Even if you have grown up in the church all your life, explaining salvation to your own child can be super intimidating.
Am I explaining it correctly?
Is it too much?
Do they really understand or are they just nodding their head?
Why Kids Can Struggle To Understand Salvation
1. They Are Concrete Thinkers
Developmentally, it’s really challenging for kids to understand concepts that they cannot touch or see.
As you read devotionals to kids or try to verbally explain to them the concepts of Jesus’s death, burial, resurrection, and the connection to THEIR sin and future in heaven…kids (and adults!) can easily get confused.
They may be able to recite the words back to you from memory, but their young heart and soul will likely not fully grasp the Gospel.
2. They Don’t Yet Understand The Weight Of Their Sin
All kids exhibit sinful behavior very early in life, but the weight of that sin is often lost on them.
Yes, all sin is equal in God’s eyes, but it may be hard for a child to grasp that snatching a toy from their sibling in anger is enough to separate them from God forever.
Especially because we usually treat these sinful behaviors as learning opportunities and practice runs in apologies, asking for forgiveness, and then starting over fresh. If they are forgiven now, then why did Jesus need to die for them?
How could their “child-sized” sin be that big of a deal?
3. They Have Heard It All Their Lives
Something you hear over and over again can start to lose value.
For example, I tell my kids that I love them multiple times a day. They know it’s true, but it’s not very impactful because I say it all the time.
We also talk about Jesus and His death on the cross a lot. I fear that their familiarity with the story keeps them from having a fresh understanding and deep connection with the power of the cross.
They’ve heard it all before and they know all the answers to all the questions.
But does their heart really know the Redeemer?
How to Offer a Concrete, Visual Explanation of Salvation to a Child
Knowing all the above information, I was reading a devotional to my kids that ended with a reminder that Jesus died for them and all their sins on the cross.
I looked up at my kid’s vacant eyes as they waited for me to say that it was time to pray. The words had washed over them and clearly had no impact.
I decided right then and there to put something concrete together to explain the Gospel to my kids.
2 Clear cups (bigger is better)
Multiple Food Dye colors
1. Explain Sin With Water and Pepper/Food Dye
I filled both cups with the same amount of water. One cup I set aside and the other cup I said would represent us.
I asked my kids to think of sins they have committed. They excitedly called out everything they could think of: lying, stealing, hitting, calling somebody a name, disrespect, disobeying, etc.
For every “child-sized” sin, I put a dash of pepper in our water glass. Pretty soon there was a lot of pepper!
For effect, I added drops of all the food dye until the water was black.
I told my girls that our water glass was black with sin – we have a problem! The Bible tells us that everyone has a black glass (Romans 3:23) and the consequence of that sin is death (Romans 6:23).
2. Try To Clean Your Glass
I asked the girls what we could do to clean our glass ourselves.
We definitely could not scoop out all the grains of pepper or the food dye. It was all blended in!
We attempted to add drops of clean water (representing good deeds/good works), but even if we poured in a whole cup of extra water – the water was nowhere near clear.
The girls needed to admit that they could not clean the glass themselves. They needed some serious help.
3. Switch The Glasses
As we stared helplessly at our swirling glass of yuck, I pointed to the other glass of water.
I told the girls that this glass represents Jesus. Pure, sinless, perfect. Not even the slightest pinch of pepper. Jesus never threw a toy in anger, snuck a cookie when he wasn’t supposed to, or hit his brother.
Then I told my girls that when Jesus died on the cross, He made a way that we could *SWITCH* glasses!
Jesus tells us in the Bible that when we call out for help and ask Him to save us (Romans 10:13), He will immediately switch our glasses.
He takes the filthy glass of sin, and we walk free with the pure glass we did not earn or deserve (Romans 6:23).
I pulled the clean glass of water towards us and I said, “This is the glass you have now because of Jesus dying on the cross. He took the punishment you deserved for your dirty water.”
4. Present the Plan of Salvation
The final piece of explaining salvation to kids is to emphasize that we have to ask Jesus to switch our glasses.
He only switches glasses with people who recognize they have yucky water (sin) and admit they cannot fix it themselves.
They recognize that Jesus is the only person who can help them with their water glass, and they put their trust in Him to take care of it (Romans 10:9).
Jesus will also never ask for his pure glass back. No matter how much we mess up or fall short of His standards, the pure glass is ours to keep forever.
At this point you can lead your kids in prayer, thanking Jesus for taking our sin and giving us His perfect glass. You may also talk your kids down the Romans Road of Salvation and ask your kid if they can explain back to you what the verses mean using the dirty water as an example.
But, Wait Is That Enough to Explain Salvation To a Child?
Yes, and no.
Understanding salvation and choosing Jesus as Lord and Savior is often not a one-time event for children.
I explained the plan of salvation with a whiteboard in our homeschool classroom when my oldest was in 1st grade. I drew a big picture of a cross and showed how a stick figure needed to walk across it to get to God because there was no way he could get there alone. Haven’t we all seen those images?
She nodded her head and seemed to really understand.
Six months or so later, I asked her, “How do you get to heaven?” as a review question.
She told me something about “trying hard and being a really good person.” Good thing we reviewed.
I learned that kids forget things and we need to check back in with them spiritually while they are growing up. Satan is battling hard for any piece of our children he can get his hands on, so we must battle hard to make sure they have a solid theology budding in their young minds.
Continue to share the Gospel with your child and wait to see signs that the Holy Spirit is producing fruit in them. That could be sharing, choosing kindness, desiring to read their Bible, or delighting in going to church to be with other believers. Point those things out to your child and give GOD the glory (not them!) for working in your child’s life.
Jesus + Nothing
As a final note on explaining salvation to your child, I would tell them something simple and easy for them to remember.
When asked, “How do you get to heaven?” or “How do you get saved?” the answer should always be: Jesus + Nothing.
He is our only hope as we stand before God with nothing but a swirling glass of filth to offer.
Jesus’s death on the cross paid our sinner’s debt in full. We are not saved with faith in Jesus + a rich prayer life, Jesus + an excellent church attendance record, or Jesus + a generous tithing history.
Those things often come naturally out of a heart that loves Jesus and wants to honor His sacrifice, but they are not part of the salvation agreement.
It truly is the greatest love story ever told and what a joy you have in sharing it with your children.