How To Explain The Gospel To A Four Year Old

(Forgive me for using springtime pictures in the summer - this is my boy in April.)

When I was six years old, all the girls in my class had seen the Little Mermaid - except me.  My mom had yet to screen that very popular movie, so I really had no idea how to play the Little Mermaid when I visited a new friend’s house.  Her basement was the ocean, and she of course, was Ariel, singing her six-year-old lungs out on the “rock” at the top of the stairs.  When it was my turn to be Ariel, I did not know the mermaid’s songs.  I still have no memory of what I sang instead, but I’m pretty sure the other girl could tell I hadn’t seen the movie.

That visit with a friend I (who I rarely saw again) stands out in my adult memory now - let’s be honest, largely because of the Little Mermaid game that I didn’t really know how to play.  How embarrassing! (Except not really, because I didn’t care that much about the Little Mermaid.)  But it also stands out because of something my friend said.  Don’t ask me how we got on this subject - I think either me or one of my siblings must have asked her if she was saved.  And my friend said she was saved, because every night she asked Jesus to come into her heart.

I was puzzled at that, and I remember bringing it up to my mom later and talking with her about it.  Why did my friend think she needed to ask Jesus into her heart more than once?

I was thinking about this the other day as Wyatt was asking me some very deep questions.  As most Christian parents, my deepest desire is for all my kids to come to believe in Jesus as their Savior.  Since Wyatt asked Jesus forgive him and come into his heart last year (and update - Gwen did the same last night, in her sweet almost-four-years-old way!!), I have been explaining more and more theology to him.  Theology for four/five year olds - it can be tricky to figure out how to explain these things so they can understand, and Wyatt's questions are helping me hone my explanations for his siblings.  It has also helped me realize one thing.

Children can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus when they understand one thing first.  They are sinners, and God is holy, and they can do nothing to fix their sin.

Until children understand that, once the Holy Spirit impresses that on their hearts, nothing else about the Gospel will make sense - and alternately, once that starts to make sense, the rest will start to click.

A few years ago I came across a Christian mom explaining to her kids that they need to be obedient to keep their hearts clean so Jesus can come in - and when I heard that, I started to understand why my friend might have thought she needed to re-ask Jesus into her heart every night.  She had done wrong things during the day, as all children do, and she thought that she had to ask Jesus into her heart every night because He had left when she sinned.  

So what did she think her salvation was reliant on?  Keeping her heart “clean” and asking Jesus back in after her heart got “dirty” again.

Friends, that is salvation by works, is it not?  Let’s not coerce obedience out of our kids by giving them a wrong understanding of the Gospel!

When kids understand that nothing they do will make their heart clean enough for Jesus to come in - that’s when they will be able to understand what Jesus did in dying to save them.  They can’t be good enough for Jesus to come into their hearts - that is why He died, so He could make their hearts clean.  He died to pay the penalty for their sins and cleanse them once for all.  It doesn’t have to be repeated.

So why are they obedient after they understand and believe that?  Not to keep their hearts “clean” so Jesus will stay, but to please God and become more like Jesus, because they love Him and are thankful for what He did in dying to pay for their sins!  

And that might seem complicated to explain - it is complicated to explain to a child.  But not when they come to understand that first point.

They are sinners, and God is holy, and they can do nothing to fix their sin - but Jesus can.


On a related note, recently Tommy Nelson sent me a book that prompted all this thinking about how to start explaining the Gospel to little ones - I Believe In Jesus by John MacArthur.  I respect John MacArthur’s teachings and opinions on so many things, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book - a parent’s guide to introducing the Gospel to your kids, but in a form that you can use to read with your kids, which I think is wonderful!  

He covers what I talked about above, and mentions a lot of other theological points that kids need to understand.  Each page has Bible verses to back up the points of the Gospel, which is really helpful, because I want them to hear the truth from God’s word, not just in my own words.  I am excited to use this book to explain things more deeply to my children, both before they accept Jesus and after as they continue to learn more about Him!  This is a great resource for any Christian parent, and it was comforting to me to see that I have been hitting all the main points in this book as I explain things to my kids.  

One thing I have learned so far is that it’s okay if they don’t “get it” all in one chunk.  It's about laying the foundation first.  From the moment my kids can talk I start talking to them about how Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, even though they might not really understand what that means until they are old enough to understand their own sin.  But if I just keep explaining the Gospel to them as topics arise, sometimes in tiny pieces, it will start to sink in more and more, and this book is the perfect one to reach for to tie it all together.  I’m going to be handing this one out to my sisters’ and brothers’ families as soon as I can get a hold of more copies - it's good enough to give as a gift.  Buy this book!  That is all.

Note: I received a copy of I Believe In Jesus for free in exchange for an honest review.

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