Saturday, March 16, 2013

Teaching Kids about Hating Sin (aka, Lessons from a Ten-Year-Old's Testimony)

I've been teaching children's Sunday School at my church for nearly seven years, and that responsibility carries its own unique joys and frustrations.  I've been privileged to serve with four different co-teachers throughout process who helped to compensate for my own shortcomings.  I consider myself blessed to have had an opportunity to influence these kids with the Gospel message for so long, but there are many times when I question my own effectiveness in trying to help these children understand the gravity of what it means to be a sinner in need of salvation in Christ

Almost all of my regular attenders have the remarkable benefit of loving parents who are strong Christian leaders and ensure that the whole family is at the congregational gatherings every week, yet not all of these children have experienced God's saving grace and committed their lives to Christ's service.  Therein lies my greatest challenge as a teacher; how can I plant some spiritual seeds in the hearts and mind of these precious but naive little sinners that God might one day grow into genuine faith?  It's not like God needs my participation in His plans, of course, but I do believe that there's a divine purpose for which I've been given the privilege of teaching these kids for a season of their lives.

One theme that I routinely emphasize to the children is that they need to recognize the fact that they are all sinners who are personally guilty of breaking God's commands.  So I'll often ask each child about their own personal acts of disobedience to parents or sins of that nature.  That's when things usually get interesting.  Lying, theft (from siblings), anger (again, usually directed towards their siblings) or hiding the truth tend to be the most frequent confessions I hear.  The kids can easily recognize the fact that they are sinners and even agree that they deserve punishment when they are caught in their offenses. But very few of the kids ever seem to be visibly upset and sorrowful about their sins and offenses, and that's been one of the causes of my frustration over the years.  I'm not content with the kids merely recognizing that they are sinners; I want them to hate their sin and run to Christ for rescue.  I can't make that change happen, but I hope that I can at least communicate the importance of that message.

There's a lot of spiritual advantages to being a child, as Jesus taught us in Matthew 18:3.  Their minds are usually more adept at having faith and in believing in miracles compared to most adults.  And most children haven't had as much time or opportunity to commit grievous sins that can harden the heart against God.   But there are probably spiritual disadvantages to being a child too. I think the inherent naivety of children can make it difficult for them to truly hate their sin for its own sake.  They might hate the punishment that befalls them because of their sin when their parents discipline them, but that's not the same as hating sin.  In order for them to truly understand their need for Christ as Savior, they need to understand how bad sin is... even the relatively "small" sins that they've committed in their short lives.  And it's at this point that I yield the stage to a remarkable testimony composed by a little girl.

Nearly a year ago, one of the ten-year old girls in my class came to Christ and was baptized.  With the help of her parents, she composed a written account of her testimony and the event that finally made her come to hate her sin and put her trust in Christ.  In my opinion, it's one of the best Christian testimonies I've ever read because it displays that rare recognition of how terrible sin is and why we should despise its existence in our hearts.  And the story all started because she was thirsty and decided to lay claim to the last Gatorade before her brother could get to it.

In her own words:
One day me and my brother had our practices, and there was one Gatorade left. I wanted it so I took the Gatorade and started to write my name and draw pictures on it so that I could have it and so no one else could take it.  After I stuck it in the fridge God showed me my heart and showed me that what I did was wrong and that I was being selfish for wanting and taking the Gatorade.  So then I took a note and I wrote, "I'm sorry for taking the Gatorade I feel so selfish just taking the Gatorade please forgive me."  And after I gave my brother the note and the Gatorade I felt like I loved God more than I ever have and I wanted to learn more about god and his word. 

Nearly a year later, I still read those words with amazement.  That ten-year-old girl didn't commit any great moral offense, and I doubt she even would have been punished by mom & dad for taking possession of that drink.  But she realized that the key issue was her own heart, which was selfish and didn't trust God.  And that's the realization that spurred her spiritual transformation.  After a talk with her mom, she was advised to admit she was a sinner and to trust in Jesus alone for salvation.  And then she wrote:
Then I realized that Jesus changed my heart. When I felt my heart change my dad and I read some scripture. One of them was Ezekiel 36:26: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." When I read this scripture I knew this is what I wanted God to do for me, and he did.

I have read many adult testimonies of how God changed hearts and rescued very sinful people out of some very terrible lifestyles, but I can't think of many that impart the same insight into human nature as this little girl's story does.  If we could all hate the small sins we commit against God and our Neighbor as much as she hated what she thought about doing with that Gatorade bottle, then maybe we could all start recognizing how awesome a work of grace that God does in our hearts when we come to Christ.