One of our problems with making disciples or raising children is a dependence on superficial morality rather than the gospel. I have noticed this tendency to major on moralism, particularly in curriculum designed for children. Now there are two types of legalism. There is the old-fashioned type of legalism, based on a multitude of rules and strict standards. Then there is a kinder, gentler legalism, based on loving people and being kind. Now the second kind seems much nicer and more attractive than the first. And as far as the content of the standard, it is more biblical (Matthew 22:35-40; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14). But the problem is that we are sinners and cannot properly keep either standard (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6).
Scripture says that Christ came to pay the price for sin (1 Peter 1:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21), and we receive this through faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). Now this should result in a changed life (Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10; Romans 12:1,2), but it is not a result of our ability (John 15:5; Romans 7:14; 8:8) but of God’s power working in us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Galatians 5:16). Therefore, what people need is not simply a set of rules but to be connected to the power of God.
But sometimes we forget this when it comes to children. We get this distorted idea that children are innocent and not really sinners who need to be saved. I sometimes wonder if these people do not remember what it was like to be a child or have not ever worked with children. Children can be cruel, selfish, petty, and a number of other things that adults also are, but we adults have learned to hide it better. Another problem here is that we want children to mind, so we spend a lot of time teaching children that they need to mind. Now there is a place for this, but what we all need is not just to learn to mind; we need to be saved. We do not want to build superficially moral children who will dump it all when they get to college. We want to build adults who have the truth of God firmly rooted inside them. To do that we need to speak to the inner heart of the person (Proverbs 2:1,2; 23:26; 4:23). We must turn them to something beyond themselves, to trust and fear God (Proverbs 1:7; 2:3-5; 3:5,6). But to accomplish this we need to begin with the gospel.