Someone said to me recently (not an exact quote), “I want to make sure my children are really saved before they are baptized,” and this comment got me to thinking . . . Jesus said, a tree is recognized by its fruit (Matthew 12:32). But what about when the tree is still a sapling? What fruit blossoms on so young a tree? Similarly, can we document any evidence that our children have “accepted Christ”? Should we even try? I’ve heard enough salvation stories to know that we give too much credence to a moment of salvation when, for most of us, it’s a process with perhaps a documentable occasion when we realize what we already believe. If you fall very strongly on the predestination side of things, you might even take issue with that. For the sake of this blog post, let’s assume that people accept Christ and become saved (with God always knowing they would accept) or that our children are predestined for salvation partly because God gave them to us, and we are His chosen ones. Whatever. Read this through your own theological lens. It will still be relevant. Is it any of our business? It also needs to be said at the outset that it’s really not our job to judge some else’s salvation state. The Scriptures say, Judge nothing before the appointed time; . . . at that time each will receive their praise from God (1 Corinthians 4:5). Even with our children, God calls/chooses them personally. But I can appreciate what this guy in the first paragraph was saying. It’s our job to guard our children’s hearts (Prov 4:23), to guide them along the right paths for His Name’s sake (Ps 23:3), to help them get things in the right order and understand the sacraments of our faith (Deut 6:7).
But first, some thoughts on children and salvation . . .
The question in our house was never one of belief in the historicity of Jesus or His actions. I think my children were always comfortable with the fact that Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected so that we can be forgiven and join Him in Heaven (probably because we presented it as an unquestionable fact, along the same lines as “The sky is blue.”). The challenge we put before each of them, and thus the way we mark their “salvation”, revolved around this life. Knowing that eternal life starts now, we would ask, “Are you ready to make Jesus the boss of your life?” This is the more difficult—and more relevant—question. The five-year-old who wishes she could boss herself and already feels like she has too many other bosses (parents, teachers, etc.), doesn’t necessarily want to add yet another boss to the list even though she truly wants to go to Heaven. As our four/five-year-old came to understand the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice and the peace with which we (her parents) lived in the here-and-now, committing this life to Jesus became more acceptable. By the way, it wasn’t a once-off thing; there were many conversations—all started by her.
What you may see when children accept Christ’s Lordship
If children grow up in a Christ-centered home, they learn right and wrong from the outset. Typically, they don’t lie (often), steal (much), hit their siblings (very hard), or intentionally disobey (in the big things). They haven’t lived long enough to need forgiveness or freedom for any “big” sins (It’s our scale that labels it ‘big’, by the way.), nor do they have any sinful habits such as swearing or pornography. So when they “accept Christ,” we can’t expect any major behavioral changes. In our home, I saw two significant attitude changes that confirmed their declarations of faith. This happened with both our children.
- Contrition. When they sin—and they still do—the Holy Spirit convicts them, and they feel sorry about it. Not sorry about getting caught but sorry about the words/action. My son comes to me saying, “Mom, I need to confess something.” We sit down together and talk through his actions and his heart. Sometimes, there is discipline, but more often than not, I can see that he understands his sin and truly feels sorry, so there’s no need for further reinforcement.
- Compassion. Children are inherently selfish. (Most of us never grow out of it, actually.) After they began to follow Christ, I saw my children become more considerate of others—especially the feelings of others. Sometimes they see the results of their harsh words before someone corrects them; sometimes they choose to forgive others without being asked; sometimes they stand up for a weaker child or comfort a lonely child or have patience with a difficult child on the playground.
Sure, you can teach compassion, and perhaps you can even bring your child to a point of contrition, but after my children made Jesus “the boss of their lives,” I saw a significant change in these areas without any change in my parenting. Such growth confirmed to me that God was working in their hearts. Feel like you need to have this conversation with your child? Consider starting with Luke 9:23.
Then he said to them all: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
- said to them all – He said this to everyone around Him—not just a select few. In Mark 8:34, He actually calls the crowd over to hear Him.
- wants to be my disciple – It starts with wanting to follow Jesus.
- deny themselves – Think less about yourself and more about what pleases God.
- take up their cross” – There are duties and hardships involved in being an authentic Christian. It’s not going to be easy.
- daily – The parallels of this verse (Matt 16:24 and Mark 8:34) don’t say ‘daily’, but the rest of Scripture bears out its relevance. Following Christ is not a one-time, prayed-a-prayer, good-to-go kinda deal.
- follow me – Do what He says—the Holy Spirit leads in a way that is consistent with the Word.
Now don’t hold this verse up to your child like a gauge or checklist. Don’t hang it beside the how-much-you’ve-grown marks on the wall. It’s a place to begin talking about what it means to be an authentic follower of Christ. Sometimes, my children still massively “blow it” . . . but so do I. All of us live with sin even after you put to death . . . whatever belongs to your earthly nature (Colossians 3:5). Even the Apostle Paul said, I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do (Romans 7:15). We cannot expect perfection from our believing children, but it’s safe to expect—and even look for—change as the Holy Spirit produces His Fruit (Gal 5:22-23) in them. So maybe saplings can bear fruit.