Teaching Covenant Children


Deuteronomy 6:1-9 (text); Hebrews 8:1-13

June 17, 2012 Download this sermon (PDF)

In the Bible, there are two great covenants that God made with man. First is God’s covenant with Adam, the covenant of works. In this creation covenant, Adam would have had eternal life if he had obeyed, but he failed. Because the Trinitarian God is all-knowing, he foreknew that Adam would fail, and in eternity past, he already had a plan to save man from eternal punishment. This is the second covenant, the covenant of grace. God first revealed it in Genesis 3:15 to Adam and Eve and the devil, and then to Abraham, then to Moses, and then to David, and finally to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. We refer to God’s covenants with Adam to David as the old covenant because they were before Christ fulfilled these covenants in his life, death and resurrection. He was the last sacrifice that the old covenant animal sacrifices pointed to.

Education in Elizabethan Period in England

Education in Elizabethan Period in England (click to enlarge)

But this new covenant of grace is the Father’s gracious offer to save mankind through the sacrifice of Christ. He offers to save all who will believe; that is those who accept his covenant. Everyone who is saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ become members of God’s covenant family. And this is how God is building up his church today. The church is made up of individuals, from Adam and Eve all the way to the end of the world, who believe in Christ. And all believers carry with them two signs of being members of the covenant community: baptism and participation in the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion.

We baptize our infant children because, as children of new covenant members, they must also receive the sign of covenant membership, which is water baptism. The Old Covenant community, the Israelites, were commanded by God to circumcise their newborn infants as “a sign of the covenant between me and you… throughout your generations” (Gen 17:10). And this command continues in the new covenant, as Peter declared believers, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39).

To be sure, parents claim the salvation of their children, even before they are born—and after they are born—because they believe that they are in God’s covenant, unless the children grow up in rebellion against God. Psalm 103:17-18 says, “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

All of us who believe this to be true trust God for their salvation and seek to lead them to a personal commitment to Christ. And we expect that these children will personally ratify the covenant by professing and committing themselves to Christ sometime during their lifetime.

This is why we need to teach our children in the ways of God. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6). God commands fathers to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).

But how will parents teach their children? Why do parents need to teach their children in God’s ways? What will they teach their children? Today we will study:

1. Parents Need to Keep the Covenant
2. Children Need to Keep the Covenant
3. Parents Need to Teach Their Covenant Children

Parents Need to Keep the Covenant
God’s laws need to be in our hearts, not just in our minds, but in our whole being: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (verse 5 and 6). Not just with outward actions, but with our hearts. Our New Testament reading repeats Jeremiah’s prophecy of a new covenant, “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Heb 8:10; see Jer 31:31).

But the Pharisees did not get it. They thought that keeping this commandment literally will please God, so they bound their foreheads and arms with their phylacteries. Christians today also do this literally when they decorate the doors and walls of their homes with Bible verses, or attach bumper stickers, or wear the cross. But as our text commands, do we actually have those verses in our hearts? Do we obey the words in those verses? Do we even regularly read the Bible daily?

Many Christian parents leave the teaching of their children to the church and to Christian schools. But is this the way that God ordained? The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the importance of parents teaching their children from generation to generation. Timothy learned about God from his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice. The covenant community is made up mostly of people who inherited their faith from their parents.

We cannot depend on Sunday school to teach our children. Many Sunday schools for little children are just babysitting services. The most that children learn from them are a few tiny Bible verses, a few little songs, and coloring books. Many youth ministries for teens are but hangouts where they socialize, play games, and listen to music. Most Sunday school teachers are not even trained and qualified to teach. Must we leave our children’s spiritual upbringing to our church? I have known many friends who attended Sunday school all their lives, but walked away from God after high school. Recent surveys show that as many as 70 to 80 percent of young people raised in evangelical churches leave the church before they finish college. 1

We cannot depend on Christian schools to teach our children. Many Christian schools are “Christian” in name only. The behavior of many students in these schools are anything but Christian—they are no different, if not worse, than public school students. And do we even know who teach our children, and what things are being taught in our children’s schools? So our children in Christian schools are getting confused as to what is the right teaching because these teachers come from a variety of backgrounds—Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, etc.—and they will teach our children conflicting views. The result is at best a chop suey theology—“halo-halo”—and at worst, confusion and ridicule of the Christian faith. In fact, I have seen some young people whose faith was destroyed by these so-called Christian universities.

