Standing Firm on the Truth

Why Theology Matters in Children’s Ministry

Children Desiring God National Conference | Minneapolis

The title of the message is Standing Firm on the Truth: Why Theology and Doctrine Matters in Children’s Ministry. And there are three terms there that I’m using almost interchangeably — truth, theology, and doctrine. They’re not the same, but they’re so overlapping in my mind that I’m going to use them almost interchangeably. Here’s the difference. Truth is the broadest statements that correspond with reality. That’s what I mean by truth. And then doctrine is the teaching of those statements, usually in some kind of organized way, like a body of doctrine. And theology is when those statements are about God and his ways in the world.

It’s very simple. I don’t have any sophisticated definitions, just statements that correspond with reality. When they’re taught, that’s doctrine, and when they’re taught about God, that’s theology, and everybody therefore does it. And you either do it well or you do it poorly. Our desire is that we do it well.

I have two aims after an introduction. The aim is, first, to persuade you from the Bible that there is such a thing as a body of doctrine there to be transmitted to children as well as adults. And then secondly, to argue that it matters enormously and tell you why. So that’s my outline. It’s a two point outline. But to go there, I want to give you, off my front burner, three illustrations of the kind of thing I mean, and just draw you in to the biblical exposition.

Do You Not Know?

Illustration number one is off my front burner, namely my devotions from this morning. I read the Bible through every year with a Bible reading plan that hundreds of us use here in the church, which is a good thing to encourage along with Bible memorization. It’s a whole-Bible reading plan. This morning in the New Testament we were at 1 Corinthians 6:1–11, along with three other places in the Bible, and I want to read you a portion of that, emphasizing a few words, and then ask you a few questions about your children’s ministry by way of illustration.

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! (1 Corinthians 6:1–3).

Now I’m dropping down to 1 Corinthians 6:7:

To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud — even your own brothers! Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? (1 Corinthians 6:7–9).

Do you not know? Do you not know? Do you not know? Right knowing, Paul assumes, produces right behavior. It must be that you don’t know something if you’re suing each other. It must be that you don’t know something if your heart is so selfish all you can imagine when you’re wronged is to get back. Something is not in your head.

Planning for Doctrinal Instruction

That’s amazing. So I ask you in regard to your children’s ministry, do the children of your church know, or do you have a plan for them to know, that they will judge the world? Do you have a plan for them to know that they will judge angels? Do you have a plan to explain to them what an angel is and why some of them might need to be judged, or do you not care if they understand the Bible or make use of it not to sue each other when they become 18? Do you have a plan to help them know that the unrighteous will not enter the kingdom of God? Or maybe we better read 1 Corinthians 6:11, which says:

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Do you have a plan so that they know they have been washed and what it means? Do you have a plan to show them they have been sanctified and what it means, to show them they’ve been justified, and what it means? Do you have a plan to explain how it is that you can say to a person, “Don’t return evil for evil because those who return evil for evil won’t go into the kingdom of heaven,” and not undermine justification by faith?

Do you have the plan in place for building these little kids up into those who, when they’re asked by the apostle Paul, “Do you know?” they say, “Yes, that’s why we’re not suing each other. Yes, I know and that’s why I am not going to court before unbelievers. Yes, I know and that’s why I am forgiving those who rip me off in my business. I was taught when I was four that you don’t do that if you’re a Christian. And you know God’s going to hold them accountable, and God has forgiven me all my sins.” Knowing changes lives. The apostle Paul thought it did. If you have not experienced that or you go to a church where it’s just doctrine and nobody is changed, and you draw the inference, “Therefore, doctrine doesn’t change things,” throw your Bible away. Something else is going on there because the Bible says, “Do you not know? Do you not know? Do you not know?”

If you knew you wouldn’t sue each other. That’s illustration number one off my front burner from devotions this morning.

Knowledge and Holiness

Here’s illustration number two. I was blown away a few weeks ago reading an excerpt from a book in Books and Culture, so I ordered the book. It’s called The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience by Ron Sider. He’s famous for Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. And the point of this 129 page book is that evangelicals live like the world. Statistic, after statistic, after statistic shows that we are not much different.

