For our congregation, this is the time of year when we pay the most attention to teaching our children. There have been women meeting in the building for weeks working on various aspects of our upcoming vacation Bible school, and the week after that, we’ve got a quarter change coming up, with all the work that entails.
All this is quite demanding for those involved. It’s demanding for our teachers and resource-preppers, and it’s demanding for our parents too. Parents are the ones who have to clear their schedules to get their kids here for every night of VBS. Parents are the one who have to get their kids up early on Sunday morning and put them to bed late on Wednesday evening so they can be here for Bible class. We all know very well that given these stresses, it would be much easier not to help and participate.
Why should we participate anyway? What is it about the result that makes all this effort and stress worthwhile? In short, why should we care about teaching our children?
There are several Biblical answers to this question. The first, and in some ways the most important, reason that I want us to consider has more to do with us than it does with our kids. We should care about teaching them because IT REVEALS WHO WE ARE. Here, let’s look at Deuteronomy 6:4-9. This is a familiar text, but I must admit that until recently, I didn’t understand it as fully as I should have. I read it flatly, as a list of commandments. Commandment One was to love God. Commandment Two was to keep these words in our heart. Commandment Three was to teach them diligently. And so on.
However, that doesn’t reckon with Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22 that the whole Law depends on this commandment, along with the commandment to love our neighbor. We can’t understand Deuteronomy 6 as a laundry list of commandments. Instead, we need to connect every other commandment in this reading back to the commandment to love the Lord, and we need to understand each one as an expression of that love.
In other words, if we truly love the Lord with all our heart and soul and might, we won’t have to go down two verses and say, “Oops! Now we need to remember to diligently teach our children!” Instead, we will be diligently teaching our children already, because diligently teaching children is one of the things that people who love the Lord do.
To put things a different way, our devotion to teaching children is a litmus test for our devotion to God. If we don’t care about it, if we are unconcerned with telling the young about Him, that’s a serious heart problem, and it indicates the presence of a much more serious heart problem. Conversely, if we are filled with love for teaching children about God, it indicates a love for God too. Deuteronomy 6 does not allow us to separate those things, either in our families or in our churches. If we are the people we ought to be, teaching children will be important to us.
Additionally, this is an important matter because IT GUARDS AGAINST APOSTASY. Consider the sad tale of Judges 2:6-7, 9-11. This is the story of three generations. The first generation consisted of those who stood with Joshua and conquered Canaan with God’s help. The second generation was made up of those who were children at the time and saw all of God’s great work. The third generation, though, comprised those who had no direct experience of God’s deliverance. Once the elders who did have that direct experience died, the third generation that did not know God began to serve the Baals instead.
It’s interesting to note that since the Restoration, trouble has arisen in the Lord’s church on about this same time scale. 70 years after the Restoration, about the turn of the 20th century, a brotherhood-wide split occurred over the issues of instrumental music and missionary societies.
I don’t think this is coincidence. Instead, I think it’s the same pattern repeating itself. You have a generation that goes through some great conflict, a second generation that doesn’t participate much but sees it happen, and then a third generation without direct experience. The founders are faithful; their heirs are apostate.
The only cure for the disease is to make sure that children know the Lord. Even now, I see signs of failure in this. There are all too many young people around the country who are “raised in the church” who don’t know why we do what we do. They assume it’s a matter of human tradition rather than divine commandment. They don’t understand the importance of doing all in the name of the Lord because they have not been brought to encounter Jesus as Lord. Unless we are diligent to teach them with all the passion that Deuteronomy 6 implies, either history will repeat itself, or something even worse will happen.
Finally, investing ourselves in teaching matters because IT GLORIFIES GOD. We see how we ought to conduct ourselves when serving the Lord in 1 Peter 4:10-11. Whatever we have been given, we are to use it to serve one another, and we are to use it as well as we can. Only then will God receive the glory that He deserves.
Among other things, this should warn us against the dangers of apathy. It’s all too easy for us to go through the motions of doing the right thing without truly investing ourselves in it.
We see this problem unfolding in the first chapter of Malachi. There, the returned exiles are offering to God blemished sacrifices that they never would dare to give to their governor. In response, God expresses the wish that someone would shut the doors of the temple rather than allowing such halfhearted service to go on.
Today, we know all too well what it looks like when parents and Bible-class teachers are going through the motions rather than giving their best. In situations like this, no one is prepared. The children haven’t done their lessons, and the teacher is frantically rummaging around in bins in the resource room 15 minutes before class starts trying to piece together a craft.
No adults involved have put much thought into the class. They’ve acted like it’s not important, and from this, the children involved will draw the conclusion that it shouldn’t be important to them either.
That, brethren, is what a blemished sacrifice in the classroom looks like. Sure, the lights are on and everybody’s there, but the zeal that should animate each participant is absent. In a time as troubled as ours is, our children need more from us than that. In any time, God deserves better from His people than that.
If we want our classes to be effective, we have to give them our best. This doesn’t mean that every Bible-class teacher has to be the most wonderful teacher in the world. We all have our limits. It does mean, though, that we will be pushing those limits. If we do, our effort will communicate the importance of God to the children we teach more clearly than anything we say.
