On his website, my friend Malcolm Woody recently wrote a devotional series entitled “Grace Notes.” Each devotion launched off from a Christian song (either a classic hymn or a contemporary song) to offer some insights into the subject of God’s grace, His completely UNDESERVED favor. You can link to Malcolm’s site at: http://www.malcolmwoody.com.
Those devotions got me to revisiting a thought that first struck me years ago. It’s the idea that it’s very difficult for a child who places his/her faith in Christ to properly understand God’s grace. Mind you that I’m not saying that a child can’t experience salvation and thus ACCESS that grace. I myself was saved by grace through faith when I was a young boy. Certainly kids have no problem accepting Jesus as their Savior. Certainly they can understand a good bit about heaven and hell. Certainly they can be taught what sin is. And certainly they can become full-fledged Christians. What I’m saying is that the typical child can’t properly appreciate God’s grace because, let’s face it, that child hasn’t exactly lived a hard-core life of sin prior to salvation.
Really, when kids get saved from sin, what sins do they have in mind? Lying to mommy? Stealing the change off daddy’s dresser? Thinking bad thoughts toward a brother? Pulling a sister’s hair? Getting into trouble at school? No doubt these are indeed legitimate sins and, therefore, require the forgiveness offered in Christ. But, seriously, when you talk with the average child about becoming a new creation and being born again through the regeneration of the indwelling Holy Spirit, does that child really grasp the major difference between his/her old life and the new one?
On the other hand, let me offer the hypothetical case of a 50-year-old drug addict who gets saved. This guy has been through two marriages. He’s cheated on both wives. His kids won’t talk to him anymore. He can’t hold down a job. He’s lost everything. He’s ruined his physical health as well as his mental health. He lives on the streets. He steals to get the money for his next high. He cusses. He’s crude. He doesn’t own a Bible. He doesn’t pray. And he’s never once darkened the doors of a church. Then a street-ministry worker shows him kindness, presents the gospel to him, and the guy places his belief in Christ. You see, that man can truly understand what he got saved from!
As we study the New Testament’s salvation experiences, it isn’t hard to see that virtually all of them are the stories of adults. Yes, Acts 16:15 mentions Lydia’s “household” getting baptized, a fact that would seem to imply some small children. The same is true of the Philippian jailor’s household later in the same chapter. But such stories are the exceptions to the rule. Far and away, the New Testament’s salvation accounts are the stories of adults, not children. Take the apostle Paul for example. Before he came to faith in Christ he was a devout Pharisee, a persecutor of Christians, and even an executioner of them. It’s no wonder that someone like that could write so passionately about salvation by grace. Not only did he know full well that his “works” merited eternal damnation, he also knew what a 180-degree change Jesus had brought to his life.
Typically, however, who is it that gets saved in our churches today? Statistics show that most of our baptisms are kids. Getting even more specific, usually these are kids who got saved during Sunday School, Bible school, or a summer camp. So am I complaining about this? No, I thank God for every child who gets saved anytime, anywhere. As I said earlier, I was one of those kids. My point is simply that a child who gets saved is incapable of understanding saving grace the way a Saul of Tarsus can understand it.
It wasn’t a 4th grader who wrote Amazing Grace. It was John Newton, an infidel hard case who worked on a slave trading ship before he alienated his fellow crewmen to the point where they gave him over to become the property of a slave trader in West Africa. You see, it takes a man like that to truly understand what a lost, spiritually blind “wretch” he once was. I’ve baptized a lot of kids in my time, but I doubt that even one of them thought of himself or herself as being a “wretch” without Jesus.
Please understand that I’m not advocating that we make children wait until they are older to accept Jesus as Savior. Neither do I want to see them fall headlong into lives of sin and immorality before they get saved. It’s just that a kid can’t appreciate saving grace as much as a man or woman who has some mileage, much of it over unholy roads, on them. To be sure, there aren’t many advantages to getting saved later in life. There is, however, this one, and it’s a very real one.