Part of being a good father to my children is recognizing that they should not watch certain shows or be exposed to certain things. I have to know that they shouldn’t simply eat candy all day. Most parents understand these things.
Responsible Christian parents must also shield their children from things that can be harmful to their spiritual development. Sometimes those can coincide with other aspects of their growth. Other times the dangers may be things that only Christians acknowledge.
There are times, however, that the real dangers to our children’s spiritual health are the very things we give to them to help them grow. Your child may not become the follower of Christ he or she should be because of the children’s devotional they read.
|Photo from Sxc.hu by Ned Horton|
This is not meant as a blindside against all devotionals written for children. Some may be extremely useful in encouraging your child to study God’s word, come to understand and respond to the Gospel, and grow in their young relationship with Christ.
Some may do that, but not all of them do. Some are centered around the cross of Christ and revolve around the Gospel. Others, however, seek to pacify parents, those who buy the devotionals, by reducing the Bible to a morality checklist.
Too many parents are more concerned that their child learns to be polite than that they are a sinner in need of a Savior. The devotionals cater to this desire and use out of context Bible verses to teach children that they should not lie, curse or steal and that they should obey their parents, clean their room and make good grades.
Those are all fine ideas, but what is their foundation? Are we teaching them that God’s standards are like Santa Claus’ – “you’d better be good for goodness sake”?
The writers of the devotions aren’t intending to teach my sons moralism, but neither is it the express purpose of movies to have an adverse effect on the moral choices of children, yet that is often what happens in both cases.
I am only being half the father I have been called by God to be if I am only concerned with the latter, while completely ignoring the former.
My next statement may sound like hyperbole, but I believe it to be the case – Moralism, of the type taught in most children’s devotionals, keeps more children from Christ than anything else.
A child that has been raised with little to no moral upbringing is one that can often recognize their spiritual situation. They know they are not good enough for God. They just need someone to tell them that God has provided a way out of the situation.
The child brought up with moralism as their guiding influence never understands that they truly need Christ for salvation. After all, they reason, Jesus is just there to make people good and they are already good.
Wary of this danger, I’ve had to censor the devotional my youngest son bought for us to read together. We read it, minus some of the statements I consider to be too far, and discuss the things in it.
When it veers too close to moralism for me, I always ask, “Now, can we do this good thing on our own?” To which my boys should respond, if they are paying any attention, “No.”
As a parent, you make sure you censor a lot of things that you know are bad for your children. This does not end when you give them a Christian devotional to read. The writers are not the one responsible to God for the spiritual growth of your children – you are.
I then ask them how can we do whatever moral action the lesson is commending. Again, if they are paying attention, they say something to the effect of “because Jesus lives in me.”
I want to make sure that they know that on their own they are incapable of living up to the moral standard set in Scripture. However, they also need to know that Jesus has already lived up to that standard for them and in following Him, Christ can work in and through them to do things that are not possible in and of themselves.
In short, your children need to know the Gospel, not moralism. They need to understand that good behavior is a result of God’s work in their lives, not the reason for it.
Just as you need to censor language or adult situations and images in movies and televisions shows from your children, you need to censor moralism in your child’s devotionals. If not, you or I may be raising the most polite kids who are apart from Christ and on their way to hell because of it.