Big Theology/Little Tykes

Understanding The Doctrine Of Justification

Imagine for a moment you are sitting in a courtroom as an observer. In front of you sits a person who is on trial for murder. Next to that person is the defense lawyer and the rest of the defense legal team. Across from them sits the prosecutor. The judge and jury are in their respective places.

This one-week trial is nearing an end. Both legal teams have given their closing statements. The case is as open-and-shut as there is. All of the evidence points to a conviction. The crime was even caught on camera. On top of that, the defendant confessed to the crime, hoping for a reduced sentence.

Then all of a sudden, as the jury has now come back from the deliberation room and are prepared to read the verdict to the courtroom, the judge stands up and walks out from behind his bench. He yells, “stop!” and swiftly heads over to where the defendant now stands, awaiting the verdict (in handcuffs). At this point every single person in the courtroom is in complete silence anticipating what is next.

The judge proceeds to tell the bailiff to take the handcuffs off of the accused and place them on him. He then says “I am taking the defendant’s place. No longer does the charge for murder apply to him. The charge will now be placed upon me. Jury, will you please read your verdict now, replacing the defendant’s name with my name? And please remain silent everyone, this is not a joke.

Everyone in the courtroom is in shock. This can’t be happening. The jury obliges and reads the verdict:

We the people of the jury find the defendant, GUILTY!

The judge then sentences himself: “I hereby sentence myself to the death penalty for the crime of taking another person’s life. I take full responsibility and will bear the punishment that this crime deserves to bear.” He asks the bailiff to escort him out of the room and to the police car waiting to take him to prison where he will await his final punishment.

What about everyone else in the courtroom? They all go home, including the formerly accused.


Justification Defined In Not-So-Heady-Terms

This scenario gives us a picture of what the theological and biblical term justification is. Simply put, justification means to be pardoned from guilt. The original Greek word that we see in the New Testament is a legal term and would have been used in ancient Greek courtrooms (and is still used today).

The Apostle Paul says this to the church in Rome: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” Romans 5:18

The situation presented above is a tiny example of the much larger pardoning that Christians have received from God through Christ. We are all like the criminal awaiting the murder conviction. As sinners, we have rejected God and His law and fall very short of getting to Him (Romans 3:23). The results of this are a deserved death sentence (Romans 6:23). And there is absolutely no hope of changing this (Ephesians 2:12).

But Jesus, who is the judge (2 Tim 4:1), stepped off of His bench, came and stood in our place as the criminal (Phil 2:8), was delivered up to death for our sins (Rom 4:25), becoming the atonement (the substitution) for our sins (1 John 2:2), so that we could be forever pardoned from our guilt!

When we deserved to be condemned for our crimes, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8) and pardoned us so that we wouldn’t have to bear the punishment we deserved to bear. THAT, my friends, is justification.


Questions To Spark Further Thought

Now, I would like to call your attention to these 3 questions:

  1. Do you understand the doctrine of justification better after having read this article?

  2. Do you feel more equipped to talk to your kids about it?

  3. What, if anything, could I do or have done to help you: A. Understand justification better, and B. Be able to communicate it more effectively to your kids?

What Makes God, God?

You Gotta Start Somewhere...

Listen, if you have children the topic of God is going to come up whether you want it to or not (Just ask this atheist parent who had to field the “God question”). For the purposes of this site, we're going to assume that you, the reader, are highly interested in discussing God with your children. But, at the same time, we're not going to assume that you know exactly where to begin. Allow us to assist you.

A great first place to start when speaking with your kids about God is to actually discuss what makes God, God. Why is God, God? What determines His God-ness? What is it about God that makes Him God, as opposed to something or someone else? These are questions that you need to be prepared to answer even if your kids don’t ask them. Why? Because if you can answer what makes God, God, the stage is set to discuss what He is like (His character and attributes: i.e. loving, gracious, merciful) and how He relates to us (relationally, as Creator and as Redeemer). 

Let’s keep this (somewhat) brief and (somewhat) simple. Remember, we need to start somewhere. What makes God, God? Below, you will see that we have outlined one of God's character traits, followed by a verse that affirms it, a quick explanation, and then a talking point for you to have with your kids.


The (Not-So) Exhaustive List

  • God is self-defining (“I AM who I AM” Exodus 3:14). This means that unlike with most everything else, we don’t define or determine God. He has earned the right to do that. He even gets to name himself (Exodus 3:15).

Ask your children if they gave themselves their name or if their name was chosen for them.

  • God is not a created being rather He is Creator (“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” Isaiah 40:28; For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him." Colossians 1:16). This means that unlike everything else, God was not created, and He is THE creator of everything.

Ask your children if they can think of anything else in this world that was or is not created.

  • God is infinite (“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Psalm 90:2). God has always existed! And He will never not exist.

Talk with your kids about (fictional) superheroes and how one of the their coolest traits is their immortality (i.e. Superman).

  • God is not human (“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” Numbers 23:19). The Bible tells us that Jesus “became flesh” or “took on flesh” (John 1:14) which means in His eternal existence, He is not human.