For example, evangelicals divorce at about the same rate as the nation at large. Let me give you the definition of an evangelical in George Barna’s definition, where he is getting these statistics. According to Barna, an evangelical is a person who says, “I have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in my life today, and I agree that Jesus lived a sinless life. Eternal salvation is only through grace, not works. Christians have a personal responsibility to evangelize non-Christians, and Satan exists.” If you answer all that, you’re an evangelical on this definition. Here are some of the statistics:

  • We divorce at about the same rate.
  • Nine percent of evangelicals tithe.
  • Out of 12,000 teenagers who took the pledge to wait for marriage, 80 percent of them had sex outside marriage.
  • Twenty-six percent of traditional evangelicals don’t think premarital sex is wrong.
  • White evangelicals are more likely than Catholics and mainline Protestants to object to having a black neighbor.

Now something interesting developed. This is what blew me away. Actually, that blew me away and this began to settle me. He said, on page 127, George Barna has developed a set of criteria to identify people with a biblical worldview. In other words, they wanted to figure out, does it make any difference if you believe more of the Bible than just the minimum?

These people believe “the Bible is the moral standard,” and also think that “absolute moral truths exist and are conveyed through the Bible.” In addition, they agree with all six of the following additional beliefs:

  1. God is the all knowing, all powerful creator who still rules the universe.
  2. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life.
  3. Satan is real — a real living entity.
  4. Salvation is a free gift, not something we can earn.
  5. Every Christian has a personal responsibility to evangelize.
  6. The Bible is totally accurate in all it teaches.

The Need for Orthodoxy

Now if you sign on to all those, they call you a person with a “biblical worldview.” And then they discovered this (taken from a paragraph from page 128):

The good news is that the small circle of people with a biblical worldview demonstrate genuinely different behavior. They are nine times more likely than all the others to avoid adult-only material on the internet. They are four times more likely than other Christians to boycott objectionable companies and products, and twice as likely to choose intentionally not to watch a movie specifically because of its bad content. They are three times more likely than other adults not to use tobacco products and twice as likely to volunteer time to help needy people.

Forty-nine percent of all born-again Christians with a biblical worldviewhave volunteered more than an hour in the previous week to an organization serving the poor; whereas 29 percent of born-again Christians (born-again is a very broad category in his statistics) without a biblical worldview and only 22 percent of non born-again Christians have done.

Now here’s the end of the book. You usually put your conclusions and important ones at the end of the book. And here’s his conclusion. This is remarkable coming from Ron Sider, and it’s remarkable even more because of who endorsed it on the back, namely people who don’t believe it:

Barna’s findings on the different behavior of Christians with a biblical worldview underline the importance of theology. Biblical orthodoxy does matter. One important way to end the scandal of the contemporary Christian behavior is to work and pray fervently for the growth of orthodox theological belief in our churches.

I’m going to read that last one again because that is exactly what this conference is designed to encourage: “One important way to end the scandal of contemporary Christian behavior (in other words, to grow up kids who will be different from the world) is to work (it’s hard work) and pray fervently (it takes God) for the growth of orthodox theological belief in our churches.

That’s illustration number two from my front burner.

Fighting for Propositions of Truth

Here’s illustration number three. I gave a talk on Saint Athanasius a few weeks ago at the pastor’s conference that we have here, so I’ve been immersing myself in his life. Right now I’m on a writing leave and came up for air to do this. And I’m thinking about Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen, and I’m spinning it all into the future with Spurgeon and people in our own day, and I am finding Satan’s tactics are not very different from age to age.

Athanasius was the fourth century defender of the deity of Christ, the author of the first Council of Nicaea. When you say the Nicene Creed, most of those words come from Athanasius. And I draw from him over against so much of contemporary post-modern thinking in the church. He makes this statement: “Loving Christ includes loving true propositions about Christ.” Loving Christ includes, and cannot be separated from, loving true propositions. If you make fun of true propositions about Jesus, you blaspheme. If you belittle propositions that accurately describe the king of kings, you are treacherous.

Statements like, “There was a time when the Son of God was not,” are false. And to assert it is blasphemy. Or think of the statement, “He was not before he was made.” This is what Arius was saying, and against which Athanasius fought with all his might. Or here’s another proposition, “The Son of God is created.” Now those propositions are strictly damnable. If we encourage people or don’t discourage people from embracing them, we damn them. We hand them over to damnable propositions that, if they embrace, will send them to hell.

