This is the second of a series of blogs for parents on how they can be involved in leading their children to faith in Jesus. Seeing our children come to Christ and then grow as disciples is the single most important task we have as parents. In this series we hope to challenge you, encourage you, and give you some tools that can help in the journey.
When each of my children were born, my greatest prayer for them was that they would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus at an early age, and that Christ would both save them and then use them greatly for His glory. So it is easy to see any interest in Jesus as the evidence that our kids are ready to receive Christ as Lord and Savior. Kids pick up on our language and come to understand what they are being taught in Genesis Kids very quickly. If we are teaching them in the home as well, it should not come as a surprise that they can recite ideas from our teaching and catechisms. Kids may know that Jesus died for our sins, that we need to believe in Jesus to be saved, and that He gives us forgiveness and the promise of heaven. This is a very good thing, and necessary for our kids to come to saving faith in Jesus, but it is not the same as saving faith in Jesus. In fact, the Scriptures give warnings to people who have knowledge that is not transforming them (James 1:22-27, James 2:14-26, Matthew 15:8, Titus 1:16).
As parents, though, we need to give great care that our children genuinely understand the nature of true faith in Jesus and that God is actually at work making their heart alive to God. This means that a vital part in leading our children to Christ is making sure we are patient with our kids and not too hasty to push them to making some sort of decision unless we are able to see the evidence of God’s gracious work in their lives.
In John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus that in order to enter the Kingdom of God, he had to be born again. It is such a strange thing for Jesus to say, telling this man that something has to be done to him in order to enter the Kingdom, and that the thing that has to happen is a new birth. Nicodemus thought this was weird, and wondered how he could crawl back into mama’s stomach. But Jesus’ point is that we come into this world through our physical birth, we enter the Kingdom of God through a spiritual birth, as God makes our hearts alive to Him. We learn from Scripture that this happens as the Gospel is proclaimed and the Holy Spirit uses the preaching of Christ to bring the new birth to our lives. Here is why this is important. If we try to lead our children to “pray the prayer” (lingo we used to use to talk about praying to receive Jesus) so they can be saved without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and then allow them to enter the water of baptism before they are truly saved by Christ, we can give our kids a false security that they have been rescued by Christ, when in fact they have not. And for many kids, this false assurance can actually lead to disillusionment in their faith at a later time in life.
The whole point of these blogs is that parents should be active in leading their children to Christ, so I am not trying to talk you out of the very idea that is the basis of this blog post. Rather, also encouraging care and patience, because often in our homes our kids will come to us at an early age asking to be baptized and ready to accept Jesus in their lives. But we must make sure that it is the work of God in their precious lives that is leading to this and not a desire to please mom and dad, a desire to belong and be affirmed, or fear that they will go to hell if they don’t get this done. So, a quick story from our lives. When my oldest son, Andy, was a little guy, around five or six years old, he began to come to us as his parents and tell us he was ready to receive Christ. We would ask him all the questions, “Who is Jesus? Why did He die on the cross? How can we be saved? What does it mean to believe in Jesus?” He had all the correct answers to these questions. We would even ask him about the idea of sin and why Jesus died for sin, and he knew the orthodox Christian answer. But, then we would ask him if he was a sinner, and he would, with beautiful innocence say, “No mom and dad, I am a good boy. I always obey and do what is right.” Truth is that he was being honest here, he was a good and obedient boy, but as all of us are, he was a sinner in need of redemption. So for me, this was a sure sign that Andy was not at the point of the new birth, because one of the sure signs that God is at work in our lives is a sorrow for our own sin. The summer when Andy turned 8 he went to a youth camp (at Logan Valley, same place our students are headed this Summer) with me. I was a youth pastor, and we took 50-60 kids to a camp there, but it was a perk as a dad to take my son with me for the week. We had a band lead worship, and a friend of mine preaching all week to our kids. At the end of one of the evening worship experiences Andy rolled out of the room with tears streaming down his face, wimpering. I was a little freaked out, thinking someone had hurt him. I asked him what was wrong, and he said, “I am so wicked, so evil. My sin is horrible, and I really need Jesus.” It was kind of funny to hear my highly obedient child confess the wicked nature of his heart and actions, but I knew that God was breaking his heart by helping him see his own sin, and therefore the work of Christ applied to his own life. Andy was saved that Summer, baptized a few months later, and I am thankful for that moment.
Now, discernment in this is not always that easy to see. But there are some clear evidences of the new birth that we should look for as we seek to lead our children to Christ. To discern these things we should ask our children questions that will help us see where they are in this journey. The questions should be understandable, on their level. Yet, we need to be careful about putting words in their mouths to answer the questions.
- Correct understanding of Jesus – We do need to make sure our kids truly understand who Jesus is, and why it matters. Our kids need to be able to confess that Jesus is fully God and fully human, that he lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sin, and that He rose again from the grave. Their words may not be the same as these, but they need to be able to express the ideas clearly.
- A sense that God is speaking – Of course, this is somewhat subjective and will look different from person to person. Yet, Jesus said that His sheep would know His voice. In other words, when God is at work in our children’s lives they will know that He is speaking to them. I would encourage you to ask them specifically if they believe God is speaking and if so what do they believe He is saying to them.
- A clear knowledge of the Gospel and the response to it – I already mentioned that our kids need an understanding of Jesus, so to say that they understand the Gospel is a little bit redundant. Yet, part of coming to faith in Jesus is a sense that Christ’s coming in to the world and dying on the cross was for our sin, and that we need to repent and believe in Jesus. And our kids need to know that we cannot save ourselves, that nothing we do can cover our guilt and need.
- Genuine faith in Jesus – We are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. But what is faith. In Scripture it is always two things. First, it is placing our trust in what Christ did for us on the cross as our Savior. It is trusting that Jesus died in my place for my sin and this is the only way to be forgiven. Second, it is our trust in Christ as Lord or King, bowing our knee to Him and giving Christ our lives. It means that we understand that we are no longer our own, but we belong to God fully, and we are to obey and follow Him for all of life. For our children, this means they understand that they are trusting in Jesus death on the cross for their salvation, and they realize that they are giving their life fully to Christ to follow Him.
- Sorrow for and repentance of our sin – As I have already mentioned, this is vitally important to discern the work of the Holy Spirit in our children’s lives. No awareness of “my own” sin, and no sorrow for how God is dishonored is probably a sign that they are not ready.
- The desire for obedience – This is also tricky. Obedience to Christ is not what brings salvation, but it is a result of the saving work of Jesus in our lives. People who claim that they want Jesus, but there is no real evidence to actually honor and obey Christ with their lives are actually demonstrating that they probably do not understand what it means to be saved by Christ. For our children this would include a changing obedience to parents as the authority God has placed in their lives, and the desire to obey Christ by entering the waters of baptism.
Of course this list is not exhaustive. And I would encourage parents not to over think these things. But we must find a good balanced approach to helping our kids find Jesus and giving them a false assurance that they have been rescued when in fact they have not. Of course, this is where the church and the Elders are your partners in this journey. Our policy is that when kids want to be baptized we make sure an Elder spends some time with them in the presence of their parents and we ask them some questions to help with that discernment. We also get input from the parents to help us understand where the child is in their faith journey. Of course, we are super excited to have children confess their faith in Jesus through baptism as soon as they should, but also not any time before.