Talk to your kids about what it means to be human? (i.e. what are the characteristics of humans? 5 senses, flesh, bone, blood, organs, thinking beings, passionate beings, worshipful beings).

  • God is immortal (“We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” Romans 6:9). Jesus died willingly, and then He rose from the dead - never to die again. Every single other living being will experience a physical death.

This discussion with your children can get real morbid, real quick so try focusing on how much cooler and better God is because He can’t die.

  • God is unchanging (“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8). God is consistently consistent.

Talk to your children about how everything around them seems to change (i.e. they grow up, mom and dad grow old, the seasons change, grass grows, flowers fade, friends come and go - seemingly everything tends to change, except God!).

  • God is sinless (“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor 5:21; "For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens." Hebrews 7:26). God doesn’t ever do wrong. In fact, He is incapable of doing wrong.

Ask your children if they know anyone who doesn’t ever do anything wrong.

  • God is all-powerful (“Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God.” Psalm 62:11). A God who can create something out of nothing and who can bring the dead to life is the very definition of all-powerful.

Ask your children to think of the most powerful person or thing in their lives and then ask them why that person or thing is powerful. Then discuss how there is no power greater than resurrection power. 

  • God is all-knowing (“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” Psalm 147:5). God’s knowledge knows no bounds. It is limitless!

Talk to your children about something new they learned that day. Remind them that they will always be learners. Then discuss how God already knows everything.

  • God is everywhere (“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” Proverbs 15:3). There isn’t anywhere in this world God’s presence hasn’t been nor is nor will be at every single moment.

Talk to your kids about what it would be like to be two places at once (i.e. sleeping in bed while at the same time in the kitchen sneaking ice cream).

  • God is in charge (“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Psalm 115:3). Only God possesses all authority (“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18).

Talk to your kids about the concept of authority. Who is in charge at home? At school? In Government? On the highway?


Now What?

There you have it. Are you overwhelmed? Our goal was to make talking about God obtainable and doable for you. By no means is the expectation for you to be an expert at all things pertaining to God before you speak with your kids about God. The purpose of this was to have something to get the conversation going with your kids (since many of us just aren't talking at all). My advice is to take one of these eleven topics and have eleven different conversations over the course of a couple weeks. Don’t try to do them all at once.

In the future I will probably revisit each one (along with the many others that I missed) to serve you in an even greater aspect. 

Which leads me to a question? What do you think is missing from this list? What makes God, God? What do you have a hard time grasping or communicating? 

“How does Jesus wash my sins away, dad?”

The significance of a scapegoat

Have you ever heard of the word “scapegoat?” When a person has become the scapegoat in a situation, they have either willingly or unwillingly positioned themselves to take the blame for others and to suffer the consequences in their place. I am certain that most of you have heard of this term. But have you ever heard of the theological equivalent? The word is “expiation” and it signifies “an act by which satisfaction is made for a crime and the liability to punishment for it is cancelled.”


Donuts Are Always Wonderful Discipleship Tools

We’ll get back to those words in a moment but for now let me tell you about a recent exchange I had with my son to provide a little context. Just the other day, we were at Dunkin Donuts after school. We do this relatively often because, well, donuts. Now, my third born son is a hoss when it comes to eating. He eats fast, loud, and crazy. So when he was finished with his donut he had left behind quite a mess. I’m actually surprised that any of the actual donut made it into his mouth.

While we were eating donuts, we started talking about HOW Jesus removed our sin. I told my son that Jesus washed our sins away. Asher seemed perplexed. And then he asked me this: “How does Jesus actually wash my sins away, dad

What a great question! After a moment of thought, I responded with this: “Well Asher, look at the table that is in front of you. Is the table clean, Asher?” He responded with “No!” (obviously). I then told him to take a napkin and wipe all of the donut crumbs into his hand. After he did that I said, “Asher, is the table clean now?” He said “Yes!” Then I asked him why. And he responded very confidently and excitedly, “Because I wiped the crumbs off, dad!” I then said “That’s right Asher! You washed the crumbs away. And that is what Jesus did with our sin. He washed all of our crumbs (our sin) away. Now our tables (our lives) are clean!” He smiled and we went home.


Further Explanation of Scapegoat/Expiation

In 30 seconds I had taught my child the doctrine of expiation, which originates in Leviticus 16, where Aaron (the high priest) took two goats which were meant to be a sacrifice as a sin offering. But only one of the goats would be killed (as an atonement for sin). The other goat would be sent away into the wilderness, likewise as an atonement, but as an additional symbol that Israel’s sin was not only sacrificed for but also carried away (hence, the scapegoat).

Ultimately, this points us to the supreme scapegoat: Jesus, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world once and for all (John 1:29). Not only did he cover our sin through His death on the cross, but He carried it away at the same time.

Now you can speak to your kids about expiation. And you probably won’t have to try hard to create a scenario for you to do so since I’m sure your kids have got that covered! :)


Something to Consider

Now that you hopefully have a greater understanding of the doctrine of expiation, can you think of a few additional ways that you could teach this to your children? I would love to learn from you.