This past Sunday, as we were discussing the significance of John the Baptist’s water baptism, I touched very briefly on the implications for discussing baptism with our children.
In particular, I cautioned against rushing into baptism in order to provide our children an assurance of their salvation as soon as they make a decision to trust Christ.
I’d like to briefly address this a bit more in this post.
When our children tell us they have “accepted Christ”, we rightly want to celebrate this decision. We also want to help them find assurance that their decision was real and genuine. But how do we know if their response to the Gospel was real? How do we know that they have genuinely trusted in Christ and repented of their sins? How do we know if they really have new life in Christ or not?
The simple answer is that “only time will tell”.
Many times, parents in these situations will rush to give their child assurance of their salvation. But what’s the rush? Do we think that if their conversion is real they will somehow lose it if they don’t get baptized right away or if they don’t get some “assurance” right away? That’s impossible. If it’s real today, it’ll be real tomorrow, and it’ll be real in a year. If it’s real when they’re 6 (and yes, I believe that’s very possible), then it’ll also be real and even more apparent when they’re 12.
Let me be clear: They will not lose their salvation simply because you waited to baptize them, or because you waited to give them other indications of your assurance that they are genuinely saved. But conversely, we can do harm to them by giving them assurance too soon, if their “decision” was not genuine. By baptizing them, telling them they’re “saved”, or the like, we can give them a false assurance, and end up inoculating them against the Gospel.
in-oc-u-la-tion – to introduce the causal agent of a virus into the body in order to generate immunity to that virus
Giving false assurance of salvation to children who are not genuinely saved could actually be “immunizing” our children against the Gospel. We see evidence of this all over the place.
Where are all the children who “accepted Christ as Lord & Savior” in VBS and Sunday School 20 years ago? Where are they today? They’re not in the church! Statistics are overwhelmingly convincing…the 21st century Church in America allows (and unknowingly encourages) false conversions year after year – only to see those children grow up and leave the faith. How many examples can you personally name?
The reality is they didn’t leave the faith; they were never IN the faith. But if you ask them today, they’ll say, “yeah I’m a Christian, yeah, I got saved when I was 5, 6, 7,…and I even got baptized, I don’t need to hear about the Gospel.” What a tragedy!
A sobering question for us is, “Are we doing this today with our own children?”
So, how can you tell? How can you tell if their decision to trust in Christ is real?
In recent years, in an attempt to determine whether someone is really saved or not (particularly children), we encourage them to say a simple prayer (the “sinner’s prayer”), or we tell them they need to “invite Jesus into their heart”.
The hope with this strategy is that as long as they say those words (and mean them), then we don’t have to do the hard work of actually looking for evidence of genuine repentance and regeneration. All we have to do is know that they prayed a prayer, and asked Jesus into their heart.
The problem with this strategy is that those things simply aren’t in the Bible!
The Bible never says that you have to pray a certain prayer to be saved. The Bible never says anything about “asking Jesus into our heart” in order to be saved, yet we want to use that with children, and tell them that’s all they need to do to be saved!? What child DOESN’T want Jesus to be in their heart? If we’ve told them Jesus is loving and good, of course they’ll want Jesus in their heart, but that doesn’t mean they have any awareness of their own sinfulness and need to trust in Christ and repent.
Likewise, the Bible doesn’t say anything about the need to raise a hand, walk an aisle, get baptized, etc., in order to be saved. Biblically, assurance of salvation is not based on any of these external symbols. Our response to the Gospel is simply faith & repentance, and our assurance of salvation is based on how we answer two simple questions:
- Whom are we trusting right now for our salvation? Are we trusting in self to be saved (what I do), or trusting solely in what Jesus has accomplished to save us?
- Is their evidence of change, of new life in Christ, and of genuine faith and repentance of sin?
So, how can you tell if your child is really saved? According to these two questions, a child who has genuinely trusted in Christ for salvation, will continue to trust in Christ for salvation. If they are genuinely trusting in Jesus’ finished work on the Cross as their only hope for salvation, then they will continue to do so for the rest of their lives.
Likewise, a child who has received new life in Christ will (over time) give evidence of this new life. Granted, this is difficult to discern in a child. It’s not as if they were a murderous thief when they were 5, and now we see this colossal change in their life. Nevertheless, over time, you will begin to see “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). They will begin to show a new and growing affection for God. They will become more interested in reading their Bible and spending more time in private prayer. They will become increasingly aware of (and convicted of) their own sins. They will have a growing concern for their own personal holiness. These are things that parents will begin to see over time. It may not be evident right away, but “time will tell”.
So, when our child comes to us and says, “Mom, Dad, I am trusting in Christ for my salvation…I’ve repented of my sins….and I think I’m saved now!” – How are we to respond?
We have 3 choices:
1. We can rush to give them assurance of their salvation. We’ve discussed (above) the dangers in this approach.
2. We can be a “spiritual wet blanket” We can say, “No son, you didn’t do that. Your mother and I still see too much of your sin nature in you….and we seriously doubt that you are genuine in your faith & repentance….we don’t think you are regenerated in Christ….and so therefore, we conclude that you are self-deceived about your salvation…sorry, you’re not a real Christian yet”.
NO….DON’T DO THAT!! Although in reality those things may be true of our child, we don’t want to squelch the work of the Holy Spirit on their heart. We want to stimulate that work, and encourage them to keep moving toward God.
3. We can encourage them.
“Great son! That’s awesome! You keep on trusting in Christ and repenting of your sins. That’s just what God wants you to do. More than anything, we want to know that God has really changed your life….and we can only know that if you keep on trusting and repenting, and acting like a real follower of Christ. This will show that you have a new heart…and that God has truly changed you….so keep trusting and repenting, and Mom and I will be watching and praying…and as questions come up, we’ll talk about them”.
You want to be encouraging and positive and sincere.
What’s the danger in NOT giving them a bunch of assurance right away? Are we afraid that they will walk away from the faith if they don’t get some assurance real quick? Listen, if they walk away from the faith it’s because their response (whatever it was) wasn’t genuine and wasn’t real……and friends, if that happens….you don’t want them walking around 20 years later with FALSE ASSURANCE (“Oh, I’m good, b/c my parents said I was saved when I was 6”). NO…..you want them to remember, “Mom and Dad said that if my response to the Gospel was real…I’d keep on trusting in Christ, and living a life that gave evidence of genuine repentance….well, I’m not doing that….and so I know I’m not saved…and I desperately need the Gospel!”
May God grant you wisdom as you bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord….and may He give you discernment as you shepherd his/her soul.