We eat with grief before the tree
So sacred to our memory.
With bread and cup, we mourn the loss
Our Savior suffered on the cross.
We eat with joy before the grave
Where He took up the life He gave.
"The Lord arose!" our hearts repeat
Each time we come in faith to eat.
We eat with love for those who share
His holy supper everywhere.
On this first day, we join as one,
United by the gracious Son.
We eat with hope and look ahead,
Assured of what our Master said.
We know this feast to be the sign
That in His kingdom, we will dine.
Psalm 57 pleads with God to show mercy. David acknowledges that only God can protect him from the storms of life. He trusts that God will save him and embarrass those who seek to harm him. He views God’s help as particularly necessary because he is surrounded by enemies whom he compares to lions and fire. The first section concludes with the chorus contained in 57:5 (and repeated in 57:11).
These enemies have sought to ambush David, but through God’s help, he turned the ambush around on them. As a result, David continues to steadfastly trust in God, and he seeks to praise Him as enthusiastically as he knows how.
Psalm 58 is addressed to the arrogantly wicked. David calls them out for claiming to be righteous judges while treating others unfairly. He hyperbolically claims that they were wicked from birth, and he compares them to venomous snakes.
David then asks God to break the teeth of these “snakes” in their mouths. He wants them to disappear as though they never had existed, to be consumed as quickly as thorns in the fire are. David concludes by predicting that if God treats the wicked like this, the righteous will rejoice and mankind will acknowledge His judgments.
Psalm 59 is another plea for help from David when he is beset by his enemies. The superscription says that David wrote this during/after the events of 1 Samuel 19:11-17. David says that these enemies are lying in wait to destroy him, even though he has done nothing wrong. He invites God to come and judge them all, himself included, and to punish the wicked, whoever they are.
David goes on to compare his enemies to packs of wild dogs who are prowling around the city. They’re unconcerned with whether anyone notices them, but David knows that God sees them, sneers at them, and will destroy them. David asks God not merely to kill them, but to bring them low in a way that will reveal His power and lordship. Even as they are in the midst of their prowling and growling around, David will continue to trust in God’s protection and deliverance.
Psalm 60 appeals to God for help in battle. It begins by lamenting that God has destroyed Israel’s defenses with an earthquake. However, even without those defenses, God will still protect those who trust in Him.
The psalm then begins to speak for God, answering David. God states that He controls not only the territory of the people of Israel, but even the lands of their enemies.
The final portion of the psalm is David’s reply to God. He wants to know who will help him, expresses his fear that God has abandoned him, and pleads with God to accompany him so that he will have success.
Psalm 61 asks God to hear David’s prayer. He is weary, but he looks to God to be his refuge like a towering rock would be. He wants God to allow him to dwell with Him forever because of his faithfulness and God’s past blessings. The psalm concludes with a final appeal for lifelong protection and a promise to praise God and perform the vows made to Him.
Believe it or not, brethren, we’ve finally come to the end of this half-hour study series. Because the goal of this is to equip you to study with people, I’ve had Jennifer include in the bulletin a sheet that you can fold in half and stick in your Bibles. It has an outline for every sermon in the series, with Scriptures. If you need a refresher on what to say about each point, the link at the top goes to a post on our church blog with links to each individual sermon. Hopefully, this will help y’all for years to come!
Also, all the way through this series, I’ve been saying that these studies are nothing more than introductions to some very complex topics. Never has that been truer than with this morning’s sermon. The doctrine of original sin is one of the foundations of Calvinism, and I could easily preach sermons on Calvinism until 2020 without running out of material! What I have to say this morning won’t be enough to convince Calvinists who really know their Bibles, but it might be a conversation-starter, and it could also be useful for somebody who has heard Calvinist teaching but doesn’t really understand the Scriptural basis of the argument. With these modest aims in mind, then, let’s turn to the Scriptures to explore three problems with original sin.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the doctrine of original sin is the idea that every human being inherited the guilt of Adam’s sin in the garden of Eden. We believe that all people die physically because of that sin, but Calvinists argue that every human being is also spiritually dead because of it. Thus, a newborn baby, minutes out of its mother’s womb, if it dies and is not baptized, will go to hell because it is stained by original sin.
This is an extremely powerful doctrine. If you accept it, it will change the way you read the entire Bible. However, there are some powerful reasons not to accept it. First, IT DENIES THE INNOCENCE OF CHILDREN. Look at the words of our Lord in Mark 10:13-16. Here, of course, we are looking at a situation that existed hundreds of years before anybody suggested the existence of original sin. None of these children have been baptized. The boys would have been circumcised, but there is nothing in the Law of Moses that says that the purpose of circumcision is to take away sin.
Nonetheless, Jesus says of these children that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. They don’t need His grace to enter that kingdom. They’ve got it already. They don’t have to be baptized as children so that they can receive the kingdom like us. Instead, we must receive the kingdom like them.
Clearly, in the Lord’s eyes, there is not a thing wrong spiritually with any of the children He is blessing. This lines up with our own experience. Even though children can certainly disobey, all of us who have been parents or even older siblings know that they don’t have a true consciousness of sin. On their own, they are entirely innocent.
