We fill words with meaning. The more important the word and what it relates to, the more essential to “fill it” and interpret it with the intended meaning. When it comes to our children’s and students' response to the gospel, two words require careful attention: repent and believe. We must be very intentional and careful to communicate these terms in a way that doesn’t diminish the intended meaning.
• Understanding you are a helpless sinner, unable to save yourself,
• Experiencing a deep hatred of your sin.
• Wanting to turn away from sin and run to Jesus for forgiveness.
Belief (faith) =
Putting your full confidence and trust in Jesus for all that He is, all that He’s done, and all that He has promised to do.
These words convey a serious weightiness—calling for and resulting in a complete transformation of a person’s mind, heart, and will. True saving repentance and belief—conversion, as it is commonly called—is much more than an acknowledgment of true facts about the Person and work of Jesus. Furthermore, while rightly emphasizing what it means to “believe in Jesus,” repentance is often minimized when instructing children. Pastor Art Murphy has some very wise advice for us as we seek to discern a child’s profession of faith:
Does the child demonstrate a personal need or desire to repent of his sin? Is the child ashamed of the sin in his life? Knowing what sin is, is not the same as being ashamed of sin. If a child is not repentant but goes ahead and makes a decision to become a Christian, then his decision is premature and incomplete. Letting a child think he can become a Christian without repentance gives him false assurance. As a result, he may never repent and therefore never completely finish becoming a Christian.
Loving Jesus is an important part of becoming a Christian, but that is not enough. If a child is led to think that he can be a Christian without repentance, he does not fully understand the need for a Savior. He may love Jesus but not feel the need for Him in his life. He may live his life thinking that everything is OK when it is not.
(The Faith of a Child: A Step-by-Step Guide to Salvation for Your Child, copyright©2000, pages 75-76)
At Truth78, we have been concerned about this for some time. One thing we have done to address this issue is to be very careful and intentional in our curriculum by repeatedly incorporating the following concepts in the lessons:
- Highlight the love of God within the context of His holiness.
- Stress God’s rightful rule over us, to which we are called to submit.
- Present the problem and extent of sin in a very serious and weighty manner.
- Emphasize the Person and work of Jesus and what it means that He is both Lord and Savior.
- Give an age-appropriate, yet deep and rich presentation of the gospel—one that clearly explains the meaning and significance of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
- Content that states the clear demand and explanation of biblical repentance and belief.
- Instructions for teachers to use non-inclusive language when indicated so that students don’t “assume” faith, emphasizing the need for them to personally respond in true repentance and belief.
- Provide thoughtful Small Group Application discussion questions that go beyond merely recalling lesson facts, but serve to aim toward the students’ hearts.
- Include helpful supplementary material for teachers and small group leaders in the curricula introduction and appendix on understanding the gospel presentation and sharing the gospel with children.
We also believe that the gospel call to repent and believe should be communicated first, and foremost, by parents to their children. Our resource, Helping Children to Understand the Gospel, is a tool for parents to use in the home. In it, much is said regarding repentance and belief, and how a parent might communicate these truths in an age-appropriate manner, and tips for helping parents discern their child’s response to the gospel.