The following is adapted from a short sermon I gave at a child-dedication service on Mother’s Day.
Many think that there is a recipe to get your children into the Kingdom of God. “Maybe if I just protect them enough from the world they will be good,” some may reason. The problem is that corruption comes from within, not without. Internal corruption can be exacerbated by external corruption, but the problem still lays within. Or, “If I just do this and that, they will surely fear God,” others assume. Salvation is gift of God, and He decides who receives the gift, not us. There is no magic formula to turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh.
That being said, God uses means.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10:14).
In what follows, I will list some means that we should all be utilizing for the end of seeing our children saved. We need to learn how to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our children.
One of the most important things you can do for your children is pray for them and pray that God gives you wisdom daily to raise them and disciple them. George Offor, editor of John Bunyan’s works, said,
A Christian parent has peculiar and solemn duties to perform…. This ought to lead him perpetually to seek wisdom from his heavenly Father.1
You should pray for your children every morning, first thing when you have a quiet time with God. Job rose every morning to intercede for his children:
His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offering according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually (Job 1:4—5).
Job’s intercessory petitions to God on behalf of his children are exemplary. Parents, and fathers especially, should rise in the morning to intercede for their children. Before they wake up, you should pray for them. You should also pray with your spouse regularly for your children, as well as during daily times of family worship. A convenient time for family worship is after supper while the family is still at the table. There should be regular prayer for the children.
You should pray for their conversion, that they are spared the pain and reproach that comes by rebellion, that they will be full of wisdom, that they will marry well, not be divorced, and raise many godly children. One of the most important things you can do is pray regularly for your children.
Many children have grown up in Christian homes and not learned the message of the cross. They do not know why Christ died. It should not surprise us that many children leave the faith upon leaving the home. The reason is often that their parents did not take the time to teach them about the cross, or, if they did teach them about the cross, they did not teach them about the cross often. For things to stick we need hear them often.
If you have your children under your care for more than 18 years, that means they are in your home for at least 6,670 days. By the time they leave your home, they should have heard the message of the cross thousands upon thousands of times.
What is the message of the cross? J.I. Packer summarizes that message:
… Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgment for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption, and glory.2
John Bunyan also explains:
Man should have been pierced with the spear of God’s wrath; but, to prevent that, Jesus was pierced both by God and men. Man should have been rejected of God and angels; but, to prevent that, Jesus was forsaken of God, and denied, hated, and rejected of men.3
The message of the cross is that Jesus suffered on behalf of sinners. In our place, He died. Jesus said he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The Apostle Paul said, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him Crucified” (1 Corinthinans 2:2), and, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scripture” (1 Corinthians 13:3—4). He died to propitiate God’s wrath, and He achieved that perfectly. He purchased a complete salvation. Do your children know the message of the cross?
Do they know how to receive this message of the cross? It is very important to teach them about the cross, and it also important to teach them how Christ’s work on the cross is applied to them. That is justification by faith.
We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:16).
We do not earn the salvation by our good works. We believe, and then the work of Christ is applied to us. A glass of cold water can quench our thirst, but the water needs to enter our mouths. Believing is how the message of Christ quenches our dry hearts. A chair might provide rest for our tired legs, but we need to trust that the chair will support us and then sit in it. Faith is the act of resting in Christ as one rests in a chair. We trust Him to hold us, and we rest in His complete work. Children need to learn how the work of Christ can apply to them, how to be justified before God. Justification is by faith alone.
Conversion and Assurance of Salvation
Assurance of salvation is the confidence that we are indeed justified by faith. Assurance comes by looking to Christ for hope and examining the fruit that we have borne in our lives. We need to teach this to our children.
We need to teach our children that, yes, justification is by faith alone, but that justifying faith never comes without the fruit of righteousness. The second birth causes us to believe in the Son of God by faith, and it changes our desires godward. Charles Spurgeon said,
I will not believe in that faith which has no repentance with it, any more than I would believe in that repentance which left a man without faith in Jesus.4
True conversion entails faith in Christ and a changed life. Jesus taught, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
We need to encourage our children to examine themselves for this. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). A child might be doubting whether he is saved. We should never dismiss that doubt with an airy assurance because we desire to remove the trial. Instead, we must tell the children to examine themselves. The momma bear might want to shield them from this, but instead the parents’ job is to point them to Scripture. Let the children carry their load in this. Do you have faith in Christ? Is His work on the cross your hope, your only hope? Is there evidence of conversion in your life? Are you bringing forth the fruit of repentance? Let the children sort these things out. We can point them to Scripture, but ultimately assurance must be settled in their hearts between them and God. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Children need to examine themselves in order to find assurance of salvation for themselves.
I do believe firmly in conversion, and I also believe in examining oneself to discern whether one is truly converted. But I do not believe we need to spend time looking for an actual conversion experience. We are to look to Jesus and examine for fruit, not look for an experience and examine whether we truly had one. Some converts have experiences, some don’t. But all converts look to Jesus and bring forth the fruit of righteousness.
Ruth Graham, the wife of Billy Graham, is reported to have once said, “I do not know when the sun rose, but I do know that it is shinning.” That was in reference to her own conversion. She could not trace her conversion back to a specific experience. She could not remember a time when she was unconverted. But she did know she was converted because she believed in Jesus.
In a previous generation, churches told children to ask Jesus into their hearts or fill their donut-shaped holes in their hearts with Jesus. That type of talk started in the mid-twentieth century, and it was designed to provoke an actual experience on the easiest terms possible. The children would recite a prayer, and then they could always look back to that day and memory. It’s a cute way of talking, but the Bible knows no such language. I think it is dangerous because it renders salvation mechanical. “Just say these words, and you will be saved” sounds like a magic chant to free us from a spell. The Bible says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” A child might ask whether he has believed, and that is what might trigger someone to lead the child in reciting a few words. Really, we should call the child to examine himself. Do you believe in Christ? Have you produced fruit?
Martin Lloyd-Jones observed,
… a gospel which merely says, “Come to Jesus”, and offers Him as a Friend, and offers a marvellous new life, without convicting of sin, is not New Testament evangelism.5
The language of the Bible is “repent,” “put your faith in Jesus Christ for the salvation of your souls,” and, “be converted.”
I believe we put an unnecessary obstacle between our children and the Kingdom if we push them for a conversion experience. What if they have already been converted, but cannot remember an experience? What if they are unconverted, but can remember an experience? The experience itself becomes the object of faith in place of Jesus. At best, that is confusing. At worst, it creates false converts. We should exhort children to trust in Christ regularly, even as we should exhort ourselves and each other to trust in Christ. We can offer gentle reminders to trust in Christ at supper time or before bed or when they feel conviction for sin. Throughout the day, we should remind them of the comfort that comes by trusting in Jesus Christ.
We need to be careful to often communicate the Gospel message to our children, and we need to be careful how we communicate to the children. We need to do so prayerfully. We must point them to the cross, tell them how to apply the cross, teach on the necessity of true conversion, and avoid confusing them with talk of experiences. Then, having done our part, we commend them to the sovereign care of the Triune God.
- George Offor, in The Works of John Bunyan, vol. 2, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 536.
- J. I. Packer, “What Did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution,” Tyndale Bulletin 25 (1974): 25.
- John Bunyan, “Saved by Grace,” in The Works of John Bunyan, vol. 1, Experimental, Doctrinal, and Practical, ed. George Offor (Carlisle PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 345
- Charles H. Spurgeon, cited in Iain Murray, The Old Evangelicalism (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 60—61.
- Martin Lloyd-Jones, cited in Murray, 69.