Conversations With Kids

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?

Why I Took My Daughter To See Disney's "Beauty And The Beast"

This past weekend, I did it. I took my four year old daughter (and my 7 and 9 year old sons) to see Disney's latest rendition of the Beauty And The Beast.

In case you've been MIA, the latest Disney picture has drawn the ire of many Christians around America, with a few influential Christian leaders (such as Franklin Graham) encouraging others to not just boycott the movie but to boycott Disney altogether.

The controversy surrounds what many are deeming to be the first "exclusively gay moment" in a Disney movie. Although all of the talk caused me to balk for a moment and do some research on the scene in question on my own, there was little doubt in the end I was going to take my daughter (and family) to see this movie. I did feel good however that I wasn't walking into the movie naively and I was prepared to answer whatever questions would come from our movie experience.

(Full disclosure: To be perfectly honest, the scene in question came and went and I hardly even noticed it. In my opinion, I didn't sense a "gay agenda." The character in question, "Lefou" doesn't have a husband or boyfriend, nor does he overtly say he is attracted to men - although there are hints to it. According to the director of the film, the character in question "is confused about what he wants...somebody who's just realizing that he has these feelings." Therefore, if there is a "gay moment" it is merely the point that gay people exist. Oh and by the way, my kids didn't pick up on it. I received a grand total of zero questions. The reason why is that nothing was out of the ordinary. My kids know gay people. We have gay neighbors and friends. We love them equally as much as we do our heterosexual neighbors and friends. Our family prays for Jesus to save all of our neighbors and friends, not just those who are gay, as if they were in a different category of "sinful" and "lost.")


Now I'm going to tell you why I took my daughter to see the movie.

  1. I like Disney movies. They are (historically) wholesome, funny, witty, intelligent, well-written and well-crafted. Thematically, Disney movies are a one-trick-pony so there are usually no surprises. They tend to center around one key issue: the human struggle to be the best version of ourselves as we can be. This is noble but at the same time limited. Therefore it brings about so many gospel conversations because of all the potential gospel implications (thanks Disney for giving me a platform to talk to my kids about the gospel).
  2. My daughter LOVES Disney movies (especially those with princesses, pretty dresses, and lots of singing). And as selfish and sinful as I am, I love giving good gifts to my children ("If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children..." Matthew 7:11).
  3. To boycott a Disney movie for an "exclusively gay moment" would be a tad bit hypocritical, don't you think? If we boycott for a 5-second "gay moment," then we should boycott for Disney's past sexism (women have been often portrayed as weak, incapable, and overly feminine while men as macho, cocky, sort-of dumb, and overly masculine); or it's imbalanced views of body image (women are portrayed as super skinny while men as super muscular); or how social status (what people think of you) matters more than almost anything (see Cinderella); or how a physically unattractive person makes them untrustworthy (see almost every villain in old Disney movies) or vice versa (how a physically attractive person makes them trustworthy - appearances are everything); or how the racial stereotypes are too plenteous to count. I think you get the idea.
  4. I desire for my daughter to know her culture. The goal isn't to shelter my daughter from the world around her (that is impossible...and foolish). Rather, the goal is to engage culture with her, teach her about culture, and apply the gospel to it so that she can be a part of redeeming it as a follower of Jesus. Contrary to what a lot of "conservative Christianity" thinks, there is something truly God-glorifying and imago Dei-ish about Disney movies. The themes of beauty, struggle, love, hard work, friendship, emotions, hope, and faith jump out of many a Disney movie. Yet, in so many ways Disney misses it, but don't we all? Disney forces us to consider the thought that things just aren't right in this world, that something has gone terribly wrong. For Christians, we understand this to be sin and that no amount of true love or prince charming or circumstantial change will ever fix it. This causes us to realize ultimately that humanity's only hope is Jesus; that He is the fairy-tale ending we all need in the end!
  5. I desire for my daughter to tap into her imagination. One thing Disney does well is spark a child's imagination and creativity. It teaches children to go BIG with life - That it's great to dream big dreams, set big goals, and love and care in a big way. It teaches that nothing is impossible. We believe this as Christians. Now, where Disney gets it wrong is the source of doing the impossible (mankind rather than God).


Finding the Gospel in A Disney Movie

There is one final reason why I took my daughter to see Beauty and the Beast. Did you know that Disney movies (and many other forms of viewing entertainment) can be used as wonderful gospel teaching moments between you and your kids? Yep, that's right, you can find the gospel within Disney movies!