I think Athanasius would have abominated with tears the contemporary call that maybe exists in some of your churches to “de-propositionalize,” which is a quote that we hear. We hear about the emergent church, or post-evangelicals. These are all catchphrases for the people that are tending away from what I’m arguing for. I think Athanasius would’ve said to them — he was the bishop of Alexandria in Egypt — “Our young people in Alexandria die for the truth propositions about Christ. What do your young people die for?” And if the answer came back, which I suspect it would, “We die for Christ not propositions,” I think Athanasius would have said, “That’s exactly the way the heretic Arius talks.”

I think he would’ve said, “Okay, you die for Christ, not any particular proposition about Christ. So which Christ do you die for?” Now to answer that question — “Which Christ are you going to die for?” — you must make a proposition about Jesus. You must say something about him, and to refuse to answer that question, which is the most common contemporary tactic, is to say, “It doesn’t matter what Christ you die for. That word can stand for anything you want it to.” That is damnable.

Well, that’s illustration number three. I’m worked up about this issue, about standing firm on truth because doctrine and theology really matter.

A Body of Doctrine

Now to my outline. First, there is in the Bible a body of doctrine that should be passed on to the next generation, and second, after that, it really matters and why. So here we go. Number one: there is a body of doctrine (truth, theology) to be passed on to children.

I have three passages of Scripture to defend this, but before I give them to you, I want to advertise a book, which I hope they have lots of copies of. Look how big this is. That is a big book. Wayne Grudem likes to write big books. He’s got another big book on evangelical feminism that just came out. Wayne Grudem is a straight shooter. His arrow flies straight and hits the target 99 percent of the time. He’s human. It’s a higher percentage than mine, I’m sure. Get this book. Is that a good advertisement? Buy this book. It costs you, I think here at this conference, 30 bucks. That’s two cents a page. Unbelievable.

Now, you’re never going to read this whole book, okay? You’re not going to read this book. It’s not meant to be read from cover to cover. You’re going to go to this book Saturday, after Saturday, after Saturday to figure out what you’re going to say about justification to three year olds. It’s not because he writes at a three-year-old level, but because he writes at a level that an eighth grader can understand, and that’s most of us. And so get help, put this on the shelf and you can just not buy 20 or 30 other books because there’s so much there. And use it, because it has a great index. Thank you Wayne Grudem, and thank you God for putting that in the church.

The Whole Counsel of God

Here are three texts to defend the truth that there is a body of doctrine. The first is Romans 6:17, which says:

Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed . . .

I want to just draw your attention to the phrase “standard of teaching.” I would go into the Greek here to argue, but that would be overdoing it, I think. Let’s just say “standard of teaching” implies there’s some teaching, there’s a body, there’s a group of teachings, and he says, “I’m so thankful to God that you Romans, from the heart (it’s not just head knowledge), have been committed, have been handed over to the standard of teaching.” There is such a thing. Already in the New Testament, before we could have the whole New Testament to build on, there was emerging this body of teaching that Paul wanted to make sure all believers came to know.

The second text is Acts 20:27, which says:

I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

This is Paul saying that his conscience is clear. He’s leaving the Ephesian elders, he probably will never see them again. And he says, “My conscience is clear because I didn’t shrink from declaring to you” — and then he has this phrase — “the whole counsel of God.” And all I’m doing is saying that phrase, along with “standard of teaching,” implies there’s a body of doctrine. There’s a body of truth called “the whole counsel of God.” He is saying, “I didn’t leave anything essential out. I taught you and now my hands are free from your blood.” Are you willing to say that about the children who spend maybe 12 years in your ministry? When you’re done, could you say, “Your blood is not on my hands. I have taught you the whole counsel of God” — at least, as much as they could take in at that age.

The third text is 2 Timothy 1:13–14. He uses two phrases for it. He says:

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me (so Paul did his job again), in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.

So let me give you all four phrases: “standard of teaching,” “whole counsel of God,” “pattern of sound words,” and, “deposit entrusted to you.” And I hope that you agree with me that there’s something being pointed to there that we should care deeply about handing on to every new believer, no matter what age, and especially to our own descendants as they grow up in our homes and in our churches.

