We are commanded to teach our children the word of God, but how do we help them to truly see and savor Christ? According to Christian author Ed Stetzer, as many as 70% of those who had regularly attended church during high school leave the church as young adults. This staggering statistic suggests that many children are likely being taught the stories of the Bible in a way that misses the message of the Bible.
In Deuteronomy 6:6-9, God commands His people to train their children in the ways of the Lord: "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (English Standard Version).
Many parents desiring to honor the Lord have taken seriously the command to teach their children God's word; however, some might miss the importance of showing their children how Christ and His redemption are revealed throughout the Bible. The central message of God's word is that He would save sinners and reconcile a people to Himself, and this theme is wrought throughout the entire Bible.
"Too often we teach the Bible as a series of isolated morality tales, like Aesop's Fables. We want our children to learn how to live well, so we draw from the Bible stories of people who did the right thing and those who did the wrong thing," Ed Stetzer writes. Many children grow up learning about Noah's Ark and about David and Goliath, for instance, but never quite understand how these stories point to the Messiah. Instead, they learn to trust and to obey God - good lessons, to be sure, but a focus on moral behavior is sometimes more likely to cultivate little Pharisees than followers of Christ. As a result, many children might grow up knowing all of the stories in the Bible, but missing the Gospel.
Jesus is called the "Word" in the Gospel of John; He is God's message to us. It is no coincidence that Jesus said that the Scriptures - the words of God - testify of Him. In fact, Jesus scolded the Pharisees for studying God's word in vain; they may have had a lot of knowledge about the Scriptures, but they had entirely missed Him as they read the words on the page (see John 5:39-40 and Luke 24:27).
The stories in the Old Testament are historical accounts which paint pictures of the Messiah. David, the soon-to-be-king, typifies Christ Who would conquer sin and death (Goliath) and deliver God's people (the Israelites). Noah and his family were spared from the flood (God's wrath) by entering the ark (God's Savior). God provided a ram (Jesus) to spare Abraham's son (sinners). In the Passover, God spared the first-born sons of those whose doorposts were covered by the blood of a spotless lamb (Jesus). For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
"When we take the Bible as a series of isolated morality tales, we think about 66 books with hundreds, if not thousands, of stories contained within them. In actuality, there are not thousands of stories. There are not 66 stories. There aren't even two stories with the Old and New Testament. There is one story and that is the story of what God is doing-redemptive history," Stetzer writes. He recommends "The Gospel Project for Kids" and "The Jesus Storybook Bible" as resources for teaching children the central message of the Bible.
So, how should we teach our children the Gospel? First, we must model it. Children are often more likely to do what we do if it is inconsistent with what we say. When wronged, do we respond with mercy or with righteousness? Do we hold others accountable for every wrong when God has forgiven the whole of our debt (see Matthew 18:23-35)?
We should teach our children the story of Noah's Ark. We should teach them about the Exodus, and about David and Goliath - but in doing so, we should focus on the Christ-centered message of these stories. And by the grace of God, we must model the Gospel in our everyday lives.