Q: How can we explain “holiness” to children?
A: First let’s talk about why teaching about holiness is crucial to our children’s faith.
We can trust and depend upon God because He is holy. When kids learn that God is holy, this creates a life-long foundation of trust in God.
We become who we worship. Kids must understand God rightly to become holy as He is holy. Children are evangelists. Children love sharing what they’ve learned. Teach your child about holiness and soon the whole neighborhood might understand it.
Now let’s define it in two parts:
- God is set apart: Even children can categorize. Blue, red and green are all colors. Frogs, birds and dogs are all animals. When we say that God is holy, we mean He can’t be put in a category with anything else. God is bigger and greater than anyone or anything.
- God is perfect: Everything about God is perfect and has no bad in it at all. Since God is “holy” in his love and justice, that means we can trust him entirely. This is the way God made us to be too.
So how do we explain this to children?
Begin with scripture: Since children learn through word-pictures and examples, Bible stories will show them how God reveals himself as holy. We see God’s holiness very dramatically on the cross. Ask children to imagine how God felt dying on the cross for others’ sins. Explain to them that Jesus was self-giving on the cross. Self-giving is the opposite of selfishness. That’s holiness! When you read the Bible story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19), talk with the children about how generous Jesus was when He forgave Zacchaeus for all the wrong things he had done. That’s holiness.
Show them in daily life: Children learn through the world of play and they often play out in their imaginations what they’ve seen in real life. My nephews play that they are real fishermen because they’ve watched their dad fish. When they play, they are confident in how to bait a hook because they’ve witnessed their dad do it in “real-life.”
Their imaginations have been shaped by seeing their dad fish. Our children will understand what holiness looks like when we give of ourselves to others in front of them. When you have a hard time being thoughtful toward someone, share about that struggle with your child without using names. Let them know that you are asking God to make you holy in this difficult situation. They will watch your life and learn what holiness looks like.
Point it out in their lives: As holiness people, we believe that the Holy Spirit is able to make us holy. Help your children see the Holy Spirit at work in them. After lunch, say to your three-year-old, “Jacob, I noticed that you looked like God just now when you shared your fruit snacks. God is making you holy!” In this short interchange, you’ve pointed out God’s sanctifying work in your child’s life.
When I recently asked a group of kids to describe God, I received a wide range of responses:
- God is nice and loving.
- He talks in a deep voice.
- He is like Santa Claus, only around all the time.
- God is like a strict judge.
- God is kind.
I noticed that not one of the children mentioned God’s holiness. Let’s change that. Let’s teach our children that God is holy for they will become like the One they worship. Let’s explain to them, using scripture, that God is perfect in love and justice. Let’s talk about God’s self-giving nature with them. Then let’s show them that God made us to be holy too and model before them how to surrender to the Holy Spirit’s work in us.
Danielle Jones is senior pastor of Summit View Church of the Nazarene