How do we evangelize our very small children – even as small as two years old?
“Ye that are truly kind parents, in the morning, in the evening, and all the day beside, press upon all your children, ‘to walk in love, as Christ also loved us, and gave himself for us;’ to mind that one point, ‘God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.’ ” – John Wesley, sermon
The best way to evangelize our small children is to kindle in them a receptivity to understand and rest in Jesus’ love, and to reflect it back to Him in deed and in voice. One of the best ways is by storytelling and guiding them in loving and thankful prayers. (Other fantastic ways include talking about Christian art, church architecture, and observing the mysteries of the Lord’s Table and Baptism).
Love > Faith
“If I have all faith… but have not love, I am nothing… faith, hope, love; the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:2, 13)
Faith is fidelity. Loyalty. Trusting surrender.
The kind of faithfulness to Jesus that we are called to us the kind of faithfulness husbands and wives are to show to one another. It is being true to your true Love (Rev. 2:4).
Jesus will give “a crown of righteousness” not to those who have mouthed some words, or who have done good deeds, but to “…all those who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). Jesus told His disciples “abide in my love” (John 15), and “keep my commands.” Chiefly, the two greatest commands which sum up all commands: the command of loving God and people, for:
“God is love.”
Love, thus, “is the supreme ethic.” God is a Trinity of love, and this “love has been poured out” from Him into the creation of “others.” The purpose of God’s creation is to invite us – the creatures of whom the Trinity said “Let us make man in our image” – into that familial love between the Father and the Son, and through the Holy Spirit to come into the peace-filled rest and joy that His united presence will bring.
God created us for Himself, and us for Him. This union is through love.
Trust is merely a by-product of this love.
Storytelling the love of Jesus
Sometimes at bedtime I kneel beside my son or daughter’s bed, and tell them a story about Jesus. It goes something like this:
“Once upon a time, Jesus was teaching some very important lessons. And some little children – just like you! – came running over to Jesus. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to run to Jesus?
“Well, Jesus’ disciples stopped the children, and they said, “No! You cannot come to Jesus, He is too busy for you… But wait! Jesus stopped the disciples. He said, “No, I love the little children. I love each of them very much. Let them come to me.” (Matthew 19:14, Luke 18:16).
“And then do you know what Jesus did? He held them in His arms (and I give my kid a warm embrace), and He hugged them, and He blessed them (I lay my hand on their forehead gently) and said, ‘God bless you, I love you so much.’
“Isn’t that very nice! Jesus loves you so much, because Jesus loves all the little children. And he loves your mommy and daddy very much, to, and we love Him so very much. Let’s tell Jesus how much we love Him, okay?”
This exchange is absolutely delightful for the kid. They love to hear how Jesus loves them so much, and even for a two-year old, they can often joyfully repeat a simple prayer of love to Jesus. “Jesus thank you for loving me. I love you very much. Please help me to always love you more and more.”
And why would I stop them from doing so – because they cannot articulate a ‘gospel presentation’ about sin and the cross and Heaven?
Shall I hinder the little children from coming to Jesus to be blessed? God forbid it.
When my son was three, he told me that it was nice that Jesus loved him, but he would like a hug. So I gave him a hug – “That’s from Jesus,” I told him. “What?” he asked, his small voice rising quizzically. “Yeah,” I replied. “God gave you a mommy and daddy, and other people who love Jesus, so that we can show you Jesus’ love and give you hugs from Him, since He is in Heaven now. Well, He’s also right here with us, too.”
“Well, it’s kind of like air. You can’t see it, but it’s all around us. Or light. You can’t hold light in your hands, but it’s certainly here. Jesus can shine His light into our hearts (2 Cor. 3:18) so that we know that He loves us, and that we can love Him too.”
“Oh, okay.” He grinned. “I’m glad Jesus loves me. And I love Him, too. And Jesus died for us! But He isn’t dead, He rose again.” Peter nodded to his own words. “That is true.”
“It’s very true. I love you Peter. Good night.”
“Good night dad. I love you too.”
Yep, my kid actually is that sweet – not all the time, of course, but often. And I believe that a crucial part of his character has been shaped by him knowing that Jesus loves him, and wanting to reflect that affection back to God in obedience and in love.
It is a sacred duty and opportunity of parents to model God’s affection, loving chastisement, and provision, so that their children can come to form an accurate view of God.
Salvation = Being “in Him”
Salvation ≠ Articulating penal substitution
We are not saved by gnosis, but by Jesus Himself.
Lofty or even basic theology is not what saves us. This is true for very small children, or the mentally challenged (a comforting thought), and also for ourselves (a less comforting thought if we have made an idol of our theology).
We are saved “in Christ,” and this in Him is characterized by loving Him, receiving His love for us, and surrendering to Him. We are not saved by being able to articulate particular doctrinal aspects of the faith, by expressing our consent to such theological facts, or by being good at drawing lines of who is in and who is out of salvation. These things can be very important, but they are not what saves us.
Salvation is “in Him”, for He is “the Way” (John 14:10), He is “the brightness of the glory of God” (Heb 1:3), it is only in Him that we are blessed with “every spiritual blessing…in Christ” (Eph. 1:3), we are chosen “in Him” (Eph 1:4), it is only “in Him [that] we have redemption through His blood,” (Eph 1:7), our inheritance is “in Him” (Eph 1:11), we are “buried with Him” in baptism (Rom. 6:4, Col. 2:12), and likewise “raised with Him through faith” (Col 2:12), so that we “may walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4), a life characterized not by the demands of the law but by “the newness of the Spirit” which is from Him (Rom. 7:6) and who communicates the riches of Jesus to us (Col. 2:3, 2 Cor. 3:18, 4:6). Every promise of God finds its “Yes” in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20).
As small children understand His love for them as modeled somewhat by the loving relationships around them and by the stories of Jesus’ love and healing power, they can learn more: that Jesus died and rose again, defeating death from the inside out, so that He can save us from death. That He took “the chastisement for our peace.” That He is preparing a place for us, and will come again.
But first: teach them to rest in His love, to love Him back, and to voice their love and gratitude to Him in prayer.