“Parenting” series: (post 4 of a series of 4)
This post will be the fourth and last in my series on parenting. In the previous three posts, I’ve dealt with the importance of obedience in a child, the importance of individuality in a child, and the importance of spanking a child. Now, with this one, I want to talk about the importance of a child’s salvation.
Let us never forget that little boys and little girls need salvation. Salvation isn’t just for the drunk lying in the street, the convicted killer on death row, or the Muslim terrorist. It is also for young sons and young daughters.
To get us into this, let’s look at 2 Timothy 1:1-5, where the apostle Paul writes:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, a beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. (N.K.J.V.)
You’ll notice that Paul, in verse 5, talks about a genuine saving faith, which equates to an authentic belief in Jesus Christ. Paul says to Timothy, “This saving faith (this authentic belief in Christ) was first in your grandmother Lois. She then passed it down to her daughter (your mother) Eunice. Then Eunice passed it down to you.”
By reading between the lines just a bit, we see that Lois and Eunice created an atmosphere in their family wherein Timothy wanted to personally put saving faith in Jesus. That atmosphere started when Lois put saving faith in Christ. Her salvation then played a big part in her daughter, Eunice, putting saving faith in Christ. And then Eunice’s salvation, in turn, played a big part in her son, Timothy, putting saving faith in Christ. In this way, salvation became something of a family affair for that family.
Now, with this understood, I want to devote the rest of this post to offering some practical advice about how parents should share the gospel with their small children. I’ve put this advice under the headings of three general statements, and I don’t think you’ll have any trouble following along. Ready? Here we go.
Statement #1 is: Parent, before you ask your child to believe in Jesus as Savior, it’s a good idea for you to have a basic foundation of Jesus already in place in that child’s life.
When it comes time for a child to seriously deal with Jesus and His offer of salvation, it will be so much better if there is a basic foundation of Christ already in place in that child’s life. But how does a parent lay such a foundation? The obvious ways include taking the child to church every Sunday and buying the child a children’s Bible. The sad truth is that many parents fail even in these basic areas.
Moving on from these basics, there is what I’ll call the spoken word. By this I mean that from a child’s early days that child should hear his or her parents talking to Jesus and about Jesus. Really, Jesus should be as much a part of the home as any of those who are living there.
First, here are a few examples of how a child can hear a parent talk to Jesus. Parent, at mealtime let your child hear you say, “Jesus, we thank you for this food.” When it rains, say to your child, “Well, Jesus is sending us some rain.” When your child goes to bed, make your child’s bedtime prayers to Jesus. Get on your knees beside the child’s bed, have the child close his or her eyes, and then pray something like, “Jesus, thank you for watching over us today. Thank you for this home. Thank you for this warm bed to sleep in.” Then, after your child has heard you pray such a prayer night after night, you should let the child do the praying. Hopefully, the child will learn to pray like you pray. And, by the way, be sure to remind the child that Jesus is God. If the child tries to act silly during the prayer time, just say, “Now remember, you are talking to God.”
You see, if you will talk to Jesus correctly in front of your child, you can build all kinds of great theology into your child’s thinking long before the child is mature enough to formally believe in Jesus as Savior. Just through the things your child hears you pray, that child can learn that Jesus is: God, our creator, our sustainer, our protector, and our provider. Then, when the child is mature enough to honestly deal with the issue of believing in Christ as Savior or rejecting Him, the child will have all of that wonderful foundation already in mind. Basically, if a child already thinks of Jesus as God, creator, sustainer, protector, and provider, it won’t be too hard for him or her to add Savior to the list.
Now let me mention a few examples of how a child can hear a parent talk about Jesus. Parent, when you go to the beach, stand with your child on the shore, look out at the ocean, and say, “Didn’t Jesus create a big, beautiful ocean?” When a problem comes up, say to your child, “Don’t worry, Jesus will help us with this.” At Christmastime, tell your child the story of how Jesus left heaven, became a baby, and was born to a virgin named Mary. At Easter, tell the child the story of how Jesus died for the sins of the world and then arose from the dead. At all times of the year, read Bible stories about Jesus to your child. And as you do all this, make it a point to talk about Jesus as a real person. Don’t let Him get lumped in with SpongeBob SquarePants, Elmo, or Big Bird.
What I’m saying is, let your child hear you using the spoken word to talk to Jesus and about Jesus. In a hundred different prayers and a hundred different conversations, use the words you speak to saturate your child’s world with Jesus. This is a great way for you to lay a basic foundation of Christ in that child’s life.
And now, with that ground covered, let me move on to my second statement, which is:
Statement #2: Parents, when it comes to the matter of salvation, don’t rush your child.
