BY JOHN DIVITO
As Christian parents, we want nothing more to see our children saved by the grace of God. We pray for the Lord to open their hearts. We teach them God’s Word so that they will know God and His plan of salvation. We bring them to church so that they will hear the gospel preached and see sinners transformed by the gospel. We plead with them to believe in Christ for salvation. But what happens when your young six-year-old child comes up to you and says that they want to trust Jesus? Many parents struggle, since they do not want to discourage their children, but we also do not want to prematurely assure them of salvation. So what do you do?
Since we want to see real conversion in our child’s life, I have broken down a biblical response to their profession of faith with the acronym REAL:
Recognize that Children Can Be Saved
First, let us never forget that God saves children! I have seen two dangers here. On the one hand, we can wrongly assume that all genuine conversions look like radical adult conversions. So if a child does not have a crisis moment in their life where they have recognized the depth of their sinfulness and cried out to God in desperation for salvation, then we assume they are not saved. On the other hand, we might wrongly assume that all children’s professions of faith are the result of pressure and manipulation. As a result, we are skeptical that any child can truly believe in Jesus at this age. Either way, the dangers of decisionism should not cause us to doubt a child’s commitment to Christ.
We need to remember that faith itself is not what saves us. The object of our faith saves us – Jesus Christ. Children may have a sincere faith, even if it is not as developed as we would like, or if it is not expressed as we would like. Jesus Himself brought a little child before his disciples to teach them, and He said:
“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:3-6).
Christ later said to His disciples: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). We witness a blessing when a six-year-old child comes to Christ!
Encourage Your Child With the Gospel
Therefore, when a child comes up to us and tells us that they want to trust Jesus, let us encourage their faith in Christ. We can share with them how Christ took our punishment for us so that we will not be punished in hell. We can remind them that when God looks at someone who trusts in Christ, He sees Christ’s perfect life and accepts us as His son or daughter. We can comfort them by saying that their sins are forgiven when they confess them to God. We can speak to them about the glorious future we look forward to when we will enjoy God’s presence in heaven forever.
We should also encourage them to live each day looking to Christ:
“[L]et us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
We should encourage our children to continue trusting in Christ!
Admit that False Professions Do Happen
We have all heard stories of people who prayed the sinner’s prayer, or walked the aisle in church as a child, only to later recognize that they were not truly converted. I have known those who admitted that they were baptized because they knew their parents wanted them to be baptized or because they didn’t want to miss out on what their friends were doing. And when they have been raised with the Bible, they often learn the “right answers” to spiritual questions.
None of this should surprise us, since God’s Word speaks of the immaturity and instability of children. The Apostle Paul writes: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
Later he says: “Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature” (14:20). To the Ephesian church, he warns: “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Ephesians 4:11).
Jesus tells us that not everyone who professes faith actually possesses faith. We learn this through his story in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13). The same truths that He reveals in this parable apply to children. Some do not believe the gospel message. Others may appear to believe for a time, but stumble and turn from Christ when hard times come. Still others will confess faith for a while, but worldliness and wealth will lead them away from Christ. Finally, there are those who sincerely believe in Christ and follow Him, producing the fruit of faithfulness in their lives. It is only this last kind of believer which has saving faith. And what we realize is that these differences are made clear over time in the lives of our children.
Look for Confirming Fruit Over Time
With this in mind, we look for spiritual fruit in a child’s life to confirm their faith in Christ. Do you remember what Jesus teaches us when He compares Himself to a grapevine? He says:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:1-8).
You see, if a child is trusting in Christ, then he will produce fruit over time. We will see him experiencing conviction over sin and seeking repentance. We will see him striving to obey Christ and following God’s Word. We will see him obeying us as parents and loving his brothers and sisters at home. Now his fruit will not be perfect, and he will still struggle with sin, like all believers. But his fruit will be real, because Christ is at work in his life.
Now how do I present this truth to my child? As previously mentioned, we want to encourage them with the gospel. With Christ in mind, how about I say something like this: “I thank God for your trust in Jesus. Did you know that when you believe in Jesus, He sends the Holy Spirit inside of you to help you follow His Word in the Bible? I can’t wait to see what Jesus does in your life as you continue trusting in Him.”
As parents, we cultivate our children with the gospel so that they will come to faith in Christ and their faith in Him will then flower as the gospel works itself out in more and more of their lives. If you would like to read more about cultivating our children in Christ, then I heartily encourage you to read a helpful book from Dennis Gunderson, Your Child’s Profession of Faith. At the same time, may we all commit to regularly pray for all of our children, so that they will receive the gift of salvation in Christ. Let us confidently come before His throne so that our children will trust in Christ.