Power of the Gospel


Teaching Children the Substitutionary Atonement Based on Luke 23

I have often used the story of the two thieves on the cross to explain the substitutionary atonement of Christ. Both children and adults can learn from this simple chart!

The pertinent verses are Luke 23:40-43.

The penitent thief says, “Don’t you fear God, since we are under the same sentence? We are punished justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

When using it:
1. I would draw the three crosses.
2. I would ask what was true of the two thieves. Then I would fill in the boxes above their heads. The two criminals are guilty. Since the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23), then they and we all deserve death.
3. I would ask what was true of Jesus. Then I would fill in the box above his head. Notice it says “Righteous” not “Innocent.” There is a difference. Innocent would indicate that Jesus never sinned. While righteous indicates Jesus actively obeyed the Father.
4. I would ask, “So, how does the thief get to be in paradise?” Then I draw the line from the thief to Jesus. And then the line from Jesus to the thief. The guilt and death that we deserve is placed on Jesus at the cross. And his righteousness and eternal life is given to us.

(During this time I might make the point that the other thief’s sins were still on him. He died and is in hell today. In addition, just like those two thieves we each have a choice to make.)

Theologians call this act of having our sins placed on Jesus and his righteousness placed to our account double imputation.

Thus technically we are not just innocent but righteous. The righteousness of Christ has come to us.

When I teach this to older students I use another illustration. Imagine a white 3×5 card with all of our sins written on it. Now what happens at the cross? Most students will say those sins are somehow erased on the white 3×5 card. Instead I take the white card and give them a yellow 3×5 card representing the righteousness of Christ. We are now saints.

Or another way to illustrate it is to think, as the Bible does, of sin as debt. Imagine that before Christ our heavenly debt is a million dollars (or ten thousand talents Matt 18:24). After we come to Christ, repenting of our sins, trusting in his payment on the cross, what then is our heavenly bank account? Most Christians will say the debt has been forgiven and the account is at zero. But this is WRONG. It is not at zero but it is a million dollars to the positive! Christ forgives our sin AND gives us his righteousness. What great news!

God made him who knew no sin be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). What a great truth!

Figure 2 Cross

This illustration comes from The Disciple-Making Parent page 78.






Want your children to follow Christ as adults? Up to 50% of young people walk away. Check out The Disciple-Making Parent. And for a free audiobook with your purchase, simply email us.

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Pleasing Christ – An Underemphasized Doctrine


So we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).

The greatest joy of a Christian is giving joy to Christ. So says Charles Spurgeon.

Have you thought of the Christian life this way? Are you modeling this to your children?

Living to please the Lord is an underemphasized doctrine in the evangelical world. And I think it is vital for passing on a non-moralistic view of the gospel to our children.

Here is what I have written in a forthcoming book:

Pleasing God

This discussion of pleasing the Spirit, leads us to a surprising doctrine related to fighting sin. We evangelicals love to emphasize the doctrine of justification by faith. It is a glorious truth. When we repent of our sin and place our faith in Jesus Christ, the Father imputes our sin to Christ and his righteousness to us. Without any merit on our own, the judge’s gavel comes down on Jesus and we, the guilty, walk away righteous. Truly, it is amazing grace, astounding favor, that I the guilty one may go free!

However, in that proclamation, I am afraid that our young people can hear something we do not mean. Christianity becomes a status attained, like a membership in a sports club. Jesus has paid the dues for me to join the club. I accepted his payment. But, whether I actually choose to exercise in this new club, is a whole different matter.  Our children (and we) can have a detached, passive view of their walk with God.

But Scripture also declares that I am adopted as a child of God. As his child, my actions can please him or grieve him. Paul said he was seeking to please God the Father not men (Galatians 1:10). And Paul made it his aim to please the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:9). In other places, Scripture commands us to find out what pleases the Lord (Ephesians 5:10) and do this more and more (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

Wired to Please

Why is this motivation to please so important? We are wired to seek approval. Our young children (and older children) want their parent’s encouragement and blessing. Jesus heard his Father’s blessing at the beginning and in the middle of his ministry (Matthew 3:17, 17:5). Our children too will seek approval as they grow older. But God desires that they should seek to live to please him.

This is a radical but empowering thought for our children. Our understanding of God is deficient if we think of him as an immovable judge, satisfied but unfeeling. Instead, our lives can bring pleasure to our Heavenly Father, our Savior, and His Spirit. Charles Spurgeon explored this years ago when he stated, “The greatest joy of a Christian is to give joy to Christ.” This is a worldview-shaking thought – I, personally can bring joy or grief to Christ. In fact, pleasing the Lord is a motivation for our children obeying us. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3:20).

When they are young children, we are training them to obey and please us. But as they grow older, we want to handoff our guidance to the Spirit’s guidance. We move from our approval to the Spirit’s approval.

