When my daughter was young, I would make quinoa, oatmeal, and flax seed “waffles,” and she loved them. It wasn’t until we were visiting family in California that she experienced the hotel breakfast bar and loudly exclaimed, “Mom, these waffles are so much BETTER THAN YOURS.” The jig was up. The dry and grainy imposter waffles would no longer be tolerated. Now she had tasted the real thing and would never again be fooled by a counterfeit.

Likewise, one of the most effective ways to teach our kids to detect a false gospel is to be sure they are well acquainted with the real thing. That way, when they come across a false version of Christianity, they will recognize it immediately. Here are some ways we can teach our kids to spot a false gospel:

Teach Them to Love Truth

One of the most common ways Christian young people are tricked into bad ideas is through the vehicle of relativism. Relativism is the belief that absolute truth doesn’t exist or can’t be known. “What’s true for you is true for you” or “There is no truth” are common expressions lobbed at Christians to shut down their ideas and make them feel judgmental for simply claiming to know the truth.

However, Christianity is a belief system that stands or falls based on truth being absolute. God either exists, or he doesn’t. Jesus was resurrected, or he wasn’t. Jesus actually claimed to be Truth itself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The stakes are that high!

Teaching our kids to base their beliefs on what is true rather than what feels right will help keep them from walking away when their faith no longer “gives them the feels.”

Teach Them to be Biblically Literate

From the beginning, false ideas about God were being passed off as “Christian.” False teachers often twisted Scripture to trick Jesus’ followers into believing their teachings. Even today, some of the most deceptive ideas are the ones marketed as “biblical.”

The only way to know if an idea is biblical or not is to know what the Bible says. There’s nothing wrong with picking up a good children’s devotional book or Bible character cartoon to supplement our devotions. Still, nothing can replace reading through the actual Bible with our kids.

This will help keep them from falling for misquotations and misrepresentations because they will know the real thing.

Teach Them to Identify Gospel Essentials

One of the ways Christians can be tricked into believing a false gospel is when non-essential doctrines are confused with essential doctrines. The thinking goes something like this: If Christians can’t even agree on how predestination works, why can’t we just agree to disagree about the resurrection?

Essential doctrines are the beliefs that directly affect someone’s salvation. The Virgin Birth, the deity of Jesus, the atonement, the resurrection, the second coming, and the final judgment are examples of gospel essentials. These are primary issues that we can’t simply agree to disagree about.

Teaching our kids to recognize the difference between essential and non-essential beliefs will help keep them from becoming confused about what matters most.

Teach Them to Define Their Terms

One telltale sign of a false gospel is a redefinition of terms. For example, someone might imply that telling people they might not go to heaven is “unloving.” But this only works if they’ve redefined the word love to mean making someone feel good by affirming their beliefs and behaviors. But according to the Bible, that isn’t love at all.

First Corinthians 13 tells us that “love is patient and kind” (verse 4). But it also “doesn’t rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth” (verse 7). Loving someone means telling them the truth, even when it’s hard. So telling someone about the possibility of an eternity separated from God is the most loving thing you can do.

Teaching our kids to define their terms biblically will help insulate them from the “bait and switch” of words being redefined according to cultural norms.

Teach Them to Appreciate the Beauty of the Gospel

The Apostle Paul wrote that when he preached the gospel, it had a fragrance. For some, it smelled like life and peace. For others, it reeked of death.[1] I imagine it all came down to whether or not someone really believed they were a sinner. If one doesn’t acknowledge their own sinfulness, the message of the Father requiring Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross would seem unnecessary—even immoral. However, if someone knows they’ve sinned against a holy God and deserve death, Jesus’ atoning work suddenly becomes the most beautiful cure imaginable.

We live in a culture that inundates our kids with messages that they are perfect just as they are and should follow their hearts. But these “positive messages” soft-pedal their own sinfulness and can make them vulnerable to portrayals of the cross as “cosmic child abuse.”

As parents, we know that most ideas are caught, not taught. It’s useless to teach our kids all the right things if we don’t embody those ideas ourselves. This means repenting when we miss the mark. It means reading the Bible and praying with them. And just like my daughter will never again fall for imposter waffles, our kids won’t settle for false gospels because they will be so well acquainted with the real thing.

[1] 2 Corinthians 2:15–16.