Teaching Vacation Bible School this week has helped me to pinpoint a glaring deficiency in our much of our children’s (as well as adult) literature and ministry instruction, and one that is easily corrected by a thoughtful teacher. Every lesson in our VBS curriculum has urged our children to do something: follow Jesus, obey Jesus, worship Jesus, confess Jesus openly, etc. These are, of course, wonderful exhortations, and we should be faithful to deliver them to young and old hearts alike. There’s just one problem.
They can’t do it. Not one of them can do it. Not for a second.
What end up communicating in so much of our teaching is that our listeners are already spiritually and morally equipped to worship and follow Christ, and all that is necessary is teeth-gritting determination on their part. We are effectively communicating that they can save themselves. But the Bible speaks very differently about salvation. God’s Word tells us that our greatest need is not ethical formation, but total, supernatural transformation. We are not good but uninformed people who need a little guidance; we are corpses, “dead in our trespasses and sins,” that need to be brought to life by the power of God. What we need is to be born again. The Lord Jesus himself said to one of the most knowledgeable, morally upright men in Israel, Nicodemus, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” I am convinced that this teaching of the necessity of the new birth is severely lacking in the way we explain the Gospel, and I fear that it has produced many basically moral but unspiritual church members.
But I think it can be remedied easily enough by a discerning teacher, even if the literature with which you are working leaves something to be desired. I have been emphasizing to my 10-12 year-old students throughout this week that our greatest problem is that we have “bad hearts,” that are bent away from God and doing what is right, and no matter how many times you tell someone with a bad heart to worship and follow Jesus, they can’t do it, because their heart is still bad. I used the example of a fountain. If the inside of the fountain where all the water is stored is dirty and grimy, what kind of stream is going to flow out of it? Dirty water, because it is flowing out of a dirty fountain. How can the water be made clean? Only by cleaning the inside of the fountain. This is our problem with sin. The reason that we do bad things is because those bad things are flowing out of a bad heart. It won’t do any good to fix the bad things unless the heart is fixed.
So what do we need more than anything else if our hearts are bad?
“We need new hearts.”
Who can give us those new hearts? Can you give yourself a new heart? (Going around the room and asking each student)
Can I, your preacher, give you a new heart?
Only God can give you a new heart. If only God can give us these new hearts, what should we do?
That’s right. we need to pray very hard, asking God to give us new hearts that hate our sin and that love Jesus Christ. We need new hearts. I want to urge you to talk to God about him giving you a new heart . . .
Brothers and sisters, as we are teaching the Bible, let us not tell our listeners that what they need is to simply get their act together and stop sinning. Let us tell them that we need new hearts, given from God, that are broken over sin and that hope entirely in Christ.