This is perhaps the most important question you will ever be asked about your children. This is Easter weekend, when we remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. We remember it because it actually happened. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ are not symbols, but reality. What Jesus did almost 2,000 years ago was the most courageous, loving and violent action ever taken by man. It was courageous because Jesus willingly took the wrath of God upon himself to pay for the ugliness and wickedness of sin. He knew full well what would happen to him; he knew the pain he would endure. Yet he took this punishment willingly, courageously. His action was loving because he truly put others before himself. He died so that his people would live—this was the most selfless act in all of history. It was violent because he literally destroyed the power of the kingdom of darkness and of death. Death lost its sting, the grave its victory!
While all these things are true and must be part of what you tell your children, there is more. You must tell them about the personal nature of his death on your behalf. Christ did not die for generic sins. He took the wrath of a holy God, the wrath that you and I deserved for the particular, personal sins that we have committed. He became guilty for your lies, your lusts, your anger, your selfishness. He was punished for each of your sins as if he were the one who committed them. When you consider that on the cross the terrible wrath of God was unleashed upon Christ not only for your personal sins, but for the personal sins of untold millions, then you begin to get just a tiny bit of understanding of what Jesus endured for you. This is the personal story that you must also tell your children. No, you don’t have to go into every detail of your sins. But you do have to let your children know how you have been blown away by what Christ personally did for you.
For example, when you catch your child in a lie, you should not simply admonish, discipline and pray with him that he must not do this again. This much must be done, of course. Learning to obey God is essential for everyone. But if that is all you do, you will have failed to make a truly personal and needed connection with Christ. You will have taught that Christianity is primarily about keeping rules. You will have kept the power of the gospel from your children. You will have taught your children about Christ but you will have withheld the person of Christ from them. Failing to make Christ personal is the same sin the Israelites committed in Judges 2:10:
After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.
It wasn’t that the children didn’t know about God. Surely the Israelites disciplined their children for lying, stealing and disrespectful behavior. But in doing so the Israelites did not honor God as holy. They talked about God, but did not make God known personally. (See Dale Ralph Davis’s commentary on Judges.)
To illustrate this, let’s go back to the illustration of catching your child in a lie. You admonish, discipline and pray with him, but the focus is on the wrong behavior of the child. When this is the response to sin there is no sense of personally offending the Living God.
Here is how you make personal what Christ has done for you: You remember that you came into this world a natural liar, just as your children did. You, too, found it convenient to lie to avoid an unpleasant consequence; perhaps you are still tempted to do so at times. In any event, you have caught your child in a lie. You have confronted him with his lie and he has admitted it. You lovingly and firmly administer discipline. Then you tell your child something like this:
Justin, I know what it is like to lie. When mommy was a little girl, I used to lie when I didn’t want to get in trouble. As a matter of fact, I lied all the time until God saved me as a young woman and I became a Christian.
Mommy, you used to lie???
Yes, sweetheart, I did. And you know what? Sometimes I am still tempted to lie. I understand how awful lying is. But Jesus died for my lies and my other sins. He took my punishment, and he made me a new person. He made it possible for me not to lie anymore.
Mommy, sometimes it’s really hard to tell the truth. Sometimes I don’t want to.
I know, Justin. No one naturally wants to love and obey God. That is why Jesus’ love for me was so special. He knew all about my lies. He died for me so that I would not have to lie anymore. His death freed me from my lies. He loved me even though he knew what I was like inside. He knew how afraid I was. He knows what you are like inside as well. He knows all about why you want to lie. If you trust him he can free you from wanting to lie, just like he did for me.
But Mommy, you said that sometimes you still want to lie. If Jesus died for your lies then why do you still want to sometimes? Does he get mad at you when you think about lying?
Justin, that is a wonderful question. Jesus knows that as long as we are here on earth we will be tempted to lie. Remember in family worship when Dad talked about the time when Jesus was tempted to disobey God in every way possible? … Okay, well he is able to help you and me when we want to lie, because he knows exactly what that temptation is like. And here is the most wonderful part. When Jesus died for my lies he took the punishment for all the lies I ever told and all the lies I ever will tell. For me, your mom. He loved me so much that he freed me from having to lie. So even when I am tempted, even now when I am not truthful, he loves me and paid the price for my lying. That is why Jesus is special and personal to me. He can be this special and personal to you if you trust him and ask for his forgiveness for your lies, and all your sins.
You see, God was not personal to the Israelites of Joshua’s day. They told their children something about God, but they did not tell them the personal wonder of what he had done for them. Don’t be satisfied to merely stop bad behavior like lying. You can relate personally to all of your children’s sins. Let them know this and let them know what Jesus did for you and your sin. Let them know that the resurrection is personal.