A Cause for Joy and a Cause for Cursing

Now let me give you, before I turn to point number two in the outline, the last point, which is an illustration of Paul’s attitude to this. Now we’ve seen three places where he says there is such a thing, and now I want to talk for just a moment and illustrate his attitude toward it. I’m going to read you two passages of Scripture, one from Galatians 1 and one from Philippians 1 and ask, why the difference in tone? Here’s Galatians 1:6–8. This is the one letter that has no loving salutation at the front end. He just jumps in. He’s really upset with what’s going on in the churches of Galatia. He says:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (or, damn him).

Now that’s strong language, and what perplexes me about the apostle Paul is why he didn’t use that same language in Philippians 1. I’m going to read Philippians 1:15–18. He’s in prison and there are these rascals, these seemingly loveless rascals, trying to make his imprisonment more burdensome by preaching when he can’t preach. He loves to preach and he can’t preach, so they’re going to preach instead and make him feel awful. Listen to how he says it:

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry (that’s a bad way to preach Christ), but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then?

Well, damn them, damn them, right? He continues:

Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice . . .

Well, what’s going on here? He is calling down divine curses in Galatia and rejoicing in jail in regard to the Philippians. Here’s the difference. There’s not a whiff of implication in Philippians that they were getting the message wrong, and that’s the whole point of Galatians 1:6–8. Another gospel is being preached. Let this land on you because this is so different from today and the evangelical church that I was addressing earlier today.

Do you know what gets people really worked up today? Bad attitudes and bad relationships. If you start preaching out of envy, you’ll be damned. Man, we are keen on condemning bad attitudes, and then we just whitewash whether the message gets right or not. We think, “No big deal, it’s the attitude that counts.” Now I’m not defending envy, okay? I’m not defending rivalry. It’s a bad attitude. I’m just saying it is incredible to me that Paul, sitting in jail and knowing that their attitude stinks, would rejoice that they’re preaching. Isn’t that incredible?

I mean, would I do that? I am so 20th-century, pragmatic, American, relational-saturated that I would preach against that attitude and say, “That’s the essence of the gospel. A bad attitude is a contradiction of the gospel.” So what’s wrong with Paul? Nothing is wrong with him. He’s just got his things in order. Truth first and attitude second. Paul is thinking, “If truth is happening out there and their attitude is bad, I’m going to praise God that truth is happening. But if they switch their message, I’m calling down a curse on them.” I mean, that’s big. I think that’s really big. So that’s point number one. There is a body of truth. There’s a body of doctrine right around the gospel, making it clear, telling us what it is and we ought to make sure we know it, love it, share it.

The Importance of Teaching

Here’s point number two, the last point. I want to give you evidence that it really matters in the New Testament, that it really matters that we transmit this truth, this doctrine, this theology, this body of teaching to the next generation. It really matters. And I have, I think, five reasons for that.

1. Bringing Children to Faith

I’ll put them in the form of questions. Do you want the children in your ministry to come to a deep, strong, unshakable faith and be saved from sin and hell? And of course your answer is yes.

My simple observation is that the word of God rightly taught does that. Here are four texts on this point. First, Romans 10:17 says:

So faith comes from hearing . . .

Where does faith come from for those little ears? It comes from hearing “and hearing by the word of Christ.” And I’m going to say the word of Christ, rightly understood. It’s not, “Christ is a doorknob,” or, “Christ is not divine,” or, “Christ is a Hindu guru.” When it says “by the word of Christ,” it means the biblical Christ, the doctrinally sound Christ.

The second text is 1 Timothy 4:16, which says:

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

These little children who hear you, do you want to ensure their salvation? If you do, pay attention to your teaching and persevere in it because by your teaching your soul is saved and their soul is saved. He couldn’t say it much more clearly. Right teaching saves souls.

Here’s the third text: Acts 20:26–27. I’ve already referred to this. Let me just read the two verses together. This is Paul talking to the Ephesian elders:

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for . . .

Here’s why. Do you want to be able to say this when your work is done in the ministry to children in your church? You’ve given years to it. You’ve done your best. You want to be able to say, “I am innocent of the blood of all,” which I think, by the way, means you can’t guarantee their salvation by right teaching. Some of these kids are going to be lost and you will have done your job right. He says:

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

Here’s the last text on this point. Second Thessalonians 2:10 says:

[The coming of the lawless one will be] with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

What saves? The love of the truth. They wouldn’t receive it. A loving presentation and exulting in the truth was presented to them in Sunday school and high school ministry and in the pew, and they wouldn’t have it. They wouldn’t receive the truth and love the truth, so they perish. Paul connects perishing, not being saved, with refusing a love for the truth, which makes me tremble for those evangelicals today who play fast and loose with propositions. That’s question number one under the evidence that it really matters. It matters because the word, the teaching, awakens faith.

Does Teaching Belittle the Role of the Holy Spirit?

Now I wrote down two objections because I can hear them. I bump into them all the time. Objection number one on this first group of texts is, “Doesn’t this emphasis on the truth minimize the work of the Holy Spirit? It’s going to make dead heads out of us all.” Answer: it doesn’t minimize the work of the Holy Spirit, it agrees with the Holy Spirit in putting him in his favorite place.

What’s the favorite place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t answer because you’ll get it wrong. Yours would be true. I mean, it would be a right place, but you’re not thinking the way I am thinking right here. The favorite place of the Holy Spirit is right behind the preaching of the gospel as it moves like a jet through the world. You’ve seen those four jets before. They’re just amazing. It’s like they’ve got a rod attached between them. They keep in such perfect formation. Well, the one in the front is the preaching of the gospel and the one in the back is the Holy Spirit.

If the one in font says, “I don’t think I want to go to Afghanistan.” Guess what? The Holy Spirit won’t go either. The Holy Spirit was sent into the world according to Jesus to do what? John 16:14 says, “He will glorify me for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The Holy Spirit is in the world to glorify Jesus, which means he likes to be tucked right in behind Christ-exalting teaching, Christ-exalting devotions, Christ-exalting prayers, Christ-exalting preaching, and Christ-exalting lives, because wherever Christ is exalted with the mouth, the Holy Spirit moves. But if you shut your mouth and go back home and pray, he will not move. He will not do an end run around the word of truth, around the gospel.

I was asked to speak in 1988 at a missions conference and they assigned me the title. I don’t like it when people assign me titles. This one was assigned to me, but we’ve been together for 25 years, so that’s okay. The assigned title was Prayer: The Work of Missions.

So I stood up and my first sentence was, “Prayer, the work of missions. It’s not. Preaching the gospel is the work missions, and prayer is the handmaid of the gospel.” Nobody gets saved by prayer alone. The gospel must be preached, and the gospel is the exaltation of Christ. And when the Holy Spirit sees Christ being exalted and lifted up, he moves on the people to say, “Look at him,” and he opens their heart. Believe me, I’m a Calvinist. Nobody gets saved without the sovereign Spirit of God changing their hearts. We all know this, little children especially. We must take into account the fact that you’re not going to save this kid. There are all kinds of practical implications of leading kids in prayers they ought not to pray, perhaps, but that’s another talk, and it isn’t mine.

Does Teaching Diminish the Role of Prayer?

I just conflated my two objections. The first one is, “Aren’t you minimizing the Holy Spirit?” And the second one is, “Aren’t you minimizing the role of prayer?” And here’s a lesson I’ve learned about prayer. I’ve prayed for unbelievers all my life and I still do, just like Paul says in Romans 10:1 — “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they might be saved.” I have people in my life I long for so deeply to be saved, I would die for their salvation. In a minute I would die for their salvation. But when I read the New Testament and look for how the Bible teaches prayer in relation to evangelism, listen to these texts:

  • Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (Matthew 9:38).
  • Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
  • Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word . . . (Colossians 4:3).
  • [Pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel . . . as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:19–20).

It’s almost uniform in the New Testament that we pray for the speaker, not the hearer. Almost. Romans 10:1 is an exception, and I’m glad it’s an exception because I want to pray for lost people and I should, but mainly the New Testament illustrates that prayer is for preachers and teachers and sharers of the gospel that the Holy Spirit would so come upon them just like he did in Acts 4:31. It says they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

That’s what happens when the Holy Spirit comes upon a church. People start speaking unashamedly in the church and outside the church, and then the Holy Spirit really moves in power because he loves to magnify Jesus being lifted up in the gospel. So my response to those objections is, “No, no, no, no.” In teaching that the word saves, right understanding of the gospel saves, I’m not minimizing the Holy Spirit. He has his favorite place, empowering the word right behind the word. And I’m not minimizing prayer because God has ordained that the Holy Spirit move upon the preacher for the sake of the heart by prayer.

