Now, as a parent wanting to evangelize my children, what do I tell them? What sort of sequential steps of information do I give them? Let me give you a little outline to follow.
Teach them to fear God. God is a holy God who cannot look upon iniquity. God is without sin. He never does, says or thinks anything wrong. God is perfectly holy.
Start with that. Don’t start with, “God loves you and wants to be your friend.” Start with God’s holy standard. Start with passages like these:
Then Joshua said to the people, “You will not be able to serve Yahweh, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins.” (Joshua 24:19)
And the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before Yahweh, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?” (1 Samuel 6:20)
Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
Therefore the wicked will not rise in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. (Psalm 1:5)
Because God is holy, tell them God hates sin. Tell them that God is angry with sinners. Tell them that sinners will never be able to stand in His presence. That’s where you start.
Next, help them understand that they have fallen short of that divine standard. Tell them that the gospel is a remedy for sin – that the good news is a message of forgiveness to an otherwise doomed person who will perish forever in hell. Tell them that God will give them forgiveness. Show them that by holding them to standards and then acting in forgiveness when they demonstrate sorrow and repentance.
There are a lot of byproducts to redemption, but the main issue is the forgiveness of sin. So you want to show them their sin.
You say, “How do you do that?” Well, you can talk about specific sins: bad attitudes, words, lies, failure to do a duty that they were told to do, disrespect or dishonoring their parents. But beyond that, talk about the fact that anything and everything in their life, no matter how good they try to be, falls short of a perfect standard, and so they are sinners to the core and in danger of hell.
Tell them they’re not alone – everybody’s in the same situation. Tell them there was a time when you were in the same situation, too. Before you came to Jesus Christ and received forgiveness for your sins, you were in exactly the same situation they are in.
Jesus said in Mark 2:17, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” They have to know they’re sinners. But they also have to know that Jesus came to call them, and they have to know that everybody’s in the same boat.
Tell them they can do nothing to earn their salvation. This is important. Tell them they’re in a serious situation from which they have no ability to remove themselves. Their sins have offended God. They can’t forgive themselves. He has to forgive them. Teach them verses like these:
For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, carry us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)
Tell them they’re sinners like everybody else and they cannot do anything to earn salvation. Remind them that they are in a helpless state. That’s where you want them – aware of God’s holy standard, aware of their sin and helpless as sinners before a holy God.
Then, tell them the good news. Tell the story of Jesus. Tell them that He is eternally God. Tell them that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, that God took on a body and came into the world, that God is such a loving God that He sought to save the very sinners that were alienated from Him.
Tell them Jesus is Lord of all. Take them to passages like these:
These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and elect and faithful. (Revelation 17:14)
Therefore, God also highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
Tell them the eternal God, who is Lord of all, became man and was absolutely sinless, and then tell them that He became the sacrifice for our sins. Tell them that Jesus became the sacrifice for us and took God’s wrath. Tell them that He shed His blood and died as an atonement for our sin. By His death on the cross, a way of salvation for sinners was provided. Explain to them that He died bearing our sins.
And then tell them about the resurrection. Tell them that He was delivered up for our transgressions and raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). Tell them that He came alive from the grave to show that He had indeed paid for our sins, satisfied the justice of God and conquered death.
Tell them the story of Jesus – not just the little stories about His parables or His encounters with men, but the main story.
Tell them that God wants, in a phrase, “repentant faith.” He wants them to repent and to trust Jesus as Lord and Savior. Take them to the Bible’s calls to repentance:
Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now commanding men that everyone everywhere should repent. (Acts 17:30)
And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your house.” (Acts 16:31)
Urge them to put their trust in Christ. Tell them to seek the Lord while He may be found and not to delay. Plead with them to be reconciled to God in this way.
You say, “How early do you do this?” Early. They’ll respond positively if this is done in a loving environment. Just keep doing it and keep doing it. Only God knows when it becomes their faith and not just yours.
Leading children to salvation is no different than leading adults. It’s the same gospel. But the hearts of children are more tender, more eager, more responsive, because they’re not filled and cluttered with accumulated years of selfishness, worldliness and cultivated lusts. What a tremendous privilege to lead your little ones to Christ!
The greatest task you have as a steward of your children is to work and pray to lead them to the knowledge of Christ. The issue in parenting is not controlling your children as an end in itself, but leading them to Christ. Then, the Holy Spirit will transform them on the inside, which works to neutralize the pressure of the world and the drives of depravity. They are subdued in the work of the Spirit in salvation.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1996, titled “God’s Pattern for Parents, Part 1.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at masters.edu.
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