Any right-thinking parent wants their child to be saved from that fiery place the Bible calls “hell.” That’s perfectly understandable. However, what each parent should remember is that children under the age of accountability are not in immediate danger of “hell.” Let me explain.
If you look for the term “the age of accountability” in the Bible, you won’t find it. That doesn’t mean, though, that the idea of an age of accountability is wrong. While it’s true that each child is born a sinner, it’s also true that infants and small children simply do not have the ability to understand the concept of salvation, let alone God’s plan of salvation. The issue is not the child’s innocence, because each child is a born sinner. The issue is the fact that the plan of salvation is totally beyond the understanding of a child. How can you share the gospel with a child when that child can’t even understand your language? I know that Romans 1:20 teaches that every adult on planet earth is without excuse before God (even those who have never heard about Christ), but adults aren’t the same as little children.
Matthew chapter 18 comes into play here. In that chapter we find the story of Jesus calling a little child to Himself. In using that child as an object lesson to teach His disciples, Jesus says to them, “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10, N.K.J.V.) Isn’t it interesting that little children have angels who always behold the face of God the Father in heaven? I don’t know everything there is to know about that, but I sure like the sounds of it.
In addition to that passage, we also have the story from 2nd Samuel chapter 12. In that story, David’s infant son dies and David says of him, “I will go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2nd Samuel 12:23). Now, when David thought about the afterlife he certainly wasn’t planning on spending eternity apart from God, was he? Remember that this is the same guy who wrote in Psalm 23:6, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Therefore, by putting David’s two quotes together, we learn that he thought of the soul of his dead, infant son as being with God. Furthermore, 2nd Samuel chapter 12 isn’t just a story from the life of David. It is also a part of the inspired word of God. That means that those words aren’t just wishful thinking on David’s part.
Because of these passages and some others I could mention, I have enough confidence in the idea of an age of accountability to say that a parent shouldn’t rush their small child to “make a decision” for Jesus. Parent, the last thing you want to do is coerce your child into making some shallow, uninformed, false decision for Christ. You certainly don’t do that child any favors by creating a false assurance of salvation in the child.
If you do create such a false assurance, here’s what will probably happen. After your child makes that false decision, you will follow that up by getting the child baptized as soon as possible. Next, following that baptism, you will want the child to officially join the church membership roll. But that will be disastrous because both the baptism and the church membership will be a sham. In such a case, the church will get hurt because ideally each person on the church’s membership roll is a true Christian. And then also, the child will get hurt because he will grow up thinking that he is on the way to heaven when in reality he isn’t.
Of course, the age of accountability is different for each child. Anyone who knows children knows that children don’t mature at the same rate. That’s why I can’t tell you how old your child will be when he or she has the mental capability to genuinely believe in Christ as Savior. All I’m saying is, please don’t rush your child on this. There is far too much to lose by making this mistake.
And now, finally, my third and last statement on how parents should share the gospel with small children is this:
Statement #3: Parent, when you explain the plan of salvation to your child, keep it simple.
When you are giving your child the gospel, stay on topic and stick with the essentials. You don’t need to include a teaching on the Rapture. You don’t need to get into what the Bible says about bodily resurrection. You don’t need to try to explain election and predestination. You don’t need to bring up the topic of spiritual gifts. Just stick with the basic, vital, mandatory information.
- The child is a sinner
- Jesus is the Son of God
- Jesus died to pay for the child’s sins
- The child needs to believe in Jesus as Savior
On the other hand, don’t oversimplify things and pronounce the child a Christian when he or she isn’t. Just lay out the bare bones of the gospel and see how the child responds. Ask the child, “Do you understand this?” Even if the child says, “Yes,” don’t just take the child’s word for it. Quiz the child to see if he or she really does understand. If the understanding is there, then you can push on to the decision part. If the understanding isn’t there, the child is probably too young to grasp what you are saying. In other words, he or she hasn’t reached the age of accountability yet. But always, always, always, keep your presentation of the gospel simple.
Well, there is so much more that could be said on this subject, but I’m going to leave it all for someone else and go ahead and close out this post and this series. Parent, just know that your child’s salvation is THE most important goal in bringing up that child. It’s sad that so many parents put such careful thought and work into planning for their children’s college education, while those same parents give precious little attention to leading those children into saving belief in Christ.
What we need today are some parents like Lois and Eunice, parents who long to see their children become Christians and who understand how to create a home atmosphere wherein that can happen. In my opinion, if we had more parents like Lois, more children like Eunice would follow, and if we had more parents like Eunice, more children like Timothy would follow. You see, these are the kind of parents we need today, parents who are committed to seeing their children authentically saved. And I’m asking you right now, will you be such a parent? If you will, then may the Lord help you with the challenging task, and may your tribe joyfully increase.