Let's take, for example, one specific line from Beauty and the Beast that I feel is THE climactic moment of the entire movie (SPOILER ALERT!!!). The Beast realizes that he has to let Belle go (out of his captivity - even though her affections are growing for him and there are hints at a future together). In the exchange before he allows her leave, the Beast asks Belle "Can you be happy?" alluding to whether or not she could be happy with him. Her response is profound: "Can anybody be happy if they aren't free?"

This is such a powerful moment. Even though Belle has taken a liking to the Beast and has found him to be endearing, she and the Beast both come to realize there could never be a true expression of love between two people when one of them feels as though they have been forced into the relationship.

So what are the gospel implications of Belle's statement? How can we find the truth of Jesus and His promise of redemption hidden within the words of a Disney princess? The truth is nobody can ever be "happy" unless they experience freedom, so we affirm Belle's statement.

But at the same time, happiness is fleeting (because it is circumstantial) so Belle gaining her independence again and the happiness that it brings is momentary. Even with the movie ending on that "happily-ever-after" note (the one where everybody has been "freed" and is singing and dancing), we know that the day will come when Belle is not "happy." Her prince charming will forget their anniversary or forget the milk from the store on his way home causing her to be unhappy.

Therefore, more than happiness is needed and more than being freed from physical imprisonment is needed (I have witnessed this from a neighbor of mine who spent 17 years in jail and was released recently and who is still searching for "happiness."). True happiness (or should we say joy - which is a position, not an emotion) comes only through freedom in Christ. Jesus said in John 8:32 that "anyone who practices sin is a slave to sin." This is the bad news. But then we read the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:1 and receive hope: "For freedom Christ has set us free." That, my friends is the good news. Apart from Christ and his sacrifice on the cross for our sins, dying the death I deserved to die, I am only defined by my sin and the consequences that come from it. Because of Christ's redemption, I am now defined by His love for me and therefore I am no longer a slave to sin!

THAT is how you find Jesus in a Disney movie.

I would love to get your feedback on this post. Was it helpful? What additional questions did it spark in your mind?


Daddy, I'm not a sinner.

My four year old little princess has been known to tell a fib or two in her day. Okay, actually she lies quite a bit; usually to manipulate a situation in order to ensure she gets what she really wants. It actually has become quite an issue. I’ve recently found myself having a hard time believing anything she says to me. Then, she came with this the other day during a conversation we were having about sin (and as straight faced as ever): “Hey dad, I’m not a sinner.” Of course I was not confused about whether this was true. I even asked her if she was sure and with an unwavering decisiveness she nodded her head and said “Yep!”

Hey dad, I’m not a sinner.

She had lied to me and two things were confirmed in that moment: 1. I am living with a compulsive liar; and 2. My daughter is a sinner (as proven by the lie). Now, being lied to by my children is pretty deflating. So I was discouraged at this moment, especially after I gave my daughter an opportunity to course correct and she didn’t take the bait.

I had two options at that point in the conversation: 1. Everything in me wanted to reprimand her by backing her into a corner to verbally let her know how bad of a mistake she made and there would be severe consequences; or 2. Casually work through this with her to hopefully help her realize that maybe she was seeing this the wrong way. By the grace of God, I chose option number two.

So we dove in. I said, “Can I ask you something, baby girl?” She replied with “Yes.” I then went through a series of questions using situations in which I remember she was in the wrong: “Adee, have you ever been mean to your best friend?” or “Have you ever not listened to your mom?” or “Have you ever hit your brother?” or “Have you ever disobeyed daddy?” She replied hesitantly but truthfully to all of the questions with “Yes.”

“Have you ever been mean to your best friend?” or “Have you ever not listened to your mom?” or “Have you ever hit your brother?” or “Have you ever disobeyed daddy?”

I proceeded to tell her that the way she acted in all of those situations was wrong. That in fact, she had sinned - and ultimately when we sin we go against what God desires for us and what He desires for us is more important than anything else. Then I said, “So Adee, did you sin?” She said, “Yes.” And then I said sadly, “Well, then that makes you a sinner. Are you a sinner Adee?” She replied with “Yes.”

