I went to made very little mention of love. There was lots of talk about suffering and sinning. Grace wasn’t mentioned much either, unless it was some picture-perfect prodigal-come-home story of a lost soul who’d vowed never to sin again.
The focus was always on the sin. Sin was highlighted, underlined and circled with a big black marker. We were described as having “black hearts.” And while this is undoubtedly true, when it’s not presented in conjunction with the unconditional love of Christ, it creates a system of people trying to dig themselves out of a hole. Trying to work for their own righteousness. Or worse yet, deciding to give up on the whole “God thing” because it’s just too hard.
The problem comes when we are working to rid ourselves of sin instead of accepting the work that Jesus has already done; when we are trying to earn our own righteousness to prove our salvation instead of letting His work be our righteousness and salvation.
Never was I told about the love of Jesus for the sinning, struggling believer. Never did I hear, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). I didn’t know that Jesus has this amazing love for me that can overcome all of my brokenness, all of my helplessness, all of my hopelessness. Even when I’m too weak to change myself, His love is so absolute that even the best of me can’t compare to it.
Do the church leaders I grew up around really believe this? Is it such a fundamental truth for the lifelong “believers” that they just forgot to tell the new people?
I want to believe their hearts were in the right place, but I just can’t say for sure. The well brought-up people of the church I was in had become a lot like the Pharisees and Sadducees, and we all know what Jesus had to say to them. Where did that leave me and the rest of the sinners?
How do I teach my kids about the real love of God and about who they are compared to Him? They are to turn away from sin, to do everything in their power to resist temptation, but we must also teach them that they will fail. There was only One who ever did it right, and He will still love them.
Sometimes they will try to resist sin, and they’ll make it. Sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they will choose to sin. Sometimes they’ll stay there for a while. But God will still want them back. He will still love them. When Christ loves us, He is 100 percent invested. It is unconditional. It is not dependent on anything we do. It is a free gift. We only have to accept it.
When Jesus got up on the cross and God laid the inequity of us all on Him, He took all of it. Not just the sins we committed before we were saved. Not just the little sins we didn’t mean to commit. Not just the accidental sins. He took ALL of them. The big ones, the small ones, the really dark ones and the ones when we should have known better.
It is only against the backdrop of a love so pure that we can begin to understand our depravity and need for a Savior. That’s when you begin to develop a desire for goodness, when working to please Christ is no longer a chore. That’s when the joy of walking with Him far outweighs any sacrifice on our part.
It’s at this point that we can see the true ugliness of our black hearts. But by now we’re so covered in the grace and love of Christ we are convinced of the irrevocability of our salvation. And that is the message I want my children to hold on to.