Conversations with Our Children—Part 1 |

T. A. McMahon

This article is about having important biblical conversations with our children. I am the father of five children and the grandfather of five grandchildren. The conversations I desire to have with them include discerning whether or not my children and/or grandchildren fully understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, and discovering whether or not they are able to articulate what the Bible teaches that they must believe in order for them to be saved.

In addition to knowing what our children/grandchildren need to believe in order to be saved, these articles are designed to help them explain why they believe what they believe.

Certainly, knowing the “what” of their belief is first and foremost. Sadly, for some, even when their belief is biblically correct, what follows for many is spiritual disaster. They cannot give reasons (“a defense”—NKJV, 1 Peter:3:15) as to why they believe what they believe.

What we have been observing over the last couple of generations is that children, even though they have been raised in Christian homes, have become biblically defenseless, especially those who go off to college and must endure being questioned by atheistic friends and bullied by antichrist professors. Consequently, most back away from the faith they once professed.

What follows are potential discussions that may be useful for a born-again grandparent and his or her grandchild or a believing parent and his child. Although the content of the conversation should be simplified in the presentation of essential truths of Scripture, the adult involved needs to thoroughly understand what a child must know and do in order to be saved. That may also be a valuable refresher exercise for some parents and grandparents. Part 2 will expand on the parent and grandparent's biblical responsibilities for teaching their children.

The conversation I'm suggesting should always be a one-on-one interaction between the adult and the child, the objective being that the adult can hear directly from the child what he or she personally believes. This one-on-one condition is recommended in order to avoid distractions for the child, whether they be from siblings or friends, or from one child simply parroting what another says. Again, the goal is to learn what the individual child believes.

The responses given by the child in this conversation are probable responses. Hopefully, they provide opportunities to help the child clarify what he actually believes. The initial goal of the questioning is to get the child to articulate what he or she understands about being a Christian.

It’s recommended that the conversations take place often and, preferably, shouldn’t last longer than 5 minutes. (The time, of course, can be adjusted according to the child’s ability to maintain concentration.)

Repetition is encouraged! I try to engage my grandchild (my personal focus in these articles) in one particular brief conversation whenever we get together. It starts with a “gimme five”—as in minutes.

My own grandchildren range in age from two to fourteen. I make it a practice to see the ten-year-old boy and the thirteen-year-old girl every couple of weeks. My two other grandsons live quite a distance from me, so I’m having my son carry out the conversation process with his boys. At times I can have a conversation with each grandchild by phone.

Since this is a work in progress, I tell them that I need their help (which I really do!) in trying to understand what kids their age believe about Jesus, and I want to start with them. I ask them to answer my questions as best they can. I begin with “Are you a Christian?” My grandkids all answer “yes.” I then ask the older ones, “What kind of Christian are you?”

I briefly explain that there are many different kinds of Christians, and they do not all believe the same things. I encourage the older child to refer to himself as a “biblical Christian,” which means his Christianity is based on what is taught in the Bible rather than the religious ideas people make up.

It's unlikely that the child would answer “no” regarding whether or not he is a Christian, since this conversation is designed primarily for children of those whose parents profess to be Christians. Nevertheless, the “no” response could come up and will be addressed in Part 2 of this series.

Following the answer that the child is “a Christian,” I then ask how he or she became a Christian. The most common answers are “because my family is Christian,” “I go to a Christian school,” “my friends are Christians,” “I believe in God,” “I go to church,” “I'm in a Christian youth group,” etc.

It’s really surprising how many of the answers deviate from the biblical teaching of how one becomes a Christian. Even so, no matter how erroneous their answers are, they provide great opportunities for the conversation to introduce what the Bible teaches about how one becomes a Christian.

The opportunity here in the conversation is to explain to the child that becoming a Christian has to do with what he or she believes, and it needs to begin with what they believe about Jesus. So, my next question to the child is just that: what does he or she believe about Him?

The adult may need to help the child articulate his beliefs in order to clarify what the child actually believes. That, however, has to be done without putting words in the child's mouth. Answers will vary, but they must contain three biblical truths about Jesus: 1) Jesus is God. 2) Jesus became a Man in order to pay the eternal penalty for the sins of mankind. 3) Jesus, who is sinless, is the only One who could pay the penalty for a person's sins, which He did through His death, burial, and resurrection.

If the child’s answers are not true to the Word of God, or if he has no answers, the adult can introduce him to what he needs to believe about Jesus according to the Scriptures. The answers taught must be simple, and, as stated above, they must contain the three biblical truths about Jesus. That conversation should lead to a discussion about whether or not the child recognizes his own condition as a sinner.

The child should be asked if he or she understands what sin is and what it means to sin. Have him give you an example of a sin that he has committed. If he’s not sure, a good question to ask him is if he has ever disobeyed his mother or father. The adult needs to help the child understand his condition before God, that he is a sinner, and that only Jesus can save him from the penalty for his sins.

The next question for the child is, “Do you know what the penalty for sin is?” Explain, then, that the Bible says that sin separates the sinner from God forever. Inform the child that God is a holy God, and Heaven is a holy place where sin cannot enter. God cannot allow anyone who has sinned to be with Him in Heaven.