God’s covenant laws must be in our whole being, with our whole heart. If this is not so, there is nothing we can teach our children.

Children Need to Keep the Covenant
When these covenant laws are in the hearts of us parents, verse 7 says that we as parents “shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” In this way, they will remember God’s commandments from the teaching of their parents. And they will in turn, teach their children. So when parents diligently teach their children, godly covenant children will continue “from generation to generation.”

"The Schoolmaster of Esslingen" from Codex Manesse, 1305-40 (click to enlarge)

"The Schoolmaster of Esslingen" from Codex Manesse, 1305-40 (click to enlarge)

We know about the covenant blessings for obedience and covenant curses for disobedience. Verses 2-3 speak about the blessing of long years of life and of prosperity for obeying God’s words. But verse 15 talks about the “the anger of the Lord your God kindled against you, and destroy you from off the face of the earth” for disobedience. If we do not teach our children the ways of God, there will be no “steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” If our children become covenant-breakers due to our neglect, God will “visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.”

This is not of course, what prosperity gospellers call the generational curse, but that parents who never teach their children the gospel of salvation in Christ alone will produce generations of unbelievers. This cycle will only be broken when someone in the family becomes a believer from hearing the true gospel preached in a church or from other believers.

We know that all of us are sinful by nature, inherited from Adam, the first covenant-breaker. We are all promise-breakers, not promise-keepers. And all of us are rebellious against God. If parents do not diligently teach their children the ways of the Lord, even children who have been baptized as infants will become covenant-breakers. In Psalm 78, the Bible says that the Israelites, God’s covenant people in the Old Testament, “did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law.” Therefore, God “was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel.”

Do we realize how horrible it is if God utterly rejected our children? They will be denied entry into their Promised Land, the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Again, be forewarned, if you parents do not impart to your children the knowledge and fear of the Lord, you will produce generation after generation of pagans. Our children need to have God’s laws in their hearts.

Parents Need to Teach Their Covenant Children
So then, we parents ask: What shall we teach our children? How do we begin to teach them God’s ways?

Our Old Testament reading gives us basic instructions in teaching our children. First, we must teach them about who God is. Verse 4 says that “the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” We are to teach them that our God is the all-powerful Creator, the only one God who created all things. Because when they grow up, the schools will teach them that we all evolved from monkeys, and there is no Creator. That we all appeared in this world by chance.

In verse 5, we are to teach them to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” The Lord Jesus taught this also as the summary of the first four commands of the Ten Commandments. Not just outwardly, as we learned, but will our whole heart and life.

In verse 12, we are to teach them to “fear God.” To worship God with fear and reverence. We are to teach them that God is a God of mercy, but at the same time a God who is a “consuming fire.”

In verse 16, we are to teach them to “not put the Lord your God to the test,” as the Israelites did. That we are not to complain against him, and to say, “Lord, I will do this, only if you do this for me.” We are not to teach them the “hundred rule” of prosperity gospellers, taken out of context from Mark 10:30, that if you give God 100 pesos, God will bless you with 10,000 pesos!

In verse 17, we are to teach them to “diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you.” We are to read to them not only the Ten Commandments, but all of God’s laws, and explain to them what they mean in our lives today.

In verse 18, we are to teach them to “do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.” We are to teach them that we “should love our neighbor as ourselves,” which is pleasing in the sight of God. For obeying God’s covenant laws, we inherit God’s promised blessings in the Kingdom of Heaven.

In verses 20-25, we are to teach them everything that God has done for his people in the past. “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’” Our children will surely ask us: “Why do we need to read the Bible and pray? Why do we need to fear God and worship him? Why do we need to go to church? Why do we need to obey God’s covenant laws?”

We cannot just answer, “Because this is what our parents did, and what we’ve done since we were children.” This is not acceptable. We have to explain to them why, and what all these things mean. In the Passover remembrance, when the children ask their parents, “What do you mean by this service?” the parents tell them the story of how the Lord God brought them out of Egypt, the house of slavery, and showed them and the Egyptians great signs and wonders (Exod 12:26-27). The parents also tell them that this is the fulfillment of his promise to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But there is also a warning in verses 24-25 to keep God’s law, “And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.” This is done year after year, from one generation to the next.

When our children ask us why, we are to teach them what mighty works God has done for us. How he created us and provided everything good for us. How we all rebelled against him, just like the Israelites, and deserved to die because of our sins. How God showed mercy to us by sending his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for us. How, throughout man’s history, God gave us godly men and women to lead his people out of slavery from sin: Abraham, Moses, David, the apostles, the leaders of the early church, and the leaders of the Reformation almost 500 years ago.

In short, we are to recount to our children the history of the church. This is so lacking today that most Christians today are unaware that many things taught in the church today were actually condemned in the early church, or never taught by the 16th century Reformation churches. I will mention three examples.

First is that of so-called man’s free will. Most evangelicals believe that sinners are able to “accept Jesus” out of their own free will, independent of the work of the Holy Spirit. This teaching was condemned as early as the second century, and by the Reformers in the early seventeenth century. Free-willism is actually one of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in Canon 4 of the Council of Trent’s canons of justification.

The second misconception is that the so-called “contemporary worship” has been the way of worship since the beginning. Most evangelicals today were brought up in their churches performing “praise and worship” services. What they do not know is that since the Reformation 500 years ago until about 1960, Protestant churches worshipped very differently. For over 400 years, Protestants sang the same psalms and hymns in the churches, and worshipped much like how we are worshipping today in this church. Only when the hippies in the 1960s came into the evangelical scene that public worship in Protestant churches made a radical shift from the “traditional” to “contemporary” as we know it today.

Thirdly, a very popular teaching is that Christians will be “secretly raptured” or taken away by the Lord Jesus Christ in the end times. Again, they are not aware that this teaching was never taught by anyone from the early church until only about 150 years ago! That for the first 1,800 years of Christian history, no theologian or pastor knew anything about this “left behind” theology. To be sure, believers will be gathered from the earth into heaven on the last day. But the concept of a “secret” gathering, popularly known as the “Secret Rapture,” was never taught until 1830. So we are to teach our children to leave behind those “Left Behind” books and movies.

These are but a few examples of teachings that arise from a neglect of the past, and only knowing the present. We are to teach our children what God has done for and taught his people in the past.

God’s covenant of grace is with individuals and their households. It begins with parents who are to teach their children the laws of God. Parents who love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and strength will be able to teach their children to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and strength.

We are to teach our children the ways of God. These teachings are found only in one book—the Bible. It is the only book from where we will find the truths of God’s covenant with us. It is the only book where our covenant children will learn about the Lord Jesus Christ, who fulfilled God’s covenant by dying on the cross for our sins. It is the only book where we learn that we are members of God’s covenant household only through repentance and faith in Christ as Savior and Lord.

A good start to teaching our children is to use the two catechisms of the Christian faith: the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), or the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1648).

Catechism, isn’t that Roman Catholic? No, contrary to popular belief, the practice of catechism was originated by the early church when they rigorously taught those who made profession of faith, called “catechumens,” the doctrines of the church before they were baptized. This form of instruction was neglected during the medieval centuries before the Protestant Reformers revived it in the 16th century. The Reformation spread throughout Europe mainly through catechizing families, so the Roman Catholics produced their own catechism, starting in 1566 during the Council of Trent. Sadly, very few evangelical churches today know about this form of Christian instruction.

Catechisms are usually in the form of a series of questions and answers systematically developed as summaries of biblical teachings about God, Scripture, man, Christ, salvation, Christian life, the church, and the last things. When parents, particularly the fathers, teach their children using catechisms, they are nurturing their covenant children into the discipline and instruction of the Lord. This is not to say that the church has no role in catechizing the children, but the primary teaching responsibility rests upon the parents.

Therefore, as covenant parents, we are to pray and to treat our children as children of God. And, at the same time, it is why we urge them to make their parents’ faith their own by a personal profession of faith in Christ. And it is why we do not give up on children whom we have failed in some way as parents or who have strayed away like lost sheep, but continually hold them up before our heavenly Father that he will draw them unto himself.

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