The little boy was very upset that once again he didn’t get to take the Lord’s Supper. He knew that his church (and his parents) believed that you needed to be baptized in order to drink grape juice at church. What made this Sunday even more painful was that his best friend—who had just been baptized three weeks earlier—would be snagging his first communion wafer, while little Billy would still have to deal with his grumbling stomach.
If you would ask the little boy why Jimmy was able to get baptized, his answer would be, “Because Jimmy got the right answers and I didn’t”. Little Billy had been studying for this test for weeks but he still couldn’t quite explain the message of the gospel. Last time he got a bit confused on his explanation of sin. And so he knew he’d have to wait another month or two to try to take the test again so he could receive his rich reward of getting dunked in front of his friends and family.
The previous two paragraphs are a little tongue in cheek…but only a little. I’m convinced that there is something a bit askew with the way we talk about the gospel with children. It feels to me more like giving them an SAT exam or taking a drivers test, than truly seeing the work of God in their life. If they pass they get to go to the college of their choice or they get to legally drive mom’s car.
I think the problem is that it’s pretty difficult to see heart change with many children. My kids have both grown up in church. They can tell you the ABC’s of salvation. They know that Jesus died on the cross for their sins. They know that Satan is evil. They want to go to heaven instead of hell. They believe that obeying God is a good thing. They try to read their Bible. But none of those things equals a heart change.
Kids are learning new facts all the time. My son once couldn’t read or do multiplication. Now he can. My daughter couldn’t write out her name. Now she can. In the same way they once couldn’t articulate the gospel—now they can. But does that make them saved? After all, they can pass the “know the gospel” test.
You see it’d be a bit easier with an adult. If a guy is having multiple affairs, abusing his spouse, and getting in bar fights every Saturday night, you aren’t going to call him saved just because he knows a few facts about Jesus. (At least I hope not). If that guy comes into the pastors office and says he’d like to be baptized because he wants to follow Jesus and yet refuses to stop cheating on his wife and really doesn’t pursue life change, then you’d likely question his repentance. You’d be a little hesitant to sign him up for baptism.
Why then do we throw this out the window when it comes to leading children to Christ? Do we assume that kids are saved a different way than adults? In order for salvation to happen the Spirit must change the heart of a child just as He must change the heart of an adult. No matter the age salvation is a work of the Spirit.
And there are some things that only the Holy Spirit can do. Parroting gospel facts isn’t one of them. Demons can do that…and do it far better than little Billy. But demons don’t have conviction of sin. Demons don’t have a thirst for holiness and following after God. When you start seeing these things in your child…that is when you know God is working.
So, if you are a parent or a ministry leader try looking for heart change more than just recitation of facts.
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