Do Good Kids Go To Heaven?


Recently I met with a young man, David, who grew up in my kid’s ministry.

David is thirty years old now and hasn’t been in church since high school, but he was engaged to be married and he asked me to marry him and his fiancé.

It’s an incredible honor when I am asked to marry kids that grew up under my ministry, but I wanted to find out where David was with the Lord, so I addressed the elephant in the room.

“What’s your relationship with God like?”

“I believe in God,” David replied. “I believe that Jesus died on the cross and that He arose from

the dead – but I’m not as good a Christian as other people.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because I don’t keep all the rules.”

“What rules don’t you keep?”

“You know, smoking and drinking and stuff.”

David’s story took me back to the night I gave my life to Christ – September 12, 1976.

After church I went to Dairy Queen with my family. While I was consuming my ice cream cone I had an urge to light up a cigarette so, I lit one up.

I took a puff off my cigarette and a voice in my head said – “See, you didn’t get anything. You’re still smoking.”

Now, what did the cigarette have to do with my salvation?

Absolutely nothing.

The scriptures say, “We are saved by grace and not by works,” however the enemy likes to use our guilt to create a wedge between us and Christ.

I found it interesting that the enemy was using the same strategy with David.

This experience caused me to re-think what we are teaching kids in Church.

Most Sunday School curriculum is relentlessly moralistic. We teach Bible stories and tell kids to be good.

We teach on honesty, self control and obedience and here-in lies the problem.

We can teach kids to be good without teaching them about Christ simply by rewarding them for good behavior and disciplining them for bad behavior.

You have kids in your church that are good and kids that are bad.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit we have all had kids in class that we are hoping don’t show up next week.

Here is my question for you:

Are you rewarding the good kids and pushing the bad kids away?

In the spirit of transparency – I am embarrassed at how I pushed the bad kids away from church,

but my point is this – Christ didn’t push the bad people away.

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear him. But the

Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats

with them. Then Jesus told them this parable…” Luke 15:1-3

Notice that tax collectors and sinners were drawn to Christ, but the people who obeyed all the rules wanted to push the bad people away.

In Luke, Chapter 15, we find the parable of the two sons.

Jesus continued, “There was a man who had two sons,” – Luke 15:11

Most of us know this as the parable of the Prodigal Son, but there are two sons in the story.

Part one focuses on the younger son and is a powerful picture of the grace and love of the Father.

Part two focuses on the elder son.

The elder son was the good one who didn’t stray.

He never left home, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t leave the Father.

In fact, it’s clear in the scripture that while he obeyed all the rules, he obeyed for the wrong reasons and he didn’t have a real relationship with his Father.

Are there kids in your class who are elder sons?

Kids who are really good and obey all the rules?

They look and act like Christians, but they don’t have a real relationship with Christ?

If you said, no, you are in denial.

I recently discovered a book about the parable of the two sons that rocked my world – The

Prodigal God – by Timothy Keller.

The Prodigal God brought some deep repentance in my life and caused me to re-think my entire strategy for leading kids to Christ.

Here are some of the more thought provoking quotes from Timothy Keller:

“There are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord. One is by breaking all the moral codes and setting your own course, and one is by being very, very good.”

“Here, then is Jesus’ radical redefinition of what is wrong with us. Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, though, shows us that a man who has violated virtually nothing on the list of moral misbehaviors can be every bit as lost as the most immoral person. Why? Because, sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life.”

“If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to admit.”

Is it possible that this culture begins in Kids Church?

As we are building the future church, are we are creating a church of elder brothers?

Kids who who are really good and obey all the rules.

They never leave the church, so they think that God owes them something?

Those of us in leadership tend to think it’s the bad kids that leave the church that are the problem, but is it possible (like in this parable) that the problem is with the good kids that never leave?

In other words, are we creating a culture in our churches that rewards the good kids and pushes the bad kids away?

The other day I was doing some consulting for a mega church.

