Charles Spurgeon warned that even if we believe in justification by faith, a gospel of grace, we often preach the opposite. He writes:
"Many do this when addressing children, and I notice that they generally speak to the little ones about loving Jesus, and not upon believing in him. This must make a mischievous impression upon youthful minds and take them off from the true way of peace." (Lectures to my students: #10 "On conversion as our aim").

How can it be dangerous to tell children to love Jesus?

Spurgeon's point is that the exhortation to love carries with it the imposition of duties. Certainly we are told to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. That is the summary of the law. And there's the rub: it is the summary of the law rather than the heart of the gospel. Yes - children should love Jesus. And if they do it will be well with them. But they can't! At least, not the way the law requires.

Spurgeon make the point as he describes a typical sermon preached on the text, "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy." He says that the usual message proclaimed from the text is that we should "be good, very good, and though you will have to suffer in consequence, God will reward you in the end." This, of course, is a classic expression of salvation by works. Even if we theoretically believe in justification by faith, this law-based attitude toward God is deeply ingrained within us. And so we tell our children if only they will love Jesus (and, of course, do the things that loving Jesus implies), even if life is hard, God will bless them and all will be well in the end.

Yes, children (and adults) are to love God with all their hearts. But we don't, and therefore deserve God's wrath. Only One man did utterly love God and live the life that proved it. And the Gospel tells us that his love for God (and resultant perfect life) is credited to our account by faith, in place of our loveless lives.Salvation is through faith in his life and death, not by means of our own efforts to love him.

"Sowing in tears" does not speak of having a hard life but it will all be all right in the end. Sowing in tears expresses the realization that all our human efforts (at loving Jesus or any other good thing) are fruitless. Coming to the end of ourselves in such despair opens the prospect of reaping in joy - taking hold by faith of the harvest of the fruit of what Christ has done for us.

So if we want little children to know the Gospel, Spurgeon was right. They need to be told to believe in Jesus rather than to love Jesus. And so do we.


Anonymous said...

Way to hit the nail on the head.
"Even if we theoretically believe in justification by faith, this law-based attitude toward God is deeply ingrained within us."
How naturally we can say such a simple thing that means the opposite of what we want our children to understand!
Thank you for the reminder that we need to believe- it's really not what we do.