To me it’s much more honest to reference the personal theologically rather than the universal. So, let me tell a humorous but serious story about our family devotions this morning. The topic was Jesus’ hard work for sinners. We use the tried and true devotional Little Visits with God. My parents used the 1960s version and that’s what we use now. Anyway, I got to asking my youngest daughter what a sinner was.
“Someone who sins.”
“That’s right. Who’s a sinner?”
“But are you a sinner?”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“What about when you fight with your sister and say mean things. Aren’t you a sinner then?”
“No. I’m not a sinner.”
My wife and I looked at each other and did our best not to break into laughter. Somehow I guess she imagines that she’s too cute to be a sinner. On Sunday in our small group in church we prayed for her that she’d come to know Jesus. I made a little remark about her being a heathen to my old friend and he seemed uncomfortable with that. He knew that she wasn’t a heathen. It must be hard to consider a six year old a heathen. I suppose that especially with our children this business about sin is difficult to talk about.
I wrote about sin last year. It takes faith to believe in sin. That old idea that sin is the one universally self evident truth is dangerously untrue. This is why coercing someone into a “sinners prayer” is unhealthy, because the faith to understand our status before God has to be cultivated. In many ways this is why it is delightful to teach children about Jesus. They hear me talk about sin and then they see me sin and confess and repent. Last night I was grumpy with my daughter because she was so antsy and high strung and I was feeling sick. I lay in bed last night and repented for making her feel like I didn’t want her around. This morning when she came into the room the first thing she heard me say was that I needed her forgiveness.
To learn to have faith in Jesus is not the same thing as learning social mores in order to keep from getting into trouble. But I think that all children spend time thinking that way. I once overheard my older daughter saying to her younger sister, “Did you know there are people who don’t know Jesus? Isn’t that scary!?! They’re going to go to hell!” That alarmed me because I realized that she begins learning about faith in terms of the in-group (those saved) and the out-group (those yet to be saved). I tried to explain to her that we shouldn’t fear people who don’t know Jesus, but I think she still struggles with that.
Maybe the biggest struggle for raising children in the faith is teaching them that Jesus called his disciples to take up their cross and follow Him, and that in our own Scriptures to share in Christ’s sufferings is part of the privilege of faith. Six year olds called to suffer? Yes, this will take some time.
Rom. 5:1 (NRSV)
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.