Since every man, woman, and child has sinned, explain that they are all excluded from ever entering Heaven and being with God. That everlasting separation from God is called Hell, a place of utter darkness and loneliness. That’s the punishment for sin. In fact, all of humanity would thus be without hope of ever being with God, had God himself not provided a solution.

The next question you ask should be: “Do you know the solution that God has provided?”

Some children may know, while others are not sure. This is another place where the conversation provides the opportunity to teach about the character of God, especially related to His justice and love.

Explain that God is not only holy, He is just, meaning entering Heaven can only take place by the penalty for sin having been paid. That’s referred to as justice.

When a person breaks the law, justice requires that he has to pay the penalty that the law requires. When a person sins against God, God’s perfect justice requires the payment for his sin must be made. Since the penalty for sin is separation from God forever, no human can fulfill what the law of God requires so he can be reconciled to God.

God, however, is also a loving God, meaning He does not want those whom He created to be separated from Him forever. In view of God being perfect in justice and love, ask the child what he believes was the solution that God provided in order to save mankind.

If the child is still unsure of God's solution, that presents a great opportunity to go through the John:3:16 verse with him or her: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

This opens the conversation to some great things about God, along with some critical questions. First of all, we see that God is a loving God who loves those whom He created. Refer back to John:3:16, “Who is God’s Son that He sent? and what did He do?”

Here’s where the child’s answers usually come together for him during the conversation, especially if he’s been comprehending what his parent or grandparent has been informing him about what the Bible teaches.

I would expect him to respond that “The Son of God is Jesus” and that “Jesus died on the cross in order to pay the penalty for mankind’s sins.”

Remember, this is a conversation with your child or grandchild. It shouldn't be perceived by the child as a pass-or-fail test. The questions are for the purpose of seeing through the child’s eyes what he or she understands and supplying information that the child needs to know.

A following question might be, “What must you do in order to receive what Jesus did for you?” The child's response must be that he simply believes that Jesus did what the Bible says He did: He paid the punishment for sin for everyone who puts his faith in Him.

This point needs to be made absolutely clear to the child. There is nothing that can be added by the child to what Jesus accomplished on the cross in payment for the child’s sins. Salvation is received by faith alone!

Sometimes we forget that the very terms we use need to be explained to the child. “Salvation” and “being saved” are good examples. The conversation should have its share of what some of the words we use mean. “Being saved,” for example, can be made clear as one who is simply being forgiven and spared from the punishment for his or her sins.

The conversation should include not only what a believing child is saved from, but also what the child is saved for. That can be discussed by asking him or her if they understand what took place after they believed that Jesus saved them.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this conversation with our children should take place as often as possible. The sessions need to be brief, with no attempts made to cover all the points in each session.  There needs to be repetition, and it should be made enjoyable, even fun!

These conversations with our children and grandchildren are not only to make sure they understand the gospel but also to realize that it’s a relationship building procedure with the child that will have temporal and (far more importantly) eternal value. In addition to the emphasis on things the child needs to understand, the way the parent or grandparent goes about implementing the program must reflect his or her love of Jesus and thankfulness for all He has done for us. The significance of that impression upon a child cannot be overstated!

In terms of the conversations being fun (perhaps “joyful” is a better choice of words), the question related to what takes place after Jesus saves the child is nothing but good news! The child can draw upon what he knew prior to the conversation, add things that he may not have known (e.g., eternal life with Jesus), and the adult can add things for the child that the Bible says takes place once a child is saved.

For example, once salvation has taken place, the child’s sins are completely forgiven. He receives the free gift of eternal life. The child is born again and sealed with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of eternal life. The Holy Spirit indwells the child, enabling him or her to live the Christian life according to God’s instructions.

All of the above constitutes much of the “what” that a child should know about being saved! Without an understanding and acceptance of the what of the gospel, the child cannot be saved.

More often than not, a child has only heard that he must ask Jesus into his heart. That’s true, but it must be based upon the knowledge of who Jesus is and what He accomplished on the cross (see 1-3). Although the parents or grandparents cannot know the heart of their children regarding their acceptance of the gospel, they can discern what the child understands or—misunderstands—about the doctrine of salvation.

This document is primarily about making sure the child's understanding of the doctrine of salvation is true to the Scriptures. A false understanding of the gospel can save no one.

Both the “what” and the “why” are necessary if a child is to defend and/or share his beliefs with others.

I'm very thankful for parents and grandparents who have done their best to raise their children and grandchildren in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” That has supplied for multitudes of children the “What?” necessary for their salvation. However, as I mentioned, a serious condition has developed for many young Christians that has caused them to be shaken in their faith.

Few young Christians today can explain why they believe what they believe. They are not able, as I mentioned, to satisfy 1 Peter:3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear."

Consequently, when they are asked about their beliefs, their responses are nearly always personal and subjective, lacking reasons that would refute the objections of others, or encourage those to believe what they believe. That's the subject of Part 2 of “Conversations with Our Children.”