Should We Tell Children to Love Jesus?

Should We Tell Children to Love Jesus?

Spurgeon was concerned about the emphasis of telling children to love Jesus rather than trust Jesus. He expressed it like this:

Many [distort the doctrine of justification by faith] when addressing children, and I notice that they generally speak to little ones about loving Jesus, and not upon believing him. This must leave a mischievous impression upon youthful minds and take them off from the true way of peace. (Lectures to My Students, Vol. 2, 1889, p. 270)

It is a legitimate concern. Trust is more concretely demonstrable for children than love. A little child can be told to jump from the fourth step and daddy will catch him. “Trust me. I will catch you.” They can grasp that at two years old.

Similarly, a small child can grasp the application to Jesus: He will always be there to take care of you. In fact, he died once, to save and protect you. You will understand that more someday.

But what it means to love Jesus is not so easily demonstrable. Loving Jesus is more emotionally complex. It includes perceiving the qualities that make Jesus a beautiful and excellent person, worthy of our highest admiration. It involves treasuring Jesus for perfections that set him off from all others. This is not as easy for a child to grasp.

Love in the Trust

Emphasizing a child’s duty to love Jesus more than emphasizing the need to trust him may cause a distortion of love into a set of deeds. Children are wired to translate all perceived duties into deeds.

But that is not what love is. It is before and beneath deeds. When Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15), he meant that love precedes and enables obedience, not that love is obedience.

On the other hand, sooner or later, we will need to help our children realize that saving trust in Jesus has love for Jesus in it. And true love for Jesus has trust in Jesus in it.

Saving trust in Jesus banks on the truth that Christ died for us in order to make himself the eternal, all-satisfying treasure of our lives. The gospel is the “gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). He prayed for us: “Father . . . may they be with me where I am, to see my glory” (John 17:24).

Since the work of Jesus was done to give us himself to love forever, we cannot say we trust in him to do his work for us, while not treasuring the gift that he died to give — himself.

And loving Jesus always includes trusting Jesus to achieve all he said he would, because one of the things we love about him is his trustworthiness and his perfect mercy and justice shown best in the cross.

The Necessity of Love

So sooner or later we will introduce our children not only to the necessity of trusting Jesus (“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31), but of loving him.

We will discuss with them texts like this: “[People] are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. . . . [Those will be] condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9–12). We will show them that “loving the truth” is not just believing that it is so, but “having pleasure” in it. And that means in him — The Truth.

We will read to them with great seriousness the warning, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22). And we will show them the enemies of Jesus really didn’t have God as their Father. We know that because they didn’t love Jesus: “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me’” (John 8:42).

To Love As We Ought

But we will lavish on them the promises with great joy:

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

“But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” (1 Corinthians 8:3)

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him.” (Psalm 91:14)

“The Lᴏʀᴅ preserves all who love him.” (Psalm 145:20)

And we will sing and pray with our children the wonderful truth that “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Which means not only that he sent Christ while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), but that his love takes out of us the heart of stone and wakens love for him.

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art;
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.


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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.