Teaching Children the Gospel and Good Works

A few weeks ago our church took over a 100 rising third through sixth graders away for “Kids Camp.” Kids Camp has become legendary at our church. Sure, the legend has something to do with the blob on the lake that sends kids above the tree line. Sure, it has something to do with the zip line, horseback riding, staying up late, pillow fights, drenching your pastor with water, etc. But what makes Kids Camp unique is that all of the pastoral staff goes! Our whole purpose in doing Kids Camp is to allow the children of our church to get to know by name and personally those who are their pastors, so that as they grow in years to come they will feel comfortable coming to their pastors. It is a great opportunity to minister to our children. I was asked to speak at one of the main worship sessions on the topic of “Good Works.” The Children’s Minister in charge of the topics told me, “We so often tell our children you can’t do good works to be saved. So, what is the role of good works in the Christian life?” Here is something of what I told them. Obviously since it was for children it will not address all of the nuances of good works in the life of the Christian.

We as a people are crazy for hero movies. Even this summer you see the frenzy with movies like: Batman, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, etc. We love movies with heroes and villains, where the “good guys” take on the “bad guys.” We all love these kinds of stories where good fights evil and pulls out a victory.

The problem is that we so often see real life, everyday, in this way. We see the world as if it’s made up of good guys and bad guys. We see ourselves as the good guys and others who don’t look or act in ways we like as the bad guys. But, this is not the way the world is. The world is made up of bad guys, and there is only 1 good guy, Jesus! The Bible tells us that we are one of the bad guys. This doesn’t mean that we are as evil as we could possibly be or that we are an arch-villain, but it does mean that we are sinners. We are born sinful, and so we think sinful thoughts, say sinful words, do sinful things, and have sinful motives. We think sinful thoughts when we get mad at our parents for asking us to clean our room or stop playing a video game. We say sinful words when our parents tell us to do something, and we say, “No!” We speak sinful words when we say that our sister took the last candy bar out of the pantry when we were the one who really did it! We commit sinful acts when we pound on our little brother. We do sinful things when we cheat on the math test.

The question is, “How can we become one of the good guys and start doing good things?” A lot of people will tell you that the Bible has a list of do’s and don’ts, a bunch of rules to follow, and if you can just do the good things and not do the bad things, then you’ll be one of the good guys and God will be pleased with you. They look at stories in the Bible and say, “See, King Saul was bad because he disobeyed God. You should be good by obeying Him. Hannah was a good girl because she prayed to God to ask for something. You be good by praying to God when you need things. Jairus was nice to his daughter. You should be nice to your family. The Apostles went to church in Acts 2. You should go to church.” They will give a list of good things to do. The problem is not the good things. The problem is that we CAN’T do them! We don’t do them! We won’t do them! Since we are “bad guys” we always fall short of doing good, and even when we do good sometimes it is with bad motives.

So, what’s the answer? Can this problem be fixed? Luke 19:1-10 tells the story of a man named Zaccheaus, and it gives us the answer to the problem. Zacchaeus was a bad guy, a sinner like us. He was a 1st century Tax Collector. He won his job as a Tax Collector by bidding higher than anyone. What did he bid for? He told the Romans, who were the oppressors of Israel, that he could bilk more money out of his own countrymen than anyone else, so he got the job. That is why Tax Collectors were viewed as traitors and thieves. They betrayed their own countrymen for money, and they took more than belonged to them. Tax collectors were hated! No one liked Zaccheaus. Everyone knew Zaccheaus wasn’t a good guy. But, something changed in his life that caused him to give half of his money to the poor and four times as much money back to people as he stole from them. He started doing good things. What was it that caused him to change? He met Jesus! Jesus came to town. Zaccheaus the short guy climbed up in a tree to see Jesus. Jesus told him to come down, and Jesus went to eat a meal at Zaccheaus’ house. Jesus became his Savior, and when Jesus becomes your Savior the Bible says he changes your heart, gives you the Holy Spirit to live inside of you, and he starts to enable you to live like him. Jesus starts making you more like Jesus. You start doing the good things that God commands and start disliking the bad things that He calls sin, but only when you believe and trust in Jesus. You have to learn to trust him, and then obedience follows. Jesus will change your heart, and you will start to do good things out of gratitude to Him. We don’t start becoming more like Jesus by simply trying harder or a list of do’s and don’ts. You must come to know and believe in Jesus. Then, He changes you from the inside out. That is role of good works in the Christian life.

Even for adults, living the Gospel-centered life is a life of dependence on Jesus. We trust Him, and then obedience follows. When we fail to obey, it is always because we fail to believe. We must recover this kind of teaching and this kind of life in the Baptist church. If we do not we will raise a generation of self-righteous children, teens, and adults who think they are good because they go to church like Acts 2 tells them they should. They will look down their noses at the lost, instead of loving them. They will march into Hell. My prayer for the children of our church, my daughter, and all of the children of the world is not that they’d go to church because that’s what good little boys and girls do. My prayer is that they will be joined by faith to a Body that has been slaughtered for their sins and raised to walk in new life. When they are joined to him and all of his brothers and sisters then they will begin to live like the One to whom they have been united.