He mentions three concerns about how we share the gospel with children:
- That we not replace the true gospel with false or distorted versions
- That we not confuse the gospel with a child's response
- That we not equate a true, inward, spiritual response with an outward physical or emotional response
How serious is this:
In Galatians 1, Paul sternly warned of those who distorted Christ's gospel, saying: "If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:9). We cannot and must not modify, amend, or distort the saving message of the cross. But there are many false or distorted versions that masquerade as the truth.What the Gospel is NOT:
Neither should we think we've shared the gospel when we have said, "If you ask Jesus into your heart [accept or receive Jesus], you will go to heaven when you die." While it's true that those who receive and believe are God's children (John 1:12), it is false that "asking Jesus into your heart" brings salvation. For one thing, that statement includes nothing about:
- Christ's death, burial, and resurrection
- Jesus' identity as Messiah, Lord, and God manifested in the flesh
- Sin, the nature of salvation, and the need for repentance
What's wrong with "asking Jesus into your heart":
So the problem with equating "asking Jesus into your heart" with the gospel is that it shifts the focus away from Jesus Christ's atoning work onto the child's subjective work or experience.
What is the gospel, then?
Paul defines it in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures." Very simply, the gospel is that Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) through His death, burial, and resurrection.
He concludes with two other concerns in regards to responding to the Gospel:
A true response involves both repentance and faith (Acts 20:21). Repentance is turning from sin, self-righteousness (Phil. 3:1-10), and idolatry (1 Thess. 1:10) to serve the true and living God. Faith is trusting in the crucified and risen Christ to save us.But don't confuse repentance and faith with a response to an invitation, such as:
- Raise your hand if you want to go to heaven.
- Pray the sinner's prayer.
- You need to be baptized.
- Make a decision about Jesus today!
- Talk a lot about who Jesus is (God-Man, Savior, Lord, King) and what He has done (died for our sins on the cross, rose from the dead).
- Make it clear that all people need their sins forgiven and will be judged for their sins if they are not saved.
- Urge children to turn from their sins and trust in what Jesus has done.
- Invite children to talk to you further about their relationship with God.
- Motivate parents to pursue further discussions with their children.
- Think long-term about how you can continually disciple children, vs. how many "decisions" you can record.
- Pray for the children, and expect God in His grace to use the gospel to bring them to true, saving faith in Christ.