When my daughter was eleven-years old, she asked, “If you do something wrong, are you still a Christian?” It was one of those “can you lose your salvation” questions. She asked it during a time when other things were going on, so I did not take the time to talk to her about it.
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I merely said, “No, you can’t lose your salvation” and left it at that. But I did take mental note of my child’s concern so we could have a future conversation when things were not so hectic. It would not have served her to take a rich theological excursion when we both could easily be distracted.
I also knew we would be going on our monthly “day out with daddy” and that would be a better time to bring up this critical subject. When our day arrived, I pulled out the iPad and began to walk her through the doctrines of justification and sanctification. The infographic below shows what I drew for her on that day.
As her dad, I was encouraged that she was working through these big truths. I was even more encouraged that she would let me in on what she was thinking. She was about twenty years ahead of me.
When I began wrestling through these doctrines, I was in my early thirties. My prayer is that the Lord will settle her mind about this essential Christian tenet, and will live a secure life with the Lord.
Born One Time
Initially, I divided the iPad screen into two halves. The top half is a sketch about our human birth–how we came into the world. The bottom half is about our second birth–how the Lord brought us into His family. It was easy for her to grasp the truth of the top half because she understood her birth.
We talked about how all three of our children were born one time, and there was no need for them to experience a second human birth; nobody does that. We talked about how all three of them are fully human and how they could not be any more of a human than what they were at birth.
What I was sharing was common sense to her, for which I was glad because I knew the bottom half of the page would be a struggle.
I drew a line from the “become human quadrant” on the upper left-hand side of the picture to the “grow and mature quadrant” on the upper right-hand side. Then we talked about how all three of our children are different.
- They are either male or female.
- They are of different ages.
- They like different sodas: Coke, Sprite, and Root Beer.
- They are different heights.
- They enjoy different kinds of foods.
- They know different kinds of information.
If you have more than one child, you fully understand how your kids are 100% human, but different from each other. It would be unreasonable as well as impossible to expect our children to think and behave the same way. But even though they are peculiar in their unique ways, they are similar in the ways which matter. For example:
- They are human.
- They cannot be more human.
- They have the same parents.
- They cannot do anything to lose their parents.
My daughter understood these concepts, but I wanted to linger more in this in-depth discussion because how she thinks about her unalterable relationship with her dad is worldview shaping. And when she makes this connection to her heavenly Father, it will be the foundation for how she will live the rest of her life.
I wanted to make sure that she could make a clear distinction between justification and sanctification. I have counseled many people who had a hard time with these ideas. It is not unusual for a person to have a skewed view of God based on an unclear understanding of their position and identity in Christ.
My friend Mable was like this. Because she had a “conditional relationship” with her father, it was hard for her to believe God the Father would love her. She lived with this “I must please God at all times” attitude. Part of the reason for this was because her father was a brute of a man.
She learned as a youngster to perform for him. She always felt she was walking on eggshells. Even though he had been dead many years, she could “still hear him” yelling at her. When she was a child, it hardly mattered what she did–it was never right.
It took her a long time to figure out how it did not matter what she did because he didn’t need a reason to yell at her–it was what he did to her. Even if she met all of his expectations, he would unleash his fury on her when he felt like it.
Her fear-based home not only ran her into the arms of a young man, but it profoundly affected how she thought about God the Father. She said as she was shaking her head, “How can God love someone like me?”
From her perspective, it was unbelievable to think God would love her based on the performance of someone else (Jesus). Though she did what you’re supposed to do to become a Christian (Romans 10:9, 13), she had a hard time living in the freedom of God’s salvation while not able to live a perfect life as a Christian.
The picture that I sketched for my daughter helped Mable too. Imagine being a fallen human being, but not permitted to make mistakes. Imagine having a father like Mable’s, who would not allow her to make mistakes. Imagine living your life as a people-pleaser, and one of the people that you wanted to please the most was God.
Born Second Time
Once my daughter and I talked through the top half of the sketch, we moved to the bottom half. You’ll notice on the bottom left-hand side that I inserted three different words for the concept of being born again. I wanted to work this idea into her mind. She already knew what the word justified meant. As a review, I asked her to define it for me.
She said, “It means Christ took my sin and I received his righteousness.”
I asked her, “What else does it mean? Remember the courtroom?”
She said, “Oh yeah, it means not guilty.”
“Not guilty” were the words that I was looking for because those two words are the most precise way to think about justification. Justification is a forensic or legal term. The way I taught it to my kids was by using the courtroom analogy.
That was why I asked her to remember the courtroom. It clicked with her, which is why she quickly replied with, “not guilty.” She got it. From there I talked to her about adoption, which she had previously learned from other conversations. This concept conveys the idea of a family.
On Being Redundant – It is important to be appropriately redundant in your teaching style. Jesus was this way. If you’ve read many of my articles, you’ve noticed how I use Luke 6:43-45 often. There are many reasons I love this text, one of which is the redundancy that you see in those three verses.
You’ll notice in three verses how Jesus says the same thing six times as He is teaching the disciples the connection between the heart and the behavior. If the truth is critical, you must be careful as you teach it, and there is no truth more important than the gospel. So I wanted to slow down to make sure my daughter understood this idea of being born again.
- Justified talks about being declared not guilty.
- Adoption talks about being brought into the family of God.
- Regeneration talks about the act of being born from above.
Nobody goes back into the courtroom so the judge can declare them not guilty a second or third time. You don’t go back to the adoption agency to be re-adopted by the same parents, and you cannot be born again twice.
From there we moved to the bottom right-hand side of the picture and talked similarly to how we discussed the top right-hand side of the sketch. At this point, we got to my daughter’s original question. She asked, “If you do something wrong, are you still a Christian?”
What do you believe about losing your salvation? When you do something wrong, are you still a Christian? Be careful not to answer the question too fast. I think most of you would say, “Yes,” and that would be correct. But, there are two ways to answer this question:
- You could answer the question as though you were taking a theological exam.
- You could answer the question according to how you think after you sin.
Sometimes we automatically default to giving the right theological answer to questions like this, even though when we sin, we struggle with applying what we know from the exam to our hearts.
Knowing the gospel and living powerfully in the gospel are two different things. I’m not asking you as though you were taking an exam. I’m asking you according to how you think about your relationship with God, after you sin as a Christian and are forgiven (1 John 1:9).
- How would you answer it now?
- Do you live in the freedom and the power that the gospel offers you?
- Do you really, really, really believe there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God (Romans 8:31-35)?
Justification and Sanctification Compared
Gospel Makes You Free
One – I wanted her to live in the freedom and the power of the gospel. I wanted her to be free in God, not with a license to sin, but with a grateful heart that God’s mercy has stunned, which motivates her to live righteously.
Two – And I wanted her to realize how every Christian is on their unique journey–struggling along the way– and she needs to guard her heart against uncharitably judging those who are growing and maturing differently from her. Being a three-year-old human is different from being a thirty-year-old human.
My daughter is like me. She can be self-righteous. She can easily forget she did not earn her salvation and that she was not worthy of it. She can begin to think how she is “somebody” apart from Christ. She was an undeserving sinner (Romans 3:12) who was living under the wrath of God (John 3:36).
But God, who is rich in mercy, made her alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). I don’t want her to ever drift from this gospel truth. She did nothing to earn her salvation, and she will not be able to un-justify, un-adopt or un-regenerate herself. I pray to God that she will own these truths.
- Do you live in the freedom and power of the gospel because of the works of Christ?
- Do you guard your heart from uncharitably judging others because of the gift of salvation?
As we continue to dialogue, I have some follow-up questions for my daughter. Hopefully, I will be able to cover these questions at the appropriate time. It may be a good exercise for you to write your responses to these questions too.
- Can you clearly articulate the difference between justification and sanctification?
- Why is there a difference? Why does it matter?
- Can you lose your salvation? Why did you answer that way?
- How are you supposed to think about Christians who believe or behave differently from you?
- When you think about God the Father, what comes to your mind? How do you relate to Him?