How many times have you heard someone in a discussion involving religion use the words “I think…”, as in “I think Jesus would agree with my personal feelings on” the topic at hand? We probably all do it to some extent, but it’s more common in young people who don’t yet have the biblical knowledge and understanding to actually attempt to make accurate statements about what Jesus would or wouldn’t do, say or think.
Our culture has painted Jesus as going through the world as the epitome of love. While that is accurate, the love that Jesus gave wasn’t always warm and fuzzy. Sometimes that love was tough love – calling out sins and sinful attitudes when they were evident. Telling people they had to obey God’s commands and couldn’t always do what they wanted to do – even if it felt right. Calling people to not just avoid doing unto others what they wouldn’t want done to them, but to go the extra mile and do things they would want done to them. Jesus called people to sacrificial, humble, obedient, service filled life. The world’s Jesus just calls people to be nice.
Your children will have lots of opportunities in life to form and share their opinions about Jesus. It is important those accurately reflect the real Jesus and not the Jesus your kids may want him to be. Often the real Jesus disappears most quickly when your kids are tempted to justify a favored sin and replaced with a Jesus who would want them to be happy – because of course that’s what love is.
There is a strategy to teach your children to help them avoid creating Jesus in their image. Don’t just teach this to them, but help them practice it whenever they start talking about what Jesus would or wouldn’t do, say or think.
- Impress upon them the role of the Bible as ultimate fact checker. It doesn’t matter how wonderful or logical something sounds, if the Bible contradicts it, then it must be rejected as false. Of course, it is much easier for your children to use the Bible as their fact checker if they are already very familiar with its contents. Ignorance of scripture is a major contributing factor to creating Jesus in our own image.
- What is the evidence for the statement in the Bible? As dangerous as cherry picking scriptures can be, it’s usually how people just learning to use the Bible as their guide operate. It’s just more practical to use a concordance or other aid to quickly find scriptures that may be applicable to the topic than try to read through the entire Bible every time you have a question. Encourage them, however, to at least read a verse or two before and after the passage to make sure it isn’t taken totally out of context… like perhaps someone saying God says to not do something right before the passage that read without that verse may make it seem like we should do that very thing. It won’t help with things like the bad advice Job’s friends gave him that isn’t revealed as really bad advice until chapters later, but it will catch a lot of them.
- What is the evidence against the statement in the Bible? Are their verses that contradict what is being said that can be found in scripture? If it seems like the evidence from the previous question and this one seem to contradict each other as well, teach them good ways to dig a little deeper, like asking a Bible class teacher, minister, elder or you to help them understand what is happening. Often, the problem goes back to context or the Old Law versus the New Law. As you help them, teach them what you did to learn and understand the tools you are using to help explain the answer to them.
- Are there real life examples in the Bible? Let’s say, for example, your child is trying to discover whether or not it is okay to tell half truths. There are a lot of verses about how God hates lies, but your child still thinks there is some wiggle room. The real life example of Ananias and Sapphira in the Bible makes it abundantly clear that half truths are not acceptable to God. (Note: There are a few cases of what would normally be sin portrayed as acceptable to God, but those are extremely rare and have special circumstances attached.)
- What real life examples can they find that show some of the possible consequences of making the choice one way or the other? This one is a bit trickier and definitely is for more mature kids with your guidance. (Satan makes sure there are plenty of examples of people who sin and seem to get by with it.) What you want to teach them to do is to look for the possible negative consequences of making what appears to be a choice that goes against scripture, but still sounds appealing to them. It’s a sort of aversion therapy if you will. So let’s say, they think Jesus would be okay with them getting drunk after a bad week in order to blow off steam. From the previous questions, it looks like Jesus would not want them to do it, but they are still insisting Jesus “would understand” and condone it. So encourage them to look up all of the negative consequences that are possible or likely from binge drinking/getting drunk. In the case of most sins, the actual evidence – especially found in academic research – strongly backs God’s wisdom. Of course, Satan makes sure there will usually be some perceived benefits too – which is why your guidance is needed. For example in our alcohol example, some studies show a slight heart benefit. Pointing out that grape juice, exercise and diet can provide similar or greater benefits without all of the negative side effects is something usually an adult with a little more knowledge, life experience and wisdom can provide.
This method is not always full proof. Young people who are determined to rebel against God won’t care what the Bible says or what the possible negative earthly or heavenly consequences may be. But for the majority of children who are taught how to use this technique from a very young age and who have a heart that still wants to please God, these steps can lessen the likelihood they will begin creating Jesus in their image instead of attempting to become more like Jesus themselves.