Should We Teach Children to Obey God?

379739o 200-cropThough my parents were born-again Christians with a deep faith and personal relationship with Christ, I was raised with a legalistic spin on Christianity. There were more “don’ts” than “dos,” and many activities were prohibited in the name of Jesus. No dancing, no movies, no Sunday activities except church, naps, and studying my catechism lesson. We were taught that “wordly” things were evil, and as Christian we could not participate. This was fairly typical for the culture and era in which I was raised. 

Over time, as Christianity shifted to a more positive focus, I learned to have balance in the way I live out my faith. I know that salvation comes by believing in Jesus as my Savior. It is a gift of God given by His grace and mercy and not a result of my works (Ephesians 2:8). God’s love is unconditional and does not depend on what I do or do not do. My obedience to His Word is not to earn His love, but rather to return my love and receive His blessings.

One of my best-selling children’s books with steady sales and mostly 5 star reviews for the past decade is now getting some criticism from millennial parents. They feel the devotions about pleasing God and doing good things reflects a “works-based” religion. They cringe at the word obey. They want the entire focus to be on God’s grace and His abundant love. Period.

In one of my devotions that is being criticized I wrote, “The more you read the Bible and pray, the more God will help you.” Communicating with God is how we grow in our relationship with Him and see answers to our prayers. If we have little or no communication with God, how can we see Him working on our lives? I know God will help us whenever we call on His name, but an ongoing relationship requires ongoing communication with Him.

God’s abundant and unconditional love is too magnificent for us to comprehend. And God’s grace is given freely to those who put their trust in Jesus. He keeps no record of our sins when we confess them (Hebrews 8:12). This frees us from all guilt and shame. But shouldn’t obedience, with the help of the Holy Spirit, be our response? Didn’t God bless Noah and Abraham because of their faith and obedience? Isn’t obedience for our own good to receive God’s blessings?

In John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commands.” And in Matthew 28:19-20, known as the Great Commission, Jesus tells His followers, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I know today’s parents expect their children to follow their rules at home and at school. But when it comes to God, if we use the word obey or being good, are we being too preachy and legalistic?

I welcome your thoughts!


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Should We Teach Children to Obey God? — 9 Comments

  1. Obeying God is a right and loving response to all He has done for us. The Bible clearly teaches how important obedience is. Eph. 5:1-2 says, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Jesus’ fragrant offering was given out of obedience. He didn’t want to die, but He did what God asked Him to do because He loved His Father and He loved us. We’re to do the same as imitators of God and His Son. Terrific, thought-provoking post, Crystal.

    • Thank you, Linda. Your response just adds more depth to my post. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts! Crystal

  2. The quote from your book is absolutely true. God has established the way for us to grow in our relationship with Him, including reading the Bible and praying.
    Unfortunately, the criticism may be originating from a desire to avoid the legalism often found in previous generations, as you noted.

    The problem seems to be that they’re “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” –
    how’s that for an old-time expression? :-)
    What I mean is, the issue should not be cessation of the spiritual disciplines you encouraged in your book, such as reading the Bible and praying. The key is doing those things with a right motive. If we simply teach children to “go through the motions,” we create a moralistic mindset (e.g. I must do right for the sake of doing right) which easily morphs into legalism. But if we teach children to love the Lord and do these things as an expression of that love, then the focus becomes the motive rather than the “doing.”

    I love what you said:
    “God’s love is unconditional and does not depend on what I do or do not do. My obedience to His Word is not to earn His love, but rather to return my love and receive His blessings.”
    Your obedience is clearly an expression of your love, not an attempt to earn His love. And I know you communicate that in your writing!

    In answer to your question, no, the words “obey” and “being good” are not preachy or legalistic…unless they are taught as the foundation of the Christian life, rather than the true foundation, which is new birth and life change in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. The difficulty, as you well know, is found in trying to communicate this in age-appropriate ways without compromising the truth. That’s why I marvel at writers who think writing for children is easy. Nothing could be further from reality!

  3. I agree with Ava. I think the criticism you are receiving, Crystal, is a pushback against legalism. Pushbacks sometimes lead to doctrinal imbalance, which seems to be the case here.

    We obey God out of love for what He has done for us, not in order to earn His love. A subtle distortion of this truth has infiltrated the Church. Some are misinterpreting obedience to mean “works.” In a sense, to obey is, indeed, a “work,” but it is a work that results from being born again not a work required to be born again. It is a work after the fact of salvation, not in order to receive salvation.

    Consider Matthew 7: 21: 21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” To do the will of the Father is to obey His Word.


    MaryAnn Diorio, PhD, MFA
    Author & Writing Coach

    “Heart-Mending Stories for the Young
    and the Young-at-Heart”

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