As a parent, I want to bring this facet of pleasing God into my shepherding of my children. I want them to sense that active affirmation in their heart as they seek to please him. This moves Christianity from a list of do’s and don’ts to a personal walk with their Savior.

This Desiring God article makes this same emphasis when the writer differentiates between our union with Christ and our communion with Christ. See the Pleasure of Pleasing God here.

This is absolutely vital to understand for a flourishing walk with Christ!

P.S. I am looking for help launching my book. Email me if you are interested!


Additional articles that might interest you.

When A Friend Loses a Child – Powerful and good instruction.

Kevin DeYoung on The Tolerance Jesus will not Tolerate – Good antidote to the spirit of the age.

Michael Kruger and the Earliest List of the NT Canon. Surprisingly it is earlier than you think.

Power of the Gospel|

The Power of the Conscience

Training our children to listen to their conscience is an important part of following the Lord. But I find parents woefully ignorant of this important area for their own life and for helping their children.

The following is a quick overview of the conscience by Kevin DeYoung in The Hole in Our Holiness . Those points in bold are my emphasis.

We don’t think about the conscience as much as we should. But the Bible has more to say about the “little voice in your head” than you might think. One of the great blessings of justification is a clean conscience before God. The accusations of the Devil can be silenced by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 12:10–11; cf. Rom. 8:1; Zech. 3:2).images (3)

But even after we’ve been reconciled to God, we must pay attention to our consciences. According to Romans 2:15, we all have the law written on our hearts so that our consciences can either accuse or excuse us. God speaks to us through the conscience, and when we ignore that voice we put ourselves in grave danger.

Of course, the conscience is not infallible. We can have an evil conscience that doesn’t turn away from sin (Heb. 10:22). We can have a seared conscience that no longer feels bad for evil (1 Tim. 4:2). We can have a weak conscience that feels bad for things that aren’t really bad (1 Cor. 8:7–12). And we can have a defiled conscience that loses its ability to discern right from wrong (Titus 1:15).8 The conscience is no substitute for the Bible and must never be in opposition to it.

But a good conscience is a gift from God. As we pursue holiness we must always be mindful of God’s voice speaking to us through a tender conscience informed by the Word of God. It will lead us not into temptation and will deliver us from evil.

It’s critical that the Christian’s conscience be clean. That’s why Paul said, “I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man” (Acts 24:16). He often mentioned the testimony of his conscience as his “boast” and as an indication of his moral uprightness (Rom. 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:12; 4:2). Paul recognized he could be wrong in his self-assessment, but it was important to him not to be aware of anything against himself (1 Cor. 4:4).

When we violate our sense of right and wrong, even if the action in itself is not sinful, we are guilty of sin. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). That means, if you don’t believe what you are doing is acceptable, then it’s not acceptable for you to do it. You must not ignore your conscience.

Suppose you grew up thinking alcohol was wrong. I mean, always wrong, like, you’d rather drink Drano than Bud Light. But now you are at a church that says alcohol is not sinful, so long as you are of legal age and don’t drink to excess. What should you do? If you are convinced that the Bible approves of alcohol in moderation, then you are free to drink (1 Tim. 5:23; cf. John 2:1–11).9 But if it still feels dirty to you, you should abstain. Even if the Bible gives the green light, the red light in your conscience should not be transgressed. This is why passages like 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 and Romans 14 rebuke “strong conscience” Christians who lead “weak conscience” Christians to do things that feel wrong to them. The danger is that, if you violate your conscience in this matter (even though the action is not forbidden), you’ll learn to disobey your conscience in other matters.

The Hole in Our Holiness Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness (p. 42). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

A New Resource from The Apollos Project

Dear Friends of The Apollos Project, As many of you know, I spend part of my time writing. Writing allows teachers to spell ideas out more clearly and in more detail. It is rewarding and frustrating, encouraging and discouraging all at the same time.

I have released my newest booklet, The Power of the Gospel, aimed at helping parents pass the gospel-baton to their children. Feel free to download it here. I will leave it up on this page through November.
If you have time, please read it and give me your feedback. That feedback includes finding typos or it can include letting me know any content that seems unclear. Or you can even tell me if there is content that you disagree with.
If you like it, feel free to forward it. I want to get the word out about The Apollos Project. However, please do not post it on your site.  You can direct people here.
Thanks for your regular prayers. This resource is a fruit of those prayers.  Would you pray that this information might equip many? 
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Sinners? or Saints?

Every so often, an author puts words to an inarticulate groan in my soul. This article does just that. As one who has a high view of Scripture, I have been bothered by an overabundant use of the word “sinner” in the circles that I run in.  This is one of those life-changing articles for me!

Dr. Michael Kruger  argues that calling ourselves “sinners’ does not actually help us fight sin better. Three of the key paragraphs.

