I think we tend toward error when we begin to think of God’s law as a list of do’s and don’ts. There are do’s and don’ts of course. It is hard to avoid that. But God’s law seems to be more of a complete whole. I view it as a big sheet of glass or a mirror. If you break off one corner, you say the whole thing is broken. You can’t break one part over here and claim that the rest of it is okay. We see this in James 2:10: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” God gives us lists of things to do and not do because our minds need this. We need to be able to break things down and make them practical. “Love my neighbor”? What does that mean? Well, it means don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t covet, and so on. “Love the Lord” means don’t worship idols, don’t take His name in vain, and on and on. But if we focus too much on these specific commands, we forget that they are meant to flesh out the whole of the law not to completely sum it up. It is much easier to have a finite check list. But the check list is a aid; it is not the whole law. God’s law is a standard. A standard of perfect holiness. Of course we are unable to keep it. It is our goal. When Jesus talked about the commandments in Matthew 5, He showed that the spirit behind them is much more than the simple meaning of the words. For example, “do not murder” also includes within in “do not hate” and “do not call names.” The best summary of the law is what we find in Deuteronomy 6:5 (and again in the New Testament): “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Even the second commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, flows out of this first one. The law of God is at once simple–the whole may be best stated in but a few words– and incredibly complex. One could go on and on about what it means to “love God” and not cover all the bases. That is why God must write His law on our hearts.
All of this is why I find myself so dissatisfied with most kids’ Bible curricula. They seem to be focused a lot on individual commandments. There is a lot of morality in them. Now, morality is not something I am against, but it seems like we come at our kids a lot with rules that they need to obey and we rarely get to the heart of the matter. Obedient children are great. I love obedient children. But obedience to a set of rules is not our goal. Holiness is. Holiness though is hard to teach. So we boil it down into easier to chew bites. What I really want for my kids is for them to know God. So I would rather they learn about Him, and about their own need for Him. And hopefully as their faith grows, so will their obedience (to God, not me; well, secondarily to me and my husband). This is how it is for all of us–faith proceeds works. First we believe (by grace) and then we are able to follow (also by grace). It is no different for children than for adults. When we disciple adults who are new believers, we may address specific sin issues in their lives which loom large. But we don’t say “great, now you are saved, here is a long list of rules. Let’s study them in depth.” Neither should we do this with children. I guess what I see is just a very ineven balance between teaching kids who God is and what He requires of us. With children we tend to focus on the latter. My argument is that while we should know both, if we are going to err on one side or the other, it is better to focus too much on who God is. What he requires should come out of that anyway.