2. Pursuing Sanctification for Children

Here’s my second question in my second point about why it really matters that we pass this on to the next generation: Do we want our children to be sanctified and freed from the bondage of sin?

John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” That’s a prayer. So now you have the two coming together. Lord, take these kids and sanctify them in every biblical sense of setting them apart for yourself and of morally transforming their lives in accordance with Jesus. Sanctify these kids in the truth. And how in the world will God answer that prayer if you shut your mouth and give them a truncated gospel, little fragments, little pieces? The truth, the whole council of God, is needed to sanctify them.

Or listen to John 8:32. Jesus says, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

Or here’s one of the most remarkable ones. Second Peter 1:3–4 says:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness (sanctification), through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

That’s an amazing passage of Scripture regarding how to escape from corruption, how to be shaped into the character of God, and how to have power for godliness — namely, by knowledge of him, knowledge of his glory, knowledge of his excellence, knowledge of his promises, and by banking on them. I wrote a whole book on that called Future Grace, which is my way of saying, “Standing on the promises, you cannot fail to become holier than you were if you didn’t.”

So when you teach children biblical doctrine, what do you do? You put in their hands the one offensive weapon of the biblical armor in Ephesians 6, namely the sword, which is the word of God. And then you go over to Romans 8:12–13, about which John Owen wrote a whole book. It says:

Brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Well, what’s in my hand? It says, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body . . .” I’ll tell you what it is in my hand, it’s the sword of the Spirit. That’s what’s in my hand. If we take this out of our kids’ hands, they are sitting ducks for the devil. But if we put arrows in their quiver and swords and daggers in their scabbards, they’ll have one tailor-made for every demonic temptation and they can stick the devil. And they will do it all the better if they understand what they have in their hand so that it doesn’t feel like a foreign instrument.

3. Delivering Children from Demonic Oppression

Here’s the third one. Do you want your children, the children in your ministry, to be freed from the power of Satan?

I’ve already overlapped onto that, but there’s a text that has, in my life, proved to be massively significant in how I think about demonic oppression. I’ve been corresponding with a man with a nine year old who believes his son is demon possessed. And oh how I’ve been counseling and praying. And I got an email the day before yesterday in which he said, “I think he’s past it. He’s been normal for a couple of months.” It was an awful, dark season. We’ve known seasons in this church where missionary kids manifested, as little tiny infants, unbelievable behavior that just seemed so out of whack.

Well, babies are one thing, adults are another, and listen to this passage. Second Timothy 2:24–26 says:

The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Do you know anybody who is being held captive by the devil to do the devil’s will? If you do, it may be that a phenomenal power encounter would be appropriate. I’ve lived through one of those that I know of, and it was an amazing thing. I don’t deny it. I believe if I was on the mission field dealing with demonism more directly, I’d probably see more of it. But the devil is quite alive and well in this country, and he has his strategies and he has his ways. He loves to keep the secular and unbelieving in his power. And so it’s not surprising to me that his bondage is of a different manifestation than it might be in a country that’s lived by witchcraft for 2,000 years. This text is one of those. There are others that address that.

This text addresses us because let’s say your a children’s worker, and you have some kids that seem to be picking up on that black, dark stuff at home that causes people to kill 10 people in Red Lake — that dark, demonic stuff. This kid just seems to have it. What are you going to do? What’s your strategy? Well, I want this to be in your quiver. The Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome but kind, able to teach, and patient when wronged. This kid is going to not treat you nice. And you correct with gentleness. God may grant them repentance and an escape from the snare of the devil through your loving teaching, your patient correction. It doesn’t sound supernatural; it is supernatural.

If you trust God and say, “Oh God, when I walk in there this morning, let there be an anointing on me so that as I open my mouth and talk about Jesus Christ crucified and risen and triumphant, as I go to that little passage of Scripture where he said to the devil, ‘Go’ and people said, ‘Look, he commands the unclean spirits and they come out of him. What kind of authority is this?’ I pray that that little child would be delivered through my words.” It is supernatural through the word.

