A while ago I had an old Frank Mills song running through my head. I hadn’t heard the song in decades, so I found it on the internet and listened to it through the stereo. My seven year old son asked me what the song was. I said it’s an old song my sister used to play a lot when we were kids. “How did she play it?” he asked, “Did she have an iPod?” I laughed and shook my head. “No, she had a piano.”
So the word play doesn’t conjure the same idea to my son as it does to me, even while listening to a piano piece. It’s not surprising, though. After all, there’s the adorable little girl who thinks “11” is the symbol for pause. She’s probably not in the minority. We all know that our understanding of things changes, even as the essence of life remains much the same. I wonder if that has happened to our understanding of sin.
While I was getting ready for Vacation Bible School this summer, I was going through a bunch of old songbooks for kids. I found a lot of songs in those dusty tomes. Some brought to my face a warm smile of remembrance; others left me shaking my head (no offense to Rob Evans, but I’m glad I’m too old for “The Donut Man” era). A number of songs were completely new to me, including one called “Sin Today, Pay Tomorrow” by Bertha Shooks. Here are the lyrics:
If you do sin today, tomorrow you will pay;
This is God’s word, you know,
You must reap as you so.
Today’s sin brings sorrow
For many tomorrows.”
I doubt anyone would use that song today. Indeed, how things have changed! In what I consider a stark contrast, consider the lyrics from two songs by MercyMe that are currently on heavy rotation on Christian radio.
There'll be days I lose the battle
Grace says that it doesn't matter
‘Cause the cross already won the war
No matter the bumps
No matter the bruises
No matter the scars
Still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless
I realize MercyMe isn’t writing kids’ songs, as such, but if you visit our house you may very well hear our four-year-old singing one of these songs, loudly. So children are still part of the discussion, and what they hear makes a difference. A half century ago, we were teaching kids that sin has consequences. Now we’re singing that because Jesus died for us, sin “doesn’t matter,” at least not in the long run. Despite their catchy melodies, I’ve never liked these two new songs because of the way they talk about sin. Sin does matter. I am not flawless.
I’m sure the writer of the songs does not think it’s okay to sin all you want. I get that. I also get the idea that Jesus has already conquered all sin. Still, what does the songwriter believe about sin? What do we, modern Christians, believe about sin? The fact is our sin hurts people, ourselves and others, every day. The pain of this fallen world, the disappointment, the cruelty; it’s all real, and we had better believe it matters. To me, it’s important to maintain that understanding in our music.
With all that said, I am not about to teach my children the old Bertha Shooks song. I don’t think we (should) obey God because we are afraid of getting what’s coming to us. In fact, we often don’t get what we deserve. And how long will my sons hold fast to a Gospel of consequences when they see the world around them living apparently great lives completely outside God’s will? Following Jesus has to be because he is our Lord, and we love him. Jesus’ death covers all our sin, and, at the same time, our love for God moves us to respond to his call to live for him.
What do you think? Has modern Christianity eschewed the idea that sin has consequences? Am I reading into this too much? Was Aunt Bertha off the mark with her approach? Is there an effective way to teach our children the gravity of sin and the enormity of grace? Do you know any good songs that kids can sing to learn this?
If you do, leave a comment and I’ll share them with my boys.