We fill words with meaning. The more important the word and what it relates to, the more essential to “fill it” and interpret it with the intended meaning. When it comes to our children’s and students' response to the gospel, two words require careful attention: repent and believe. We must be very intentional and careful to communicate these terms in a way that doesn’t diminish the intended meaning.
• Understanding you are a helpless sinner, unable to save yourself,
• Experiencing a deep hatred of your sin.
• Wanting to turn away from sin and run to Jesus for forgiveness.
Belief (faith) =
Putting your full confidence and trust in Jesus for all that He is, all that He’s done, and all that He has promised to do.
These words convey a serious weightiness—calling for and resulting in a complete transformation of a person’s mind, heart, and will. True saving repentance and belief—conversion, as it is commonly called—is much more than an acknowledgment of true facts about the Person and work of Jesus. Furthermore, while rightly emphasizing what it means to “believe in Jesus,” repentance is often minimized when instructing children. Pastor Art Murphy has some very wise advice for us as we seek to discern a child’s profession of faith:
Does the child demonstrate a personal need or desire to repent of his sin? Is the child ashamed of the sin in his life? Knowing what sin is, is not the same as being ashamed of sin. If a child is not repentant but goes ahead and makes a decision to become a Christian, then his decision is premature and incomplete. Letting a child think he can become a Christian without repentance gives him false assurance. As a result, he may never repent and therefore never completely finish becoming a Christian.
Loving Jesus is an important part of becoming a Christian, but that is not enough. If a child is led to think that he can be a Christian without repentance, he does not fully understand the need for a Savior. He may love Jesus but not feel the need for Him in his life. He may live his life thinking that everything is OK when it is not.
(The Faith of a Child: A Step-by-Step Guide to Salvation for Your Child, copyright©2000, pages 75-76)
At Truth78, we have been concerned about this for some time. One thing we have done to address this issue is to be very careful and intentional in our curriculum by repeatedly incorporating the following concepts in the lessons:
We also believe that the gospel call to repent and believe should be communicated first, and foremost, by parents to their children. Our resource, Helping Children to Understand the Gospel, is a tool for parents to use in the home. In it, much is said regarding repentance and belief, and how a parent might communicate these truths in an age-appropriate manner, and tips for helping parents discern their child’s response to the gospel.