4. Helping Children Abound in Love

The fourth question: do you want the children in your ministry to abound in love and not just avoid bad behavior?

It’s so sad that in churches that we give them lists of dos and don’ts and don’t provide the right kinds of teaching and challenge that. They come to us and say, “What’s wrong with this music?” I always said, when my boys said that, and they all did, “Wrong question. It’s the wrong question. I’m not interested in giving you a longer list or even explaining the list. The question is, is it helping you pray? Is it helping you love Jesus? Is it helping you be kind to people, and love people, and bless people, and hate sin, and be humble, and hate pride, and get free from your lockstep conformity to the teenage world? Is it helping you? That’s the question I want you to ask, son.”

The text is Philippines 1:9, which says:

It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment . . .

5. Aiming at Childrens’ Happiness in God

Here’s the last question, number five: do we want our children to be happy in God now and forever?

Yes. John 15:11 says:

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

He says, “My words . . .” I mean, Jesus is God. He could have just reached out and touched Peter on the chest, and he would have been the happiest person in the universe. He could just go around and touch people, “Happy, happy, happy.” But he chose to do it another way.

Words. Isn’t that amazing? I mean, never cease to be amazed that we have become Christians, and that we become holy, and that we get free from sin, and we get free from the devil, and we become loving, and we become happy by words. Never cease to be amazed. It is so sad when you see churches where this Book is just almost gone. They preach another thing. They do children’s ministries another way, when the most staggering things, and I’ve given you five of them, are said about what happens when that Book goes into people’s heads and hearts. “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you . . .” Do you wake up sad in the morning, what do you do? You remember Jesus said, “I’ve said some things that would make you happy. Go, read them, and ask me to do what I said I would do.”

That’s the way I fight the fight of faith. I’m not, by nature, a happy person. I wouldn’t write all these books about seeking happiness if I were happy. I’m a very melancholy and struggling person, and I love Jesus saying, “Piper, for you and your kids in this church, I’ve said some things to you that my joy may be in you and your joy may be full.”

God Is the Gospel

I’m going to close with one more illustration off my front burner. I’m on a writing leave right now and I hope, I would like — pray for me — to write a book maybe with the title God is the Gospel, or something like that. And what’s behind that title is me looking back over these five reasons for the importance of the word, and doctrine, and theology, and truth, and saying, “Why should I care about being saved? Why should I care about being a loving person? Why should I care about having faith? Why should I care about escaping sin, Satan, and hell?” Someone could say, “Well, hell hurts. That’s why.” Bad answer. Really bad answer. It’s not a God-glorifying answer. It’s a flesh-glorifying answer to say, “I don’t want to go to hell, it hurts.” Oh, so your skin is really valuable, right? Well, yeah.

So what else? Is anything else valuable? “Well, I just don’t want to hurt.” That’s not a good answer, right? I’m driven by gospel sentence, after gospel sentence, after gospel sentence to ask, why is this good news ultimately? And my answer is that it gets me to God. And if God isn’t my treasure, there is no gospel in the Bible. If God himself is not why I want out of hell and into heaven, I’m not going there.

Therefore, I want to lead my kids, not only in all these things, but I want to lead them to have God — not just to have joy in the abstract, or to have justification, or to have forgiveness of sins, or to have sanctification, or to have love. I don’t want them to just have those things. I want them to have God.

I have one more text to give you, but before I read it in closing, I want to say what probably will be said many times, and even though it’s not mine to say it because I wasn’t assigned this topic, I’m going to say that along with all this elevation of truth, elevation of doctrine, and elevation of theology, which I consider indispensable, you should love these kids, spend time with these kids, play with these kids on the living room rug or on the Sunday school floor. And you should hug these kids, care for every physical and emotional need, surround them with all kinds of godly influences, take them to church, and celebrate with joy every sliver of grace, common grace and special grace, in their lives. And you should provide for them strong, God-like security, and firmness, and sweetness, and I’m going to pray for them.

I’m going to do all that. And then I’m going to read this verse, 2 John 1:9, which says:

Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

And if you don’t, you don’t. That would be the greatest sadness of all. But if you do, you do. And that would be the greatest gladness of all. And so, all you precious childrens workers stand firm on the truth and realize and manifest in your ministries that it really matters — doctrine, theology, truth, and word.