And when our true identities are understood rightly, it actually affects the way we view (and respond to) our sins. We might think that the best way to appreciate the depth of our sin is to think of ourselves primarily in the category of “sinners.” But, this can actually have the opposite effect. If we think of ourselves only as “sinners” then our sins are seen as something rather ordinary and inevitable. They are just the result of who we are. Sure, we wish we didn’t sin. But, that’s just what “sinners” do.

If we instead view ourselves as “saints,” then we will begin to see our sin in a whole new light. If we really are “holy ones” then whatever sins we commit are a deeper, more profound, and more serious departure from God’s calling than we ever realized. Our sin, in a sense, is even more heinous because it is being done by those who now have new natures and a new identity.

And it is this “cognitive dissonance” between our identities as saints and our sinful actions that leads us to repentance. We repent because these sins are not ordinary and expected. They are fundamentally contrary to who God has made us to be. It is this tension between our identities and our actions that is lost when we cease to think of ourselves as saints.

Read the whole thing. I think it will affect how your view yourself and others.

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Tedd Tripp on Internalizing the Gospel

Internalization of the gospel is the process of your children embracing the things of God as their own living faith….

It is obvious that internalizing the Gospel requires the work of the Holy Spirit in the child. No parent can do that work; nor can you produce it through your labors.

You labor, however, in the hope that God honors his covenant and works through means. While you dare not presume upon His sovereign mercy, you may labor with the expectation that the Gospel is powerful.

Shepherding a Child’s Heart, p. 198

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Two Parents

Two parents prayed:

“It’s great to be a Christian parent. And I thank God for my children that their parents are not like others – immoral, selfish, and lazy. We have such a great time when we start the day with family devotions. We never miss a day – even if we are on the car-ferry or at the airport. Our home is a haven of purity. And we do so much for missions. Our children know the names of every missionary we support. We alternate learning their names with learning chapters of Romans at bed-time. Must dash. Thank you Lord.” Signed Farah C.

“Lord, I feel so useless. Please have mercy on my kids because, with a parent like me, they sure need it.” Signed Fay Lure.

Which parents went home heard by God? See Luke 18:9-14

From Gospel-Centered Family p. 31.

Caught Red-Handed and Red-Faced

As we wait for the blizzard to hit in the Northeast, how about a little fun with a serious message? I am writing a chapter on the gospel and the need of our children for conversion.

This quotation is in the chapter

The fairest child, who has entered life this year and become the sunbeam of a family, is not, as his mother perhaps fondly calls him, a little “angel” or a little “innocent,” but a little “sinner.” Alas! As that infant boy or girl lies smiling and crowing in its cradle, that little creature carries in its heart the seeds of every kind of wickedness! Only watch it carefully, as it grows in stature and its mind develops, and you will soon detect in it an incessant tendency to that which is bad, and a backwardness to that which is good. … The first cause of all sin lies in the natural corruption of the boy’s own heart, and not in public schools. – J.C. Ryle

And what do I see? This. Enjoy!

HT: Tom Ascol

Tedd Tripp on Salvation, Repentance, Faith

Let’s rethink this matter of getting your children saved. Perhaps one of the problems with this perspective is that it looks for a major spiritual event of salvation and misses the spiritual process of nurturing your children. It is your task to faithfully teach them the ways of God. It is the Holy Spirit’s task to work through the Word of God to change their hearts…

You must always hold out to your children both their need of Christ’s invasive redemptive work and their obligation to repent of their sin and place their faith in Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are not rites of initiation to Christianity. Repentance and faith are the way to relate to God. Repentance and faith are not acts performed one time to become a Christian. They are attitudes of heart toward myself and sin. Faith is not just the way to get saved, it is the lifeline of Christian living.

 Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, 52-53.

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We Walk By Faith

We walk by faith, parent by faith, overcome by faith, suffer by faith (Hebrews 11:33-38).  What Paul commended in Eunice and Lois’ life was their living faith (2 Timothy 1:5).  Yet trusting God in uncertainty is hard. Let this hymn encourage you.

By faith we see the hand of God
In the light of creation’s grand design
In the lives of those who prove His faithfulness
Who walk by faith and not by sight

By faith our fathers roamed the earth
With the power of His promise in their hearts
Of a holy city built by God’s own hand
A place where peace and justice reign

We will stand as children of the promise
We will fix our eyes on Him our soul’s reward
Till the race is finished and the work is done
We’ll walk by faith and not by sight

By faith the prophets saw a day
When the longed-for Messiah would appear
With the power to break the chains of sin and death
And rise triumphant from the grave

By faith the church was called to go
In the power of the Spirit to the lost
To deliver captives and to preach good news
In every corner of the earth

We will stand…

By faith this mountain shall be moved
And the power of the gospel shall prevail
For we know in Christ all things are possible
For all who call upon His name

We will stand…

Words and Music by Keith & Kristyn Getty
& Stuart Townend

Power of the Gospel|