Thankfully, the conversation wasn’t over there. As Adee came to the realization that she was a great sinner, it gave me the lead in to talk to her about a greater Savior that loves her more than she could ever understand; so much so, that He gave His life for her and instead of her. I told her there was nothing she could ever do to make God stop loving her and that Jesus went to the greatest lengths to prove His love for her. That made her smile. This was a win-win situation. Rather than the conversation ending in tears, it ended in truth and grace...and a smile!

Rather than the conversation ending in tears, it ended in truth and grace...and a smile!

So what is your typical response when you catch your child doing wrong? Do you respond with angry and irrational statements such as “How could you do this?” or “What were you thinking?” Do you resort to immediate disciplinary action? Do you verbally belittle your children? Do you yell and scream to get your point across. Do you use fear-mongering as your main strategy?

Consider these steps the next time your kid does something wrong:

  1. Take a deep breath and maybe think about walking into another room (typically your first reaction is your worst reaction).

  2. Instead of yelling and telling your kids what they did wrong, sit down with your kid (so as to not talk down to them) and ask them in a gentle voice what they think happened. Give them time to respond. Most of the time your kid will admit their mistake.

  3. Instead of immediate disciplinary action, have a conversation with your kid about what they did and why it was wrong. Swift discipline is lazy parenting. I’ve realized that the grace-filled conversations surrounding my children’s wrongdoing does so much more in their little hearts than discipline.

  4. If consequences are necessary (which at times they are), talk through "the why" with your kid. Tell them why they are having to sit in their room for a while, or why their favorite toy is being taken for a little while, or why they have to go to bed early.

Would love to discuss this further in the comments so please leave your feedback below.

“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.

“But I’m Scared, Dad!”

Fear Doesn’t Need To Be Learned

How sad is it as a parent to hear your child say they are scared? Fear is not something that I ever needed to teach my children. It came as naturally as loving ice cream. Whether it was the noise of a vacuum cleaner or the dark closet in their room at night, my children have always had fears. Not-so-unbelievably, their fears don’t seem to be going away anytime soon (I mean, I still have fears don’t I?), which means as a parent this is something that I must be attentive to constantly.

The other morning, I found myself once again interacting with my children’s fears. My youngest son (age 6) was faced with a dilemma. He was excited to invite one of his classmates to church but when he realized what it would take, his excitement soon changed to despair. Noticing this change in his disposition, I said, “What’s wrong, Asher?” He replied with “But I’m scared, dad!”

Now, in that moment, I could have very well shamed him and told him to get over his fears and suck it up. Instead, I took this as an opportunity to dive into the why. So I asked him, “Asher, why are you afraid?” He couldn’t really answer so we worked through it for a moment, not really getting anywhere.

(Since I know my child well I knew why he was really afraid: He was afraid because he started thinking about what his buddy would think of him. He was afraid because he didn’t want to be rejected. He was afraid because he is terrified of failure.)


Try To Dive Into Your Child’s Fears

Instead of shaming him, which is my tendency at times (full disclosure), I dove into his fear and tried to identify with him by saying, “I understand, Asher. It’s hard to do things that are a little scary.” I then asked him a question: “Asher, what is the scariest thing that has ever happened in this world?” He couldn’t answer. I proceeded to remind him of how scary the cross was for Jesus. As Jesus anticipated what was about to take place in the Garden of Gethsemane - being rejected by humanity, being rejected by the Father in that moment, and being tortured physically to the point of death - He actually sweat “great drops of blood.” (Luke 22:44).

Asher perked up because well, you know, blood! Now that I had his attention I said this: “Jesus faced something far scarier than we ever could imagine, Asher. And because Jesus did the most scary thing ever and actually didn’t fail, we can now do scary things without being afraid of failure. Doing scary things isn’t about not failing but rather about trusting Jesus. Why? Because He never fails.”

Did this conversation cause Asher to immediately get excited again about inviting his buddy to church? No, not really. But it did remind him about how awesome Jesus is. And isn’t that the point?


Some Tips

What would be helpful for you to think through the next time your child says they are afraid? Consider the following:

  1. Please don’t dismiss your child’s fears. Rather dive into them. Empathize with them (you’ve been scared before).

  2. Instead of offering an immediate solution or fix, listen to your child.

  3. Take the time to talk about the why with your kids. Ask them why they think they are afraid in that moment.


Was this helpful? Did this spark anything else in your mind or heart? Please don't hesitate to comment below.