EVANGELIZING OUR CHILDREN
All parents who love the Lord have a burden that the children God blesses them with also come to know that same love. We struggle with leading our inquiring children into a profession of faith at a young age, fearing that when they are older they might not continue in that profession. We have seen this work out all too often. It has affected us.
We understand that God is sovereign in the salvation of sinners. He not only is able to overpower the most stubborn, He also is the One who chooses upon whom and when to exercise that power. Our concern is to know when that power is being exercised in the lives of our children. Is it when they first show an interest in Jesus Christ? Is it when they first express great fear of the consequences of sin – hell? Is it when they have demonstrated a desire for the Bible and for hearing the preaching? Just when is it that we can be assured that our children are responding to the genuine work of the Spirit in their lives? When do we really accept their profession of faith as a genuine work of God?
This is a burden shared by all parents who possess an understanding of God's sovereign grace, yet do not embrace the teaching that our children are guaranteed a place in the Kingdom because they are children of believing parents. Often children of "Calvinistic" parents press their children very little, if at all, with the claims of Christ on their lives out of fear of manufacturing a "false" profession. It is a real concern. A legitimate possibility. Yet Jesus did say, "suffer the little children to come unto me." We certainly don't want to say or do anything that would dissuade our children from coming to Jesus Christ. Our desire is that they would come to Him because of what they see in HIM, not because of the advantage they think they might get from Him. This is true for adults as well.
Confusion is probably a good word to describe the thinking of many children of our children. Sometimes there is an early profession of faith and baptism that is questioned by parents who see little fruit in their child. The child still believes he is saved, but the parents are suspect. God does save children. If a child possesses the spirit of Christ and the parents do also, there will be some level of fellowship in the gospel between the parties.
Of course, it is difficult to know for sure with our children, especially with those children who are very submissive and desiring to be in good favor with Dad and Mom. That is not a bad thing for a child. We long for that. But there is a difference between a conforming child and one that has seen that even his own righteousnesses are as filthy rags. Jesus Christ is really only a historical figure that is known to them by way of education until they come to see themselves as sinners - not just in the "bad" things they do, but even in their attempts at "good" things. Everything about us is tainted by our sinful nature, so that God looks upon us and sees "no good thing."
As our children see this (really see this), they are then affected to seek salvation in Jesus Christ by trusting only in Him - not their own performance (prayer, church going, obedience to parents, reading the Bible, etc.). It will no longer be, "I must do good so that Daddy and Mommy (and preacher) will believe I am saved..." Their liberated heart will be rejoicing in Christ and there will be clear evidence that the inward working of their thinking and affection has been changed by the invasion of the Spirit, not the manipulation of confusing emotions.
Where the trouble lies for us is that we often communicate to our children and young people that they are "rotten to the core" and that "there is nothing good in you" and that "everything you do and touch is tainted", etc.. All of that is true! Yet we fail to emphasize to them that they are still responsible to obey God and to live a morally correct life. They cannot excuse themselves by saying that they are corrupt anyway, so they might as well live it out. In fact, we need to emphasize to them that the moral life of an unbeliever is a life that is blessed above the immoral life of an unbeliever. What they need to know is that living a moral life will never gain them entrance into the presence of our thrice holy God.
So then, with the Apostle Paul, they must come to see that even those righteous and moral things that they have and will do are of no value in the end apart from Jesus Christ. We must press them to see that apart from Jesus Christ there is no righteousness before God (Philippians 3:1-10; Romans 3:19-31).
The struggle for Christian families is the tension between raising Pharisees and raising "hellions". The former group looks good on the outside, but inwardly are full of dead men's bones. The latter group looks rotten on the outside as their conduct matches what is on the inside. The former is easier to deal with as parents; the latter causes much grief. God nowhere encourages the acting out of the dead men's bones. In fact, Jesus said, "do as they say, but not as they do." God warns "sons" against bringing grief and shame to parents (Proverbs). This is where much of the tension lies in parenting.
My encouragement is to speak the whole truth to your child. If he is afraid of going to hell - good! He ought to be! I don't know that any godly parent has not heard such fear expressed from their child at some point (usually by 8 or 9 years old in our case). Don't discourage your child from coming to Christ. Yet, do not pronounce him saved.
There are several children of families in our church right now who have expressed that they believe they are saved. I have told them something like, "follow what He is saying to you as you read His word. If you are one of His sheep, you will hear His voice as you read the Scriptures. Let's make sure that your heart is a new heart, like the good soil that Jesus talked about that brings forth fruit." We know that there are 4 soils, only one of which bears fruit. We know that our children may fit two of the soils which represent hearers of the word that respond immediately, but in time fall away. I think we need to let them know about these possibilities so that they might examine their hearts to consider what kind of soil they are.
In the end of the matter, we cannot save our children. I ask my children regularly, "why don't you believe? Why do you turn away from the call of the gospel to repent and believe?" They may be able to give a theological answer, but I want them to consider this command of God to which they are being rebellious. I do not want my children growing up passing their unbelief off upon the sovereignty of God and thereby finding some comfort in their sinful choices. After all is said and done, they are responsible before God to take Him at His word and respond. We must press them with this responsibility.
But we must also back off and wait upon the Spirit of God to do what we know He alone can and must do. Our burdened child will have peace and joy when the Spirit of the living God awakens him to the worth and beauty of Jesus Christ. One of the sure ways to know that our child is saved is by the peace, joy and righteousness that is produced in his life. This is the kingdom of God (Rom. 14:17).
I’m sure this article doesn’t answer all the questions in your mind. If you have additional concerns, please feel free to write me (firstname.lastname@example.org)
.A booklet written by Dennis Gundersen on this issue might also help you. If you write me I can get the information to you to order that booklet. In the mean time continue to press your child toward a serious consideration of the worthiness of God to be worshipped above everything else and the awfulness of sin that separates us from that worship. Continue to let him know that Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, is the only one who can take away the sin that keeps him from glorifying God and really finding joy in Him.
Kyle White, Pastor