With school starting back up, that means AWANA started back this past week too. For those of you that don’t know, AWANA is a church-based program for kids 3 years old to 6th grade. They focus on memorizing scripture weekly and doing other fun activities while learning important Biblical lessons.
This is Josiah’s first year in Sparks (It goes from Puggles to Cubbies to Sparks and so on…). The very first verse he had to memorize in order to get his vest was John 3:16. This is a pretty common first verse to memorize. Now that I’ve worked with Josiah on helping him memorize it I understand why.
For my inquisitive child this verse was packed with a ton of information and as most Bible-believers know, a compressed gospel message. Josiah, however, did not want the compressed version. He wanted to know the whole thing.
So here’s the verse:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
In my opinion, kids should not just be memorizing the words to recite for an adult on Wednesday (or Sunday) night. They should be understanding the meaning. So first things first, we talked about how the “Son” is talking about Jesus. Then we talked about how the word perish means to be separated from God forever. The final step (for me) was to talk about how the phrase “eternal life” means to live forever with God in heaven.
I figured that was a good foundational understanding of the verse without pressuring him into trying to understand something he may not be ready for. I’m not going to say that very small children can’t understand the gospel and accept Jesus and salvation, but I don’t want Josiah praying a prayer for salvation even one second before he truly understands and feels the conviction of the Holy Spirit. He is not being held accountable right now, so for now I just follow his lead when it comes to talking about salvation.
John 3:16 sparked that curiosity and questions that I wasn’t sure I was ready to answer. It was very evident that my explanation of John 3:16 wasn’t enough.
After all of my explaining Josiah asked, “So does that mean that Grandma and Papa’s parents are in heaven with God?” Not a discussion I was really prepared for with my 5-year-old, but I’m used to it. He was referring to my husband’s grandparents who have been gone for quite some time. I don’t know if they were saved and I am not telling my son they’re in heaven when I don’t know. Because despite what some people would like to believe, the Bible says that only those who accept salvation through Jesus Christ go to heaven.
I skirted around the direct question and answered generically. We reviewed the fact that sin is doing something that we shouldn’t and that we all sin. We reviewed the fact that God said the cost for our sin is death — or separation from God. I then explained to Josiah that when the verse says God “gave” his Son that it meant God allowed Jesus to die on the cross to pay the price of our sin for us so we didn’t have to.
After making sure he was roughly still following the conversation I went on to explain that we have a choice. God says we can accept that gift of Jesus paying the price for us and accept that we sin and can’t live without God OR we can think that we don’t need God and that we don’t sin. If we choose to accept the fact that we need God, then we are choosing to follow the Bible and spent eternity in heaven with God (the last part of John 3:16). I explained that if a person chooses not to believe then they will spent eternity (forever) separated from God in a place called Hell with the Devil.
I told Josiah that his Dad and I and several other family members had made the decision that we need God so we will be with God forever in heaven. Josiah said he knew he needed God too because he sinned. Then he moved on to the next thing, “Mom, I know God let Jesus die to pay the price for us, but I wish that Jesus could still be alive.” Ah ha! The BEST part of the story, I told him. I explained that Jesus died to pay the price for our sins. I said that when Jesus died they placed him in a tomb — kind of like a cave — and put a giant stone in front of it. I told him that when Mary went to the tomb three days later an angel was there, but Jesus was gone! I told him that Jesus had died, but because Jesus is God, he came back to life three days later and is alive today and in heaven.
Josiah was very happy about that. I have to say, I think Josiah is slowly getting closer to understanding the gospel enough to be able to make a decision. It was a very good conversation overall. We were in the car and I was getting ready to drop him and Samuel off so I could go to work, but it was good because I was able to answer his questions without distraction. The sweetest thing about the whole conversation was being able to explain salvation in words that a child could understand without cluttering it up with “religion” like people tend to do. Josiah simply wanted to know about Jesus and about who gets to heaven and I’m glad I was able to do that in a way that he understood without bogging his brain down with facts that aren’t necessary at this time.