I’ve noticed lately that my 5-year-old son, Gideon, has a competitive streak. If he races us to the door/car/house, he has to win. If he plays a game and he doesn’t succeed on his first attempt, he doesn’t want to play that game ever again. We try and talk to him about being a good sport, playing for enjoyment of the game, and so forth but it wasn’t until one day, after a meltdown when my nephew beat him to the door, when a lightbulb went off.
“Gideon, do you think you have to always win for Mommy and Daddy to love you?” I asked, and he teared up as he nodded his head.
Somehow—despite my husband and I rooting our training and disciplining of Gideon in light of the gospel—Gideon was expecting our love for him to change based on how he performs. That is the heart of works-based righteousness, which always leads to a never-ending cycle of sin, fear, and hopelessness. Tim Keller wrote in How the Gospel Changes Us:
Without the gospel we hate ourselves instead of our sin. Without the gospel we’re motivated through all sorts of awful fear and pride to change and it doesn’t really change our hearts; it just restrains our hearts.
As a mom, I don’t want my son or the babies and toddlers I teach to constantly be working hard to earn the love of a God who did the hard work for us when He freely gave His only Son, Jesus, to take the punishment for our sin. Jesus’ sacrifice was all the payment we needed to have new life with Him forever. When we trust in Jesus, God looks at us and sees His beloved, holy children.
As Gospel Project leaders—especially as we deal with the Bible stories about Israel’s sin juxtaposed with God’s loving discipline—we must be careful that we do not unknowingly affirm works-based moralism in little children’s hearts. Instead, make sure babies and toddlers understand each week:
- God loves us because that’s who He is. God is love. (1 John 4:8) God loves us because He made all things (Psalm 100:3) and He has a very good plan for everything He made. Even when God punishes sin, He does so out of His love for us. (Hebrews 12:6) God’s love for us is perfect, unchanging, and unconditional.
- God’s plan for us is Jesus. Jesus is God the Son (1 John 5:12) who was born as a human being—who never once sinned. (Hebrews 2:17) God says we must trust in Jesus as the way to be forgiven (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) and receive Jesus’ righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). God looks at us and calls us beloved children.
- God gives us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out to stir in us the desire to love and obey God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20) Obedience comes from love. (John 14:15) As we told Gideon when he was 2 years old, “We hear with our ears, but we obey with our heart.”
How does your ministry to Babies, 1s, and 2s emphasize God’s grace instead of works-based righteousness?
Other great resources for teaching against moralism include: