Now stay with me. If you don’t agree now, you may when I’m finished. For a while now I’ve been asking the elementary-age kids I know, “What do you think God wants most from us?” Most of the time the answers are something like, “God wants us to be good,” or, “God wants us to pray a lot.” I was even pleased to get a, “God wants us to help people.” These were the kind of answers I expected—but they are wrong.
When I ask, “What does God want most from us?” the words I hope to hear are, “He wants us to love Him.” That’s the point.
Morality is not the point. When it is, you will become corrupt. You will have lost sight of the main goal—loving God. This concept is very important when you are guiding a child or young believer in Christ. The Pharisees were moral, the most moral people around, and Jesus reserved His most scathing and condemning words for them (Matthew 23:27). Morality will not save you from hell; it will not even make you a better person. However, it will make life miserable for those around you. And eventually you will run aground. You won’t be able to keep it up; you won’t be able to keep mustering your will to step up and rescue you. Morality is not the point; it is merely a means to a much greater end.
When I was a kid I was taught by my Sunday school teachers and youth leaders that if I behaved well, if I was a moral person, good things would come my way. This is a bad bit of theology for a number of reasons. It sets the stage for a theological crisis. One day this well-behaving kid will have the world crash around his ankles, and he’ll try to make sense of it. His thoughts will grope around for conclusions and probably come up with something like this: “I believed that if I was good, good things would happen to me. But because bad things are happening to me, I must conclude that I’m bad and that I deserve what is happening.” Or he might think: “I have been a pretty good kid, and this is not fair. I’ve held up my part of the bargain and God hasn’t. God is neither good nor loving after all.” I often worry about these silent, internal conversations because kids are using bad or incomplete information that leads to conclusions that will send them way off course.
I want my kids to behave well. But I don’t want to create a theological crisis for them in the process. Luke 10:27 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself” (NASB). Not self-sacrifice, not giving, not biblical knowledge, and not good behaviour. Though these things are necessary, even indispensable tools on your journey toward becoming Christlike, they must not be allowed to become the goal.
If we teach our kids only morality, the undertow of legalism will be almost irresistible. I propose that we as parents, teachers, and children’s workers check our bearings and work to lead our kids to love God first. Considering the character of God, a response of love is the only reasonable one. This is a difficult course to maintain. Along the way you will be a legalist sometimes, but just check your bearings and correct your course.
So how do I do this? Introspection is a helpful but underused tool. Ask yourself some tough questions like, “Am I really seeking to know and love God, or am I just reading my Bible so that God will bless me?” Try this one: “Do I treat the lost sinner badly because he offends my morality, or am I filled with compassion for him like Jesus was?” Or, “If I hate things that Jesus did not hate, am I willing to change?”
I hope you agree that loving God is the point—the only course worth following. If you do, you should then be asking something along the lines of, “OK, so how do I do this? How do I love God more?” Even harder than that, “How do I help my kids to love God more?” These are exactly the questions to ask. Work on some answers yourself. Ask wise people around you. Be stubborn and intractable until you have a biblical plan that will lead you toward loving God more and guiding others to do the same.