How to Help Your Kids Understand the Bible

(This article originally appeared in The Gospel Coalition on October 13, 2017.)
The best part about watching my firstborn learn to read was knowing he was well on his way to reading the Bible for himself. It was amazing to think God’s Word would be accessible to him.
But that was also an intimidating thought. Where to begin? It seemed overwhelming.
As parents, it’s tempting to hold back on the actual Bible because we think it’s too much, too heavy, and our kids can’t understand it. It feels like putting adult hiking boots on a toddler who’s just learned to walk. Let’s stick with picture books about Noah’s ark and Jonah’s fish.
But the Bible is for children, too. Jesus himself said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). We don’t have to hold back. But our kids do need guidance and direction. This is why God instructs parents to teach God’s law “when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 11:19).
In the book His Word Alone, Summer Lacy writes, “The biggest mistake you can make in regards to studying the Bible is to begin with the assumption that you can’t understand it.” Rather than assume our kids won’t grasp it, how can we purposely equip them for understanding?
When we hand our kids a Bible, there are two foundational truths to give them along with it.

It might surprise kids to learn that the Bible is for them but not primarily about them. Born self-centered, we naturally read the Bible through the lens of self. “What does this say about me? What am I supposed to do (or not do) right now?” Those aren’t bad questions, but they miss the main point. They jump straight to personal application without any foundation. Who is this God we’re supposed to obey? Why should we obey him? As parents, it’s our job to point our kids away from themselves to the real star of the show. I love how Bryan Chapell explains this point in his introduction to The Gospel Transformation Bible:
Jesus is the chief and culminating figure on this stage. The stage is set for him; all that transpires on the stage relates to him; and we do not fully understand anything on the stage until we have identified its relation to him.
If we want our kids to understand Scriptures, we must help them see Christ in all of it. It’s like giving them a decoder ring. Practical application suddenly has meaning. Self is put in its proper place, and obedience has true, lasting motivation.

Kids don’t typically think “big picture,” so they naturally read the Bible as isolated moral lessons. In his excellent book The Biggest Story, Kevin DeYoung writes, “Our kids can become acquainted with many Bible stories without ever grasping the Biggest Story that makes sense of all the others.” That “Biggest Story” is the gospel. The gospel isn’t just one of many stories in the Bible; it’s the ultimate story of the Bible. Our mission, then, is to help our children understand each individual story within the context of the ultimate story.
But how do we do that? Obviously the name “Jesus” is not on every page. Still, as Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it, “Every story whispers his name.” Or as Chapell goes on to say, “Our goal as Bible readers who are interpreting as Christ intends is not to try to make Jesus magically appear in every text, but to show where every text properly stands on this redemptive stage.”
No passage stands alone. Each one has a context within the gospel story—whether predicting Christ, preparing for Christ, reflecting on Christ, or resulting from Christ (Gospel Transformation Bible). If our kids already know what—or in this case, whom—to look for, the Bible instantly becomes easier to understand.

Here are three questions to help Bible-reading kids begin to trade self-centered glasses for gospel-centered glasses.
  1. What does this passage teach me about God?
  2. What does this passage teach me about human beings (or myself)?
  3. What does this passage teach me about the need for and the coming of a Savior? 
Often the first two questions answer the third. Why not sit down with your kids and try this approach together? Pick a passage of Scripture and ask these three questions.
What about application? It’s coming. But begin by laying the foundation. Once your kids develop a habit of seeing answers to these three questions, they’ll then be able to ask, “What does God want me to do?” We can only apply the Bible properly to our lives when the gospel is the driving force.
So let’s give our kids the tools they need to be not merely informed by God’s Word, but transformed from the inside out.

“The Gospel-Centered Mom is a huge gulp of refreshing air for moms who are in the thick of raising kids. It takes your eyes off of your performance and places them on the one who performed perfectly for us.” 
– Jessica Thompson, co-author of “Give Them Grace.” 
Available on Amazon and Etsy!

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