“But I don’t know how to love!”
The statement caught my husband and I off guard. We turned our eyes away from our frustrated four year old and stared at each other in disbelief. Sometimes the most profound statements have a way of simply slipping out of the mouths of children and this was one of those moments.
The conversation had begun like many others in our home. Perhaps a toy had been taken from a sibling or a harsh word had been uttered in anger. Whatever the exact circumstance, he had once again failed to be kind to his brother, revealing an unloving heart in the process. As we often do, my husband and I took the opportunity to remind our son that loving others means being kind to them and seeking to make them happy, even if it means not getting your way. When you love someone, we reminded him, you treat them the way you would want to be treated.
It was in response to this common correction that our brilliant little theologian made his argument. And he couldn’t have been more on the money. After taking a moment to compose ourselves, my husband and I affirmed that what he said was true.
“Yes son, we know that you don’t know how to love, and that is exactly why you need Jesus so much.”
Love that forgives sinners
What a joy it is to be able to share the gospel message with our children. Though at times it can be easy to forget, they too are children of Adam and desperately in need of the forgiveness and justification which flow from Calvary’s tree. Like us, they were born enslaved to sin and their very natures are bent toward rebelling against the Creator. Our little boy wasn’t lying when he said he didn’t know how to love. Apart from the saving grace of God, none of us would!
But my husband and I have a story to tell our children that changes everything. Into this world of rebels, a perfect child was born. Yes, in one miraculous moment the eternal Son of God became a man and spent his life revealing to the world the God who is love. In fact, we are told in 1 John 3:16 that it is by Christ laying down his life that we are able to know what love truly is.
As our son admitted to us his own weakness, we were able to point him to the one who was strong for him, the one who had loved him to the point of death, even death on a cross. Jesus’ perfect love made a way for us—who love so imperfectly—to be forgiven. He took our sins of hate, anger, malice, envy, lust and selfishness and nailed them to the cross. In exchange, he gives us his righteousness.
But not only does Jesus’ love forgive us, we told our son, it has the power to transform us.
Love that transforms sinners
A few days ago I watched with my boys as a dead, leafless tree was uprooted and replaced with a living, flourishing tree outside our apartment window. For some reason the tree being replaced had never taken root and while all the other trees around it sprouted green leaves, it stubbornly refused to grow. Ultimately there was nothing to be done except to replace it with another tree. This new tree’s green foliage is a welcome reminder to me of the work that Christ does in the hearts of those who put their faith in him and of the work that needs to be done in my young children’s hearts.
I’m reminded that all of us come into the world like the first tree, dead and utterly unable to please the Lord. Though our son was correct in saying he didn’t know how to love, the problem runs much deeper than a mere lack of knowledge. We all—apart from Christ—are incapable of loving. Every one of us is spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins until God makes us alive together with Christ. Ezekiel 36:26 vividly portrays the Lord performing a spiritual heart transplant: removing our old, stone-like hearts and replacing them with new, living hearts of flesh. This, my husband and I explained to our son, is what must happen in his heart if he is ever going to learn how to love!
Just as the dead tree in our yard was replaced with a living tree, so too must his heart of stone be replaced with a heart of flesh. It is only then that the Holy Spirit will come to dwell within him, training him to walk according to God’s statutes and to obey his rules. It is then that Jesus, through his Spirit, will teach him how to love.
Though it isn’t every day that our children present us with such theologically profound statements, it is every day that their hearts are in need of these profound gospel truths. As their parents, we have the privilege of daily offering our children the same salvation that we’ve experienced. We come to them with compassion because we too are sinners in need of the grace of God and we come to them with boldness because we have seen the power of God at work in our own lives.
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9)
Jessalyn Hutto is a regular contributor to Credo Magazine. She is just an ordinary wife and mother who serves an extraordinary God. Her passion for theology led her to create the blog DesiringVirtue which encourages women to study, treasure, and apply the Word of God to their daily lives. She is blessed to be the wife of Richard Hutto and the mother of three little boys: Elliot, Hudson, and Owen. She is also a regular contributor to The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s women’s channel: Karis.