You and Your Toddler Teach One Another Theology

A Picture of Jesus

You’ll be a picture of Jesus to your child.

A friend and mentor once encouraged me with these words before my first daughter was born, and I haven’t forgotten them. They have remained with me throughout the last six years as I have welcomed two more kids, met many of parenting’s joys and challenges, and faced my own limitations and weaknesses.

I am a picture of Jesus to my kids. And so are you.

What This Means (and What It Doesn’t Mean)

Here are a few things that this doesn’t mean. You are not Jesus; only Jesus is God and the exact imprint of God’s nature (Heb. 1:3). You are not the Savior; only Christ can save your children (Matt. 19:14). And you are not perfect, which the Lord knows (Ps. 103:14); you are a dim reflection of himself, a heart being transformed day by day into his image (2 Cor. 3:18).

What does it mean to “picture Jesus”? At least two things:

  • We parents have an opportunity to teach our kids what God is like.
  • We parents have an opportunity to learn from our kids what God is like.

God Cares for Me

Kristen Wetherell

As a part of the For the Bible Tells Me So series—designed to immerse kids ages 0–4 in the gospel—this board book examines God’s creation and providence to highlight his care for his children.

In other words, you and your child teach one another theology. “Theology” is the study of God, not just for professionals but for every single one of us. True theology is seeking to know God in order to love and reflect him, and that is our pursuit as Christian parents—that we would come to Jesus ourselves, and then introduce our children to him.

Teaching Your Kids What God Is Like

When we hear the word “teaching” it’s easy to think in academic categories. Certainly it is never too early to start reading the Bible with your kids, reciting catechisms, enjoying doctrinally rich books, and memorizing Scripture. These are all wonderful methods of teaching them theology! We are called to proclaim the gospel of Jesus with our mouths since faith comes from hearing the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). This kind of teaching is very good.

But faith apart from works is dead (James 2:26), and teaching divorced from love is useless (1 Cor. 13:1). Perhaps one of the loudest ways we can “speak” to our kids about Jesus is through our love for him and our walking according to his commands (John 14:15). I say one of the loudest ways because our words are necessary. But our kids are keen judges of character, and if words are all we have, they will know that they are empty words. Our “walk” isn’t all that matters, but it does matter.

You are a dim reflection of himself, a heart being transformed day by day into his image.

So, yes, we teach our kids theology through Scripture and other resources, but we are also pictures of Jesus through our lives. When we say, I’m sorry and Will you forgive me? we picture his mercy, forgiveness, and grace. When we wipe away perpetual tears and patiently instruct without scolding, we reflect his compassion. When we stay true to our words rather than giving into ease (even though it means a harder moment for us), we show his goodness and faithfulness. When we clean up another mess, change another diaper, launder more dirty clothing, or sacrifice our desires for theirs, we teach our kids about his love.

Learning from Your Kids What God Is Like

Another humbling and unexpected truth is that we get to learn who God is from our kids. We are not only instruments of grace to them, they are instruments of his grace to us. They are little image-bearers, created for the purpose of showing forth his beauty; and they are also fallen creatures (just like us) who will stretch our faith and test our love as God uses them to mold us more and more into his beautiful image.

When my kids quickly forgive me after I sin and admit I’m wrong, I am reminded how God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (1 John 1:9). When they rarely grow tired (like I do) of the same old things and are curious, creative, and imaginative, I see in them a picture of God’s infinitely wondrous beauty and sustaining power (Ps. 104:1–4). As I come to know them better and appreciate their unique intricacies more, I worship their Maker and mine (Ps. 139:13–14).

And as my patience is stretched, my desires are tested, and my body and mind struggle with toil and tiredness, I am pushed ever deeper into God’s endlessness, and I remember my need. I am humbled that I can do nothing apart from Christ, and I am desperate for his Spirit to empower and equip me. And by degrees my heart starts to look more like his.

Teach One Another Theology

In this thing called parenting, we will be helped to remember that there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular; everything belongs to the Lord and is under his reign (Ps. 24:1). So whether we are sitting, walking, lying down, or rising for another day with our kids, we seek to love the Lord and his gospel (Deut. 6:5–7) through both our words and our lives. We teach our children who God is and learn from them too. We ask God to make us a picture of Christ, however dim and incomplete, and we trust him to finish the work he has started—both within us and within them.

Kristen Wetherell is the author of God Speaks to Me, God Cares for Me, and God Hears Me.

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