When we choose to study theology, we expect to come across words we don’t know. This can be hard enough for us as adults, but how do we explain these “big” theological words to our children? We have a couple options available to us:
Try a Different Translation
As an example, let’s take Romans 3:21-25:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. Romans 3:1-25, ESV
Oh, my! There are quite a lot of words in that passage that will need to be defined for children (and adults!). Let’s see if using another translation helps:
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. Romans 3:21-25, NIV
OK, so that doesn’t really help anything. The English Standard Version and the New International Version are very common translations used in many churches and bible studies. Let’s try the translation I like to use when reading bible stories to kids:
But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. 22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. 23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past. Romans 3:21-25, NLT
Well, that helps a bit more, but it’s not the best option. Our children need to recognize and understand the big theological words. These words are part of the history of our faith and they have been chosen for a specific reason. There is deep and complex meaning being summed up in each big theological word. Our children need to recognize and understand these big words and I firmly believe the CAN understand them!
Define Big Theological Words with Concrete Examples
The best way to help our kids understand theology is to explain these big theological words to them using concrete examples when possible. By the time our children reach first grade they should be familiar with hearing some of these big words and with Bible stories in general. (This is why family devotions are so important!)
Today, I want to give you examples of defining three theological words: redemption/redeemed, justify/justification and propitiation.
To redeem something means to gain or regain possession of something in exchange for payment. In a more simple phrase: redeem means to buy back.
The picture of redemption in scripture is redemption from slavery. Our freedom is bought back (redeemed) for us: mankind was created free from sin in the beginning, but chose to disobey God and become slaves to sin and under the penalty of sin (Romans 6:23). Christ, through His death (and resurrection), paid the price to redeem us from slavery to sin.
Justify/Justification (Bonus: Imputed Righteousness)
Justify is a legal term meaning to prove right or to be made right. We see a picture of justification when we look at a balance scale. The scale is justified when both sides are equal and balanced.
Often in Christianity justified is defined as declared righteous. We are declared righteous (justified) because the scale has been made level. God’s righteousness on one side of the scale is so “heavy” that no amount of our good works can bring the scale to balance. We need the perfect righteousness of Christ on our side of the scale in order for the scale to balance. When we trust Christ for our salvation, His righteousness is put on our side of the scale (imputed righteousness).
We are justified (declared righteous) because the scale has been made right (balanced) by Christ’s righteousness being put on our side of the scale (in-putted righteousness = imputed righteousness).
Propitiation (Bonus: Atonement)
Propitiation is a good example of why these big theological words are so important: the meaning of propitiation is so complex that there is no other single word to conveys its complex meaning.
In propitiation, the wrath of God is satisfied. God’s wrath is satisfied by the sacrificial death of Jesus. Jesus dies in our place (sacrifices His life) and takes our punishment (God’s wrath and eternal death and separation from God). This act redeems (buys back) our life and brings us back into right relationship with God (reconciliation).
Many people define propitiation as an atoning sacrifice. Atonement can be explained by dividing the word: at-one-ment. Through the death and resurrection of Christ (sacrifice), we now become at-one with God; the relationship has been mended!
Thanks for sticking with me through this long post! I hope this helps you to see the importance of defining (and using) these “big” theological words with our kids.
Please comment with any questions or any concrete examples you have heard that help you understand these great words.