I have read almost everything I can get my hands on concerning children and conversion and without a doubt there is a wide range of opinions and thoughts. John MacArthur gives some insight into the battle many parents find themselves in, “On one hand, there’s the danger of leading children to think they are saved when they are not. On the other, there’s the risk of discouraging children who express a genuine desire to follow Christ.”
Alvin Reid also writes, “Further, increasing numbers of children being baptized at earlier ages has caused some to be alarmed at the rate at which we are baptizing children. The issue raises genuine concerns. This is reflected in the extremes that exist on this subject. On the one hand are those who question the possibility of evangelizing children. An example of one who looked suspiciously at this issue is Sam Southard in his book, Pastoral Evangelism. Relying heavily on the findings of both psychologists and theologians, Southard concluded that conversion requires a responsible, repentant attitude that is not possible until adolescence or the early teenage years. On the other hand, some groups seek to evangelize children at a very early age. Roy Fish noted that a former head of the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) wrote that children should be evangelized from three to five years of age. The idea of a three-year-old understanding even the simplest implications of the gospel is extremely problematic, and this seems to me to be very close to infant baptism. And yet, at the other pole, there is too much reliance on psychology to the neglect of the Spirit. Hear Fish at this point: “We ought not to pay a great deal of attention to secular psychologists who have no knowledge of the work of the Holy Spirit in Christian conversion. Conversion or regeneration is a miracle which defies explanation on a psychological basis. To declare that the Holy Spirit cannot convict children of sin, cannot reveal Christ savingly to them, and cannot work the miracle of regeneration in them is a prerogative no psychologist or theologian ought to assume.” -Reid, A. L. (1998). Introduction to evangelism (245–246). Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman.
Over the last year I have found myself wrestling with this very thing as my oldest son, Isaac (7), began talking about “being saved”. Through the experience my wife and I have learned a lot about God’s grace and transformation. Over the next few weeks I will do a multiple part series on “Children and Conversion”.
Be Careful about Oversimplifying the Gospel
During the last 13 years of my ministry, I have counseled far too many people who “thought” they were saved only to be genuinely converted later in life. We have for far too long, rushed children to make decisions with little understanding or knowledge of the Gospel. Paul writes,
Romans 1:16 (ESV) 16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek”.
It is only through the Gospel message of Jesus Christ that someone is saved. Mark Dever writes that the Gospel is the good news that:
- The one and only God who is holy made us in his image to know him (Gen. 1:26-28).
- But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him (Gen. 3; Rom. 3:23).
- In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn from their sin and trust in him (John 1:14; Heb. 7:26; Rom. 3:21-26, 5:12-21).
- He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted (Acts 2:24, Rom. 4:25).
- He now calls us to repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness (Acts 17:30, John 1:12). If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God (John 3:16).
- He is gathering one new people to himself among all those who submit to Christ as Lord (Matt. 16:15-19; Eph. 2:11-19).
We must not oversimplify the Gospel in our effort to evangelize children. When we are not careful we manipulate a child into making a decision instead of patiently looking for the evidence of conversion. Only through a biblical understanding of the gospel can sinful people to be reconciled to a holy God. Do I believe God can save children, certainly. Do they have to explain justification, propitiation, and sanctification, absolutely not. We are saved by “grace through faith”. Through faithfully proclaiming the Gospel to our children, we submit to the authority and power of God’s Word in salvation and trust God to do the saving.
more to come later….here are some practical ways to live the Gospel out in front of your children.
1. Don’t make sharing the Gospel “canned” or “calendared”.
Colossians 1:27 (ESV) 27 “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”.
If we have been converted, we have the indwelling presence of Christ. We should be living and sharing the Gospel message as we walk through life in front of our children. I cannot stress this point enough, we have viewed becoming a “Christian” with making a “decision”, this leads to a works based idea of salvation. Salvation is regeneration brought on by the work of God through repentance and faith. Conversion signifies you have been converted from your old life to your new life in Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Live out the fact that you have been converted by the Gospel and let your children see Christ in you. This will be far more powerful than “canned” presentations that lead to decisions.
2. Start teaching the Gospel from Genesis.
I have found that one of the greatest ways to begin teaching your children about God and pointing them to the Gospel is starting in Genesis. I cannot count the number of great conversations and teaching times that were a result of conversation that was from the book of Genesis and the story of creation. Answers in Genesis contains a great article on the Gospel in Genesis:
a. Genesis shows God as Creator of all things, which bring Him glory.
With the very first verse, the book of Genesis proclaims that the eternal God created the heavens and earth in the beginning of time (Genesis 1:1). This historical account from God cannot mesh with the opinion of evolutionists, who give glory to mindless chance for the universe and everything in it.
Creation gives irrefutable evidence of the Creator, leaving man responsible to glorify God (Romans 1:18–23):
Sinful man is “. . . without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. . . . who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 1:20–23, 25).
b. Genesis shows sinful man as fallen short of God’s glory.
Genesis explains the origin of sin. Although created in God’s image and capable of uniquely bringing Him glory, Adam and Eve rebelled against their Creator. Eve succumbed to the serpent’s temptation, and Adam heeded the voice of his wife instead of God’s voice (Genesis 3:17). Their sin brought death and suffering into the world (Romans 5:12; 8:22).
Affirming Genesis, the New Testament explains that sin and death came into the world through one man, Adam (Romans 5:12–21; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 45–49). Adam’s sin nature spread to all his descendents: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
c. Genesis shows the promised Seed who would bring God glory.
God could have justly carried out the sentence of death on Adam and Eve immediately after their sin. Yet in the first Messianic prophecy, God promised that the Seed of the woman would conquer the serpent Satan (Genesis 3:15). Later, we discover that the Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled this promise.
God’s glory—in creating all things, separating Himself from sinful man, and extending peace through the Savior—is founded on Genesis. Therefore, Genesis matters!
The same Creator God who spoke light into existence also shines the saving light of Christ into dark hearts: “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
When sinful man responds in faith and repentance to the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, this glorifies God (Ephesians 1:3–14; 2:1–10). May we glorify the God of creation and salvation by trusting the Bible and the Word that became flesh (John 1:14).
Testifying To God’s Grace,