Sin has been described at its most essential as always having 'I' in the middle! When we act like we are the center of the universe and that it revolves around what we want or need, we sin. When we take over God's rightful place on the throne of our lives, we sin. When we put our own interests before those of the people around us, we sin. Most of us have the "me first" approach spectacularly down pat and, as children will recognize, no one has to teach their younger siblings or themselves to think this way! It just seems to come so naturally!
For kids to understand what sin is and grasp its impact on them and others, we need to put it into context for them. It's not something abstract and ethereal that's out there waiting to pounce on them, although our enemy does, as Scripture says, "…prowl around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8) A Biblical understanding of sin begins with the acknowledgment that sin is a heart condition that exists inside each one of us. We are not born innocent. As the Psalmist says, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful even from the time my mother conceived me." (Psalm 51:5) We are born sick. Sick with sin. But how did it all begin?
It is crucial to paint a clear picture for kids of what life was like for the first people that God made and to emphasize that when God created His world and His people, all that He made was good. "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." (Genesis 1:31) That included the people he made - Adam and Eve. They lived in the Garden of Eden, a place of great beauty, and they were friends with God. He gave them all they needed and the garden to look after, and they could live forever. More than anything, God wanted to have a relationship with those people He had made. That's why He made them.
If only things had stayed this way, but we know that Adam & Eve chose not to listen to God but to listen to Satan, who twisted God's truth and questioned God's character. They were tempted by wanting to be "like God" (Genesis 3:5) and gave in to that temptation. The concept of temptation and having a choice to do good or to give in and sin is easily demonstrated by placing candy with kids and then asking them not to eat any while you leave the room or turn away momentarily! This can bring home the truth that they aren't any less sinful than Adam & Eve no matter how often they've been to church! It's not a sin to be tempted, but it is a sin to give in to temptation.
And so sin entered the world and spoilt EVERYTHING. The people were guilty. They could no longer live with God and had to leave the garden, separated from Him. Their sin meant they would now not live forever but would die. Pain and struggle entered the world because of sin too. This was not what God had wanted for the people He created and loved but God already had a plan to fix everything.
Sin continued to spoil God's creation, and God chose Abraham and his family to represent Him to the world. There was nothing special about them, but God promised them He would save the world through them. This was pointing forwards to Jesus' coming. To help His people know how they were to please their God and show how amazing He was to everyone else, God gave them rules to live by, including the Ten Commandments and instructions on how to worship Him and be near Him safely.
These rules didn't make the people not sin anymore. It didn't change their hearts or make them better. They were still sick with sin and often disobeyed God. The rules were a daily reminder to the people of the problem of sin that they could not live the way God wanted by trying hard. It was like a mirror that they could look into and see their own sinfulness.
Jesus was sent by God the Father to be the complete solution to the problem of sin and how it separated people from God. He lived a perfect life! The only person who ever has and ever will do it perfectly. He then died the death that we deserved and was raised to life again, beating death and releasing us from the sin jail we were in and setting us free. He died to heal us from being sick with sin and to wash us clean forever! Amazing!
So what about now? Sin is still a problem for everyone. The Bible teaches that "..for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) And that we deserve to die for our sin. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life." (Romans 6:23) God hasn't lowered his standards, so we can all be with Him forever. We can't please Him or obey Him any more than the people in the Old Testament could. No one is good enough. This concept is simply demonstrated by placing a strip of gold Duck Tape high up on a wall and have the kids try and jump to reach it. Some may be taller than others, but none can reach it. A ladder is needed, and Jesus' death and resurrection is that ladder.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
When we realize we can't help ourselves get better or solve the problem of our sin and ask God for His help, He sets us free from sin and death, and they no have any power over us anymore. We're not sick anymore. So does that mean I'm perfect now? Why do I still do things wrong?
While we live on this earth, we will continue to struggle with temptation, and we will do things wrong, but Jesus' death has brought us the forgiveness that cleans up all the wrong things we've done in the past as well as everything we will do wrong in the future. (Just like the cross points both ways.). We need God's help every day to live to please Him, and His Holy Spirit is the power we need to live for Him. We've been made new and we will experience that fully when we get to see Jesus face to face.
For those who have chosen to follow Jesus, sin no longer separates us from God. As we look ahead, we can be certain that we will live with God forever, just as He planned in the beginning. Jesus has crushed the power of sin, and death is no longer the end but an amazing new beginning of being with Him. "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:1)
Ultimately, we point kids forward in hope and excitement to a time when God will make all things new and where sin cannot spoil things ever again. "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making all things new!" (Revelation 21:3-5)