Matt and I were shopping at a local home improvement store and had been chatting with a woman about lamps, home decor, and painting. Randomly, I turned to spiritual things, as I typically do- hoping to discern if this complete stranger knows Christ as Savior or has a church to attend. She confirmed that she attended at a church nearby and the conversation shifted to pleasantries of our shared faith and hope…until that is, we discussed the faith of our children and leading them to salvation. I testified that I had received Christ as Savior at the age of four and she rolled her eyes.
You read it correctly. She rolled her eyes- as if to cast doubt that a four- year- old could possibly understand enough about salvation to “do it” correctly.
Ordinarily, I could just dismiss it as an isolated, unrelated reaction, but I have actually encountered Christians with an ideology surrounding salvation that emphasizes more of what is said or not said, how behavior changes after a profession of belief, or that until people can fully grasp their depravity and need for Christ, they can’t fully accept his gift of salvation. Therefore, lots of people complicate what, according to Scripture, is simple enough, straightforward enough, that even a child can do it!
This is an important discussion to have as many of YOU have young children or grandchildren and you too may wonder, when can they receive Christ as Savior and it be “real?” When is it genuine? When does it “count”?
These are valid questions. However, I think if we have the correct understanding of salvation, we can answer these questions rather quickly, settling the matter in our minds and reassuring even the youngest believers.
Paul told Timothy,
“But continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim 3:14-17
This passage tells us 3 important things:
- The foundation of a young child’s faith begins with trusted people in their life, teaching and modeling a life of faith
- Exposure to / teaching God’s word in early childhood (infancy) makes them wise for salvation as they believe (place their trust) in Christ Jesus.
- All Scripture is useful in this as we grow into adulthood and become equipped for every good work.
So what are the fundamental elements of salvation for our youngest children?
1. Recognition of Christ, the Son of God:
If you celebrate Christmas and Easter from a Christian tradition, you have probably explained that the birth of Jesus was special because He was the Son of God- that is the reason for the celestial star, why the shepherds, angels, and wise men worshipped Him, and why we celebrate that event. Easter builds on this recognition when we explain that His death was for us, even though He was the perfect, spotless sacrifice. Those seeds of truth are sown into the soft, fertile soil of children’s hearts with hope and expectation that they will grow into strong productive plants.
A young child has little trouble believing in the story of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection- those beliefs are challenged much later, which we will get to in my next post. But belief in a child’s heart can come rather early, especially for the child immersed in a Christ-centered home or gospel-driven church body that teaches and models these truths.
2. Recognition of their Sin:
We teach our children not to lie, take things that don’t belong to them, and that mistreating or hating others is wrong. They are wrong because they are sinful behaviors, and convincing a child he has sinned is not difficult. We learn in Rom 3:23 that everyone has sinned, missed the mark, and fallen short of God’s perfect standard. A child can easily accept this. It’s adults that justify these behaviors and pridefully resist acknowledging that they are wrong.
3. Confession of Faith (Belief):
Declaring that we believe that Jesus, God’s own Son died for our sins, and was buried and raised again on the third day is enough. Paul wrote to the believers in Rome that salvation comes from believing in your heart and confessing with your mouth. Romans 10:9-10. Simple enough, right?
You may say but what about “repentance?” Do we not have to “repent” of our sins as well?
Yes, we must repent, or turn from our sins, but that is not something we do only once. As the battle between our flesh and the Holy Spirit is waged continually, Gal 5:17 even into spiritual “adulthood,” we may choose to obey the flesh and commit sin- at which point, the Spirit convicts us of that sin and we repent, confessing our wrong and turn back to obedience to Christ.
We may repent many times in life as we continue to grow and mature in our faith, and it is this process that in a way, secures our salvation as Paul wrote, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation.…” 2 Cor 7:10.
Sure, when a child receives Christ at an early age, there may be times when he or she doubts that she has said the prayer “correctly,” or becomes concerned that they have “lost” salvation due to losing battles with sin (“If I am really saved, why do I still lie, cheat, or steal?) Like many other young converts, I “asked Jesus into my heart” countless times throughout my young childhood and as a teenager had recommitment of my faith after attending church summer camps. This was not evidence of a lack of faith, or salvation, but a confirmation of it! I was becoming aware of the ongoing battle in my flesh against the Holy Spirit. It was Godly sorrow that brought me to repentance and further confirmed my salvation!
As I grew and matured, confidence in my security took root in my life and I no longer questioned my salvation. Passages assuring me of God’s promise to never leave us or forsake us, (Heb 13:5) and to complete that which HE begins in us, (Phil 1:6) eventually brought me confidence. I understood that He would always remain in me and that I simply need to remain (keep in step) in Him (John 15:4).
So was I actually saved as a preschooler? I truly believe it was that first moment at age four, one of my earliest memories, when I realized that my little lies were a type of sin that could land me in the torments of hell forever. I walked forward at the invitation and placed my trust in Christ as my Savior. I can honestly say I do not remember a day without God in my life and I now see His hand in my life, guiding, directing, protecting and growing me in my faith.
That is what I want for my children. That is what I want for yours too!
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child, will never enter it.” Luke 18:16-17
In my next post, I will share the role WE play in nurturing and protecting these little seeds of faith!