Understanding God's Forgiveness
Christianity is unique among world religions in that it presents peace and reconciliation with the Creator of mankind through grace, mercy, and sacrifice at God’s expense. This is in opposition to meriting goodness from the higher power based on our natural goodness or abilities, earning it through obedience and good works, or merely praying that the Lord will be nice. The richness of our Lutheran heritage includes presenting this Gospel message to the Lord’s people and allowing it to have the most prominent place in worship, preaching, Bible study, chapel, Sunday School lessons, and the like. For the first few years, most children are satisfied to hear that Jesus forgives all sins. In the course of child development, however, it doesn’t take too many years before the child recognizes that some sins are more severe or damaging than others, and he wonders if God can truly forgive all sins in Christ.
One of the challenges in helping children to understand God’s forgiveness is recognizing where they might be confused. It’s important that all people realize that any single sin, no matter how seemingly insignificant or severe, is enough that we would spend eternity in hell. Consider James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” If students struggle with this, remind them that while a single sin may be trivial when compared to the sins of others, God does not compare us to others; He compares us to Himself. We must be perfect as He is. Even more vital is the correct understanding of Jesus’ perfect work of atonement. In other words, what Jesus did on the cross was enough. Stress to students the fact that Jesus was sinless. Consider Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus has no sin of His own for which to suffer. Therefore, He was able to give Himself fully for us. Next, accentuate Jesus’ godly nature. Yes, Jesus is a man. Yet, He is also fully God. The blood shed for sin was blood from God and man come together. The same One who created the world bled for you. The One who opened the Red Sea and closed it upon the Egyptians bled for you and me. Blood of the Almighty is more than enough for the whole world, more than enough for even the most wicked sin.
At the same time, some students may need to be reminded that, while there is full forgiveness in Christ, there is such only in the Christ. Acts 4:12 bears this out: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” More specifically, in Christ there is forgiveness for all and any sin. Outside of Christ, even the slightest infraction means everlasting torment in hell. For older students, this may be a sticking point. The point regarding comparison can be helpful here as well. It’s human nature to point to the sins of others in order to minimize our own. We wonder, How could a liar and a murderer both spend eternity in hell simply because they died without Jesus? Again, stress that God compares us to Himself, not each other. It’s His standard we need to meet.
The fatal error of looking for salvation outside of Jesus relates quite closely to the “unforgiveable” sin. In reality, there is no particular sin that is unforgiveable, say, murder, rape, false teaching, and so forth. Rather, the only thing unforgiveable is dying without Jesus. Mark 1:15 speaks to this point. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The two essential elements are repentance and trust in the Gospel. The sinner recognizes his need for forgiveness and sees he has it in Jesus Christ. Christ’s work on the cross can and does cover every sin, no matter how severe, no matter how often committed. Yet, this forgiveness comes only through faith in Christ.
Try these methods to present the above ideas in the Sunday School classroom.
Jesus can forgive all sins
On small pieces of paper or cardboard, write notes such as “You owe 10 cents,” “You own 25 cents,” “You own 60 cents,” and the like. Give one to each student in class. Make sure that you have a variety of amounts. Show the class a twenty dollar bill. Make sure that the total amount of all the debts falls below twenty dollars. Explain that the twenty dollars is more than enough to cover not only one student, but all the students put together.
There is forgiveness only in Jesus
Present the students with a mathematics problem. Make sure to choose a problem that the students can grasp. Third graders have studied multiplication. Fourth graders have had division. For younger students use simple addition and subtraction. Solve the problem with the students. Stress that there is only one correct solution to the problem. There are some answers that are closer than others. Yet, only one is correct. For example, 4 x 5 = 20. Twenty-one is close. So is nineteen. However, only twenty is correct. Use this to illustrate that there is forgiveness only in Christ. Other religions may seem like the truth, but in the end, there is only One.
God richest blessings to you as you teach God’s beloved cherubs. Remember that the Holy Spirit teaches through you and with you!