What Kids Need to Know About Sin

Where did sin come from and why do I sin?

The biblical account of the fall is found in Genesis chapter 3. The understanding of the fall, its causes and its far-reaching effects are essential for parents and their children alike to full understand. It is by understanding the nature and the cause of the fall that we are able to see the need for redemption and ultimately restoration. We do our kids a massive disservice when we minimize the nature of sin. It is only through a clear understanding of sin that we see ourselves as we truly are—and are then able to see Christ as He is. John Newton, the former slave ship captain and later famous hymn writer who wrote “Amazing Grace” on his deathbed, said in such captivating form, “I don’t remember much, but I do know that I am a great sinner, but I have a great savior.”

This is what our kids need to understand when they ask about the origins of sin. The problem of sin is not new, nor is it limited to our first parents. Sin is pervasive, sin is destructive and sin affects all of us. The goal of painting our sin in such dire terms is not to bring on despair—actually the opposite. It is to bring us to a place of hopelessness in our sin, and only when we see the despair of sin can we truly appreciate the power of the gospel message of hope.

Part of the problem with kids who grow up in Christian homes is they hear the Good News of the gospel preached but they don’t fully appreciate its message. It’s not good news for them. It’s news that they perhaps can give to others someday. I am a fifth-generation preacher’s kid; I grew up hearing the Good News. I applied the truth of the Bible to my life without fully grasping my daily need for grace. I didn’t see my sins as worthy to send me to hell; they were “struggles” I had. People who didn’t come to church, people who did “real” sins, needed the gospel—which is very true. But I didn’t really get it until I came to a further understanding of resurrecting grace: that I am a sinner born into sin, and my heart is not good but is inclined towards sin. I find no matter how hard I try, my heart wanders.

Hebrews tells us that sin came into the world through one man—Adam—and was completely defeated through one man—Jesus. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians tells us this about ourselves:

“Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:1-3 NLT).

Here’s what is amazing about this passage of Scripture: Paul says we were dead in our sins. Dead people can’t save themselves. Dead people can’t do anything. When God sent Jesus in the world to live the perfect life we could never live, he stepped toward us. Through the grace of his resurrection, he gave us hope. No one can avoid sin any more than they can avoid death. OK, our kids need to be good kids, and we need to raise good citizens for society, but we also need to help them see their need for a savior.

Dead Men Don’t Tell

Growing up in the Midwest, you become very aware of both life and death. I remember the first time I saw a cow give birth … and the first time I watched as a dog with rabies was put down. Both have a profound effect on you as a kid. You realize at an earlier age that one day you will die. It’s an advantage country kids have over city kids: You are better in tune with the reality of life and death.

Paul takes the first seven chapters of Romans and the first three verses of Ephesians 2 to point out that we are utterly hopeless. It is the realization of our hopelessness that sets up verse 4 in Ephesians: “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much” that he rescues us. Redeems us. In Romans 3:23, Paul tells us we have all sinned because he is building to Romans 8, which tells us of God’s unending love that nothing can separate us from.

It is vital that our kids have an understanding from a young age that they are not “basically good” but “irreparably flawed” and we are incapable of self-salvation. We need God’s grace. This only happens by seeing ourselves as we truly are—great sinners—and Christ as he truly is—a great savior.

A Mirror, Not a Window

The word of God is vital to our understanding of our sinfulness. We can think we are good people, but the Bible says otherwise. In James 1:23-25 (NLT), James describes the word of God as a mirror: “For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.”

The word of God is powerful—it has power, as James says, to show us what we need to do, but it also empowers us to do what it says. It is about Christ, who kept the law perfectly for us. It is important that we use the mirror to see our sinfulness and allow the gospel to transform us so we can reflect the glory and love of God to a world that desperately needs both.

We are so easy on ourselves. So often we look harshly at the sins of others while minimizing our own sins. We treat the word of God as a window which we look through to see so many others that need help, forgetting that the word of God is first a mirror to convict us of our need for a savior.

To drive this home for kids, write with a pencil something you have trouble with, such as selfishness or anger, on a Post-it note. Have your kids look out a window from a couple of feet away and see if they are able to read what’s on the Post-it note. Now have them stand the same distance from a mirror. Explain to your kids that the mirror is like the law, and its purpose is to reveal our sin and our utter helplessness. We desperately need a savior. The law is a means of God’s grace to wake us up from a life of hypocritical law-keeping.

Here is the good news in Ephesians 2:4-6 (NLT): “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.”

The good news is that we are saved by grace alone. None of us has anything to claim and only Christ to which to cling.