How do you teach a child about Christ's imputed righteousness?

I am currently preaching through 1 Samuel.  Last week Israel asked a provoking question after some of the men carelessly looked in the ark and they died.  The question was, “Who is able to stand before this holy God.”  (1 Sam. 6:20)  As I read the passage with my family throughout the week, some interesting discussions came from it.  One conversation in particular was how do we answer this question, “How can a sinner stand before God?”  Once we established that no sinner can, it created a wonderful opportunity to talk about the specific details of the gospel. 

We talk about the gospel constantly in our house and in our family devotions with our children.   However, what this question provided was an opportunity to discuss specifically how does a sinner stand in the presence of a holy God.  In other words, how do you explain Christ bearing our sin and Christ’s righteousness being given to us to a child?  Here is what followed and my hope is that it could act as a template to teach our children other deep theological truths that make the gospel so sweet and accessible to them.

Illustrate the principle of exchange:  I find it helpful to teach my children with something they can visualize, so I decided to illustrate what an exchange is to help them grasp, “The Great Exchange.”  One evening towards the conclusion of dinner, I asked my 6-year-old to give me her dirty, used napkin and that I would give her a valuable coin in its place.  She of course saw the better end of this deal and gladly took it.  I explained to her that we just exchanged something and that an exchange is anytime you give something away to receive something in return. 

Through the illustration, explain the “Great Exchange.”  As I saw she began to grasp that idea, I proceeded to describe our particular exchange.  She gave me her dirty, torn napkin (a worthless item) in exchange for my coin (a valuable item).  Once I saw she understood, I proceeded to equate her dirty napkin with our sin and my valuable coin with Christ’s righteousness.  When Jesus died on the cross, He took our sin from us and bore it in our place.  Then, our sin is “exchanged” for Jesus’ perfect life (life without sin).  If we repent and believe in Jesus, this exchange takes place and God (Holy God) sees Jesus’ perfect life when He looks upon us.  That is how we are able to stand before God as sinners.

Narrow it down to a simple question and answer.  To confirm she understood this idea, I asked these 2 questions to her, “What did Jesus take from us?”  She answered, “our sin.”  “What did Jesus give us in return?”  She answered, “His perfect life.”  I proceeded to ask our other children the same question and did so every day throughout the rest of the week to make sure it was sinking in.

As I was explaining this to my 6-year-old and saw she was getting it, my 9-year-old and 11-year-old were listening and really grasped this idea well also.  My 3-year-old didn’t, and starting insisting that I give her a coin also.  Can’t win them all.  The point is children can grasp these deep and glorious truths of the gospel.  Don’t wait to teach them.  Though my 3-year-old didn’t get it like the others, I have confidence I have laid the ground work for her future understanding.  Don’t think for a moment that little, sharp mind won’t be looking for that upcoming dinner when I ask for her napkin in exchange for a coin.

Posted in Home and Family
8 comments on “How do you teach a child about Christ's imputed righteousness?
  1. sarah says:

    Good stuff! We can never teach our children “too early” about God. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. I think asking the questions afterwards and gettingthe answers is probably an often forgotten,but vital part of this formula

  3. Dan Sudfeld says:

    Excellent, Brian. I’ll be using that.
    BTW, this is a good opportunity to let you know that, as a pastor, I find your blog tremendously helpful. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experiences.

  4. PJ King says:

    That’s a great example of teaching the Gospel to children!

    My friend is trying to tackle the same problem as he leads a children’s ministry.

    My wife and I are looking forward to having children, and are excited about creating opportunities like you’ve described.

  5. Mark Kakkuri says:

    We love dinner time in our home with our four children (ages 12, 11, 8, and 4). At times it is marked by thoughtful, God-ward discussion. At other times, we’re just thankful that most of the food made it into their mouths as opposed to on the floor! 🙂 Anyway, your post was very helpful, Brian. Thanks for your good work here!

  6. Richard Lee says:

    Thank you so much for that post. I just found your site thru Pastor Thabiti’s blog. My wife and I just recently became proud parents of a baby boy, and even though right now the main attention is taking care of him physically, it’s great to have these kind of practical tools and examples for biblical teaching. If you have any more, please post them.

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "How do you teach a child about Christ's imputed righteousness?"
  1. […] How do you teach a child about Christ’s imputed righteousness? « Practical Shepherding <span class="“> – Annotated […]

  2. […] Lastly, how do you teach imputed righteousness to a child.  I found that this is good for 34 year olds as well! […]

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