When my kids were young, I had the idea to talk with them about the gospel over dinner so that we could discuss together about what it means for us to follow Jesus. (Dinnertimes were pretty crazy with three kids under ten and the usual debates over the necessity and place of vegetables in the created order, so it was an ambitious goal.) My husband suggested that the best way to start might be to teach them the gospel outline Two Ways to Live and to make it super fun.
It was super fun. We set the Bible verses to tunes we all knew: the Superman theme (“In his great mer-cy/he has given us new birth/into a liiii-ving hope/through the reeeesurrection of Jesus Christ/from the dead”), Oranges and Lemons Say the Bells of St Clements (“Christ died for sins/once for all/ the righteous for the unrighteous/to bring you to God/One Peter three, verse eight/teen…”), the Harry Potter theme (“Man is destined to die once/and after that face judgment/Hebrews chapter niiiine, verse twenty-seeeeven”), Year 3000 by Busted (“Who-ever/be-lieves/in the Son/has eternal life/but who-ever/re-jects the Son/will not see life/for God’s wrath remains on them/remains on theeeem…”) etc, etc.
Every week I would print out the little Two Ways to Live illustration and the Bible verse underneath, and blu-tack it to the wall by the dining table before dinnertime, ready for the next box to learn together.
While we all had heaps of fun, I did not expect it to have such a profound effect on my 5-year-old.
She was obsessed with what was happening in the pictures – and especially what was happening with the “little man” (that is, the figure of the person in the 2WTL illustrations). Every week she would race down the hallway to the dining room and climb up on a chair to see what “the little man” was going to do next. Despite her young age, she was able to understand that there was a little man who was looking after the world, under God’s rule. The next week she was horrified to see Box 2 where “the little man hopped off the world!” “Mummy, he hopped off the world!” “Why did he hop off the world?”
But I want to ask, where would you go in that gospel moment? Would you say, “yes sweetheart, we all say no to God but it’s OK because Jesus came and died on the cross for us and now we can be friends with God! Yay!”?
Yet if we do that we’ve gone from Box 1 and Box 2 straight to Box 4 and 5 – and then on to 6 if we want to encourage our little one to make a commitment to Jesus right there and then.
But what have we done with Box 3? Remember Box 3? It’s the Harry Potter tune: “Man is destined to die once/and after that face judgment/Hebrews chapter niiiine, verse twenty-seeeeven”. God will not let us get away with our rebellion. He cares enough about it that he will punish us. That punishment is death and hell, separation from God and from everything good, forever.
That is the moment to then talk about Jesus, the cure, the one whom God sent into the world as our representative and our substitute. How brightly he shines then, and how much do we want to grasp him when we understand our dire situation as rebels before a righteous God? The gospel of grace in Jesus is glorious! It is for 5-year-olds as much as it is for 95-year-olds.
But if we skip over Box 3 in the space for Box 3 and too quickly move onto Box 4 where Jesus comes and saves us, we either miss out that part of the message entirely and so water down what we’re trying to communicate, or we tack it onto the end of Box 6 (“so yeah, if you go for Way A and choose to live without Jesus then God will punish you…”) and find ourselves backed into portraying God as vindictive for not choosing him rather than as rightly angry at the way we have treated him and other people and the world he made.
I can’t remember what I said to my sweet 5-year-old daughter in that moment that day. She’s now a teenager and she has given me permission to share this story because she remembers when she used to follow the adventures of the little man, and she, praise God! is now a follower of Jesus.