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What to tell 4 and 5 year-olds about sin and hell?

We have been told that young children are not ready for complex difficult issues like sin and hell. And it is true that you want to handle these topics with gentleness and sensitivity. But the truth is that children are never to young to learn about sin.  Deciding not to tell children about sin is like refusing to tell them about air. Sin is part of their life, and until they come to Christ, it is the dominate, shaping influence in children’s lives.

Explaining difficult issues with children must always be based upon clear biblical truth. Disobedience is sin. But it is not necessary to provide all the information to a 4 year-old that you would give to 24 year-old.

This is the basic principle to use when talking about issues that are complex, yet touch every age: always say what is true and add to these statements with more truth as the child grows to maturity. In its most basic form, sin is not obeying God’s commands. That is all that a young child needs to know. As he grows you can add nuances and additional implications and build on this truth.

Hell can simply be defined as a place of punishment where there will be no access to comfort from God.  There is more that must be said, but this is a good place to start.

Once these concepts are in place, a child’s inquisitive nature will help fill in the blanks as he is exposed to more and more biblical truth.

If you are going to talk to children about Christ, then you need to talk about sin and hell.  Jesus makes it possible to obey God and receive forgiveness. Since all children sin, they need to understand about sin. Sadly, being a young child offers no immunity from death, so knowing about the gospel and Jesus’ sacrifice is imperative.  Teaching these two basic definitions of sin and hell gives you a place to start.

This also provides the perfect opportunity to tell children that Jesus is the only one who can rescue them from sin and from hell.


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Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.