Ideas for Teaching Kids about Sin
Some days ago, Anne L. A. wrote me:
Can you help me explaining sin to my children?
Sin is not an easy topic, like most of the topics I answer in my Wednesday messages. The greatest questions never have easy answers. I try to offer you some resources to answer your kids with a language adapted to their age. I wish to help you in a simple and life-related way. And I try to neither simplify nor contradict the theology of any Christian denomination.
Sinning is disobeying God.
Since they are toddlers, children learn from their parents about what “obey” and “disobey” mean. The concept of obedience is very clear for them! But having it clear does not mean that they obey you, right? However, when they disobey you, they know that they are doing something wrong.
Perhaps it’s not the same for us, grownups, in our relationship with God? When we sin, we know it, and we suffer for it. Our Lord Jesus knows it well, and not from his own experience, because he never sinned, but by knowing his apostles’ faults. This was the reason he said at Gethsemani:
“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
But what does it mean to obey God? What should we do or not do?
Scholars say that men and women, being images of God, have imprinted a law which helps us distinguish the difference between good and evil. And in our deep being, we know when we do something, whether it’s right or wrong.
But people love written instructions. We’re lazy to read such inner laws; we’d rather prefer to have a list of clear directives about what we have to do to obey God.
God, who well knows us because he created us, knew it and that was the reason he gave the Ten Commandments to Moses: Clear instructions written in stone to last forever.
However, those precise instructions were only ten. And the circumstances of human life are diverse. The Jewish scholars worked to add more and more laws about what people should do to obey God. When Jesus was born, there were more than 700 precepts!
But accomplishing such a huge number of laws was impossible, and people were burdened under the weight of the law. That’s why Jesus gave us a new commandment: to complement the Ten Commandments, to help us to better understand what we have to do to obey God, and to know if what we do is a sin or not.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
The new thing was that we have to love one another like Jesus has loved us. And God could not give us that commandment before Jesus dwelled among us, could he?
But what does it mean to love as Jesus loves us? It means to check every deed we do, with Jesus as the model to imitate. When I tell this to kids, I’m used to saying: “What do you think? Would Jesus do that or not? You made your fathers angry, would Jesus do it with his father?”
That sins are wrong, everyone knows. They affect others and even ourselves. But the more serious problem with sin is that disobeying God moves us away from him. And kids well know it: when they are very young and cheat their parents, they usually hide from them. This is the same way our first parents, Adam and Eve, hid from God after the first sin:
“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8)
Perhaps this is the saddest verse of the Bible, the more awful moment of our history, when, having sinned, instead of running to ask forgiveness from God, our parents moved away to hide from him. Humanity and nature still groan from that moment. Only the birth of Jesus could comfort us from that fall. God himself became a man and came to the world to save us from that first sin.
That is the reason why it may be convenient to finish this lesson about sin by talking about the good shepherd, who is Jesus. We all sin and move away from God; we hide from him and feel ashamed because we know that, as Paul said:
“I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do.” (Romans 7:19)
But Jesus is the good shepherd who goes after the lost and ashamed sheep until he finds her.
“And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders” (Luke 15:5)
Everyone is that lost sheep. We all sin. We all need to be saved by Jesus. He goes after us, he never stops to look after us and, when he finds us, puts us on his shoulders and goes home to his Father.
And Jesus does it joyfully, that’s why we Christians should not let sin perturb us with guilt. Guilt is the devil’s trick to move us far away from God. But we, thanks to Jesus, are the children of God, children of the God of joy, peace, and love. That’s the reason why Paul said that, even knowing that we are sinners, we have to rejoice always.
It’s our task to help our kids to live this way, always rejoicing! Watch and pray to avoid sin, ask for the Holy Spirit’s help, and obey always the will of God as Jesus did.
Hope it helps,