What Calvinists would have us believe, though, is that even though they have committed no wrong themselves, they stand condemned regardless because of inherited sin. Unless they just happen to be born into a family that believes in baptizing infants, if they die before maturity, they will be eternally condemned.
There are many who question the existence of God because they can’t understand how a loving God would allow children to die. However, the death of innocent children pales in comparison to the horror of millions of children who had never done anything wrong being sentenced to hell for what somebody else did. That, brethren, could only be the work of a God who is not loving, not merciful, and not even just!
This, indeed, takes us to the second major problem with the doctrine of original sin. IT HOLDS US ACCOUNTABLE FOR OTHERS’ SIN. I think there are fairness problems associated with that, but even more than that, God says outright that it’s not how His justice operates. Here, let’s consider Ezekiel 18:1-4.
This text tells us that in Ezekiel’s time, the Jewish exiles were playing the blame game. The proverb that God cites means, “Our fathers were the ones who sinned, but we were the ones who got punished.” That’s awfully convenient if you don’t want to admit your own guilt. You can just blame your bad circumstances on Dad.
In response, though, God says that the soul who sins will die. The rest of the chapter elaborates on this theme. If the father is wicked, he will die. If the son is wicked, he will die. However, a righteous son will not bear the punishment due a wicked father.
This presents a massive problem for anyone who wants to argue for original sin. My own father was a faithful Christian, but even if he had been a scoundrel, I still wouldn’t be punished because of what he had done. That being the case, how could I or any of us possibly be stained with guilt because of what our ultimate ancestor Adam did? If the son will not die for the sins of the father, why would any of us die because of the sins of our many-times-great-grandfather?
Of course, practically speaking, this doesn’t help me much. I may not be guilty because of the sin of Adam, but I am guilty because of the sins I’ve committed myself. However, it is good to know that God will only hold us accountable for what we’ve done!
Finally, the doctrine of inherited sin is problematic because IT MINIMIZES THE POWER OF CHOICE. There are many texts that emphasize the importance of free will, but let’s look at Hebrews 12:25. This passage offers us a stark choice. Either we hear the One who warns us from heaven and live, or we refuse Him and die.
To my thinking, it simply doesn’t make much sense for the Holy Spirit to tell us such things if our eternal destiny is predominantly determined by things other than our own choices. It reminds me of a soccer coach I saw once—not my children’s coach, thankfully—back in Illinois. He told all of the five-year-olds on his team that he would give them five dollars if they could beat him in a race across the field. For the first three-quarters of the race, he dogged it and made them think they could beat him, but in the last quarter, he raced ahead and made sure none of them would collect. What a jerk!
If God tells us that our actions matter, but they really don’t matter because we’re doomed no matter what, as far as I’m concerned, He’s no better than that jerk soccer coach. Frankly, that doesn’t sound like the God I know from the Bible. His standards are high, and it is with difficulty that even the righteous are saved, but He will reward everyone according to what they have done. If my soul is lost, I can be sure that it’s not because of a choice somebody else made. It’s because of a choice that I made.
Psalm 52 is addressed to the wicked. It asks the wicked man why he is so arrogant in the face of the love of God. He is using lies to destroy others, but God is aware of his misdeeds and will destroy him. After his destruction, the righteous are going to mock him for not trusting in God. By contrast, the psalmist is going to remain secure because of his trust in God, and he will praise God forever because of His protection.
Psalm 53 is also concerned with the unrighteous. It observes that the fool denies the existence of God and sins accordingly. As God considers mankind from heaven, He sees no one who is righteous. In response, the psalmist wonders what evildoers are thinking in their malice toward others and refusal to acknowledge God. God will frighten them and eventually destroy them because they do not belong to Him. The psalm concludes with a plea for God to rescue His people.
Psalm 54 is a prayer for salvation. The psalmist pleads with God to answer him because evil, godless men are attacking him. He looks to God for his help and trusts that He will destroy his enemies. The psalmist anticipates the time when he will offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to God because God has rescued him.
Psalm 55 also asks God for help in trouble. David can’t find peace because he is so distressed by wicked men who are persecuting him. His heart is filled with grief and fear, and he wants to escape. He asks God to set them at odds against each other because of all the trouble they are bringing on the city (probably Jerusalem).
This is especially bitter to David because it is a former friend who is causing all the trouble. David wants God to destroy him and all those who help him. In the midst of his trouble, he continually calls on God. He trusts that God will protect him and bring the wicked down.
David also says about his friend that he used deceitful speech to hide his hatred. He observes that no matter what, God will continue to protect the righteous but will surely destroy the violent and treacherous.
Psalm 56 is more of the same. David asks God to have mercy upon him because others are oppressing him. However, despite his bad situation, he puts his trust in God and is not afraid.
However, his enemies are truly oppressive. They hate him, and they are looking for an excuse to bring him down. However, God is aware of his suffering, and he knows that these enemies will be defeated. Again, he trusts in God and so is not afraid.
The psalm concludes by anticipating God’s deliverance. David will offer sacrifices because God rescued him from death.