I observed their kid’s ministry on a Sunday morning service.

This church is using one of the more popular curriculums.

The lesson was on self-control.

It was a good lesson with some great videos.

There was only one problem with it – there was no mention of Christ.

Teaching kids about self-control is good to do, but is it enough?

No, it’s not.

Here is the problem, kids can learn about self-control, honesty and obedience, but if they learn it without Christ they become their own saviors and we have created a church full of elder brothers.

What should we do?

Preach the Gospel of Christ – every week.

The truth is that everyone needs to Gospel.

  • Good kids need the Gospel.
  • Bad kids need the Gospel.
  • Church kids need the Gospel.
  • Volunteers need the Gospel.
  • Pastors need the Gospel.

Here is another thought provoking quote from Tim Keller:

“This means that Jesus’s message, which is the gospel, is a completely different spirituality. The gospel of Jesus is not morality, or immorality, moralism or relativism. Nor is it something halfway along a spectrum between two poles – it is something else altogether. The gospel is distinct from the other two approaches: In it’s view everyone is wrong, everyone is loved and everyone is called to recognize this and change.”


What about you?

Are you willing to change?

Mark Harper

7 thoughts on “Do Good Kids Go To Heaven?

  1. David L. Barnes says:

    Excellent, Mark. – Good kids or God’s kids? What do we want? That was my challenge, to the church I pastor, this past Sunday.
    During my 18 years as a children’s pastor, I would often ask this in kid’s church services, “What do you have to do to go to heaven?” Invariably, many would answer, “Be good!”, or would begin to list good things like “go to church, read your bible, pray, be nice, help poor people and so on.” I made it my primary goal as children’s pastor to make sure the kids who came through the kids ministry had an understanding of grace as described in Ephesians 2:8-10.
    I told our congregation this past Sunday that I believe there is significance in both the repetition and the sequence of events in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18 concerning Jesus blessing the children which in all three gospels is immediately followed by the story of the rich, young ruler.
    The rich young ruler was every parent’s dream kid – successful, respectful, religious, moral and a respected leader in the community. When the young man asked, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”, Jesus responded, “No one is good”, then began listing some of the commandments and before He finished, the young man interrupted with, “All these I have kept since I was a BOY.”
    In the end, he was willing to “be good” but not to “be God’s”. He was not willing to pay the price to be a Christ-follower.

  2. Lenny Corliss says:

    Hi Mark, I’m not sure if you would remember me. We met a few times but only briefly. I appreciated your words of wisdom in this article. The challenge/responsibility before us is real. Trying to encourage our children to incorporate into their day to day lives godliness as prescribed in Titus chapter two and still clearly express the Good News of the gospel that we are loved and embraced and forgiven by God as a free gift completely devoid of any attempts of our “being good” is something we must continue to instill. Your thoughts about rewarding the good kids and chasing away the less well-behaved is something we all must contemplate and not quickly dismiss. I believe in can happen without a conscious awareness. I thank you for bringing it to our attention and I’m asking the Lord to help me. Thanks, Lenny

  3. Jeanne Bowser says:

    This was good Mark. I have often thought about the good kids and the bad kids in church. It is so true, and I have been guilty myself in the past..but serving at the outreach we do for kids in my trailer park, keeps me in balance. We do need to teach kids in church to reach out to the unlovely. I find myself going there at times; reminding them and me to not take what Jesus did for granted.

  4. Tim Carpenter says:

    Excellent article Mark! I hope children’s minister will go deeper in this discussion. This is why we need to teach and give kids revelation/understanding of the Fruits of the Spirit. We ministers of the Spirit. That’s why I tossed out all of my 10 Commandments curriculums. Paul calls it the “ministry of death” II Cor 3:7 I know people may not understand this, but our actions is an outflow of the life of the Vine through us. It’s the difference between the two trees in the garden. What do you think? I need to write in article to set up and support these statements, but I thought I’d throw it out there.

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