How do I know my child is saved? What if my child says she wants to be baptized? My child walked down an aisle at a summer camp and said he prayed to Jesus; what do I do?
As Christians, we never want our children to experience sin or follow in our sinful footsteps. So, we pray, we teach, we model, we love and we present the gospel to them. But what do we do when little Sue says she prayed to Jesus?
What tends to take place in our excitement is we run to tell everyone the good news. Then we measure our child’s salvation in two unhealthy and even damning ways. We measure their memory and their behavior. We cross our fingers when we ask them to repeat scripture or catechisms and judge how they treat their siblings or friends. Why is this so reckless as parents who desire for their kids to walk with Jesus? As parents we need to go deeper, especially if our children have experienced a Christian culture their whole lives. Good deeds do not mean a changed heart.
We must stop, pray, and then ask our child what happened and what they mean when they say they prayed to Jesus. We forget discipleship is a lifelong journey. It is more important to know WHY someone does something than to monitor what he or she is doing. God says he looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7, Luke 16:15). God is going after and changing our whole being; our affections! Salvation is what God offers in Christ’s life, death and resurrection- to be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The gospel is not just a theological concept to be memorized. The gospel should change what we believe, who we are and how we live!
No matter if your child gets all the answers right or can’t sit still for more than two minutes, you have to fight for the ‘WHY’. The ‘why' addresses the heart! What do they love more than anything? What do they value so much that they get mad if you take it away from them? What wants do they have that cause them to become angry if they don’t get them? What are they looking to for satisfaction, happiness or provision? These are not softball questions for your kids but they, like Jacob, have to wrestle with God!
I’ve recently been given several opportunities to walk other parents through considering where their child is spiritually. These kids are not walking down an isle or professing Christ in a family worship setting. I’m reminding myself of these simple truths and I hope you can incorporate them in your discipleship mindset of your kids.
1. Make sure your child has the essential foundation for the Christian faith. The Christian faith is not subjective; there are things one must believe. I have heard children and young adults say “I went down the aisle and asked Jesus into my heart”, but in asking just a few questions, I realized they could not define who Jesus is, what sin is, or what they meant by using the word ‘heart’ in the most basic sense. The church has a knack for developing universally used phrases and not explaining them. The phrase, “ask Jesus into your heart,” is by and large one of the most common unexplained phrases. I won’t go on a rant here, but I will say that we as a church should do a better job of biblically calling people to repentance and faith in our great God and King. The basics of belief would include things such as God being the creator of all things, the Trinity, the effects of Adam’s sin, the Law of God, the virgin birth, the perfect life, the death, the resurrection, and the ascension of Jesus for the glory of God and forgiveness of sins, the sending of the Holy Spirit, and the return of Christ. Paul lays out a clear picture of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:2-4. If you’re struggling for a place to start, start there!
2. Ask clarifying questions! PLEASE! Sometimes we give our kids way too much credit. Kids have the natural ability to absorb content which means they can repeat back those universal church words or phrases they pick up along the way. Judah loves to tell me things he hears about Jesus or the Bible and one of the first things I do after thanking him for sharing is asking what he means by that. There are times when he heard something, and it sounds great, but he has no idea what that means. We do this as adults too. If I were to ask you “what is the gospel?” or “explain to the best of your understanding ‘the Trinity’”, most of us would struggle to articulate.
3. Teach them repentance and faith. Repentance and faith move our hearts! Repentance is taking place when children cry not because they got caught or because they have to get a spanking but, rather, because they have sinned against their God. When children are asking you questions about God at unprovoked, random times in the day, they are exercising their faith.
4. Expect them to believe what you believe and push their minds to think outside of the world in which they have been graciously placed. One night during family worship I told Judah that many people believe humans were born from old animals (apes). Judah laughed, but I was straight-faced. I said, “Judah more people believe that then they believe in God. They laugh at mommy and daddy. They think we are silly.” Judah hears the truth all the time, so I have to stretch his mind. I want him to be in the real world, not a Christian bubble. I want him to remember my earnest desire for him to know what he believes by challenging his beliefs with me!
5. Ask for your community to help. If you feel your child desires to submit his life to Christ, then he’s coming into a forever family. Your Group or Missional Community is a great place to ask questions. These can be the people who walk with you and your child as you both grow in faith and repentance.
So when it comes to your child’s profession let’s sum it up:
• Children who are professing Christ must be able to share or define (even in the basic sense) what they believe about God, sin, Jesus’ work on the cross to forgive their sin, and what this means for their lives (how God is changing their belief/heart).
• Children who are professing Christ should be heart-broken over sin and thankful for God’s great grace. They should be concerned as much if not more with WHY they are doing something then what they are doing.
• Children who are professing Christ should desire to follow God – not forced to spend time with God.
• We must pray for God to call our children to repentance and faith as we display and declare the gospel to them.
• We have to be willing to tell our children what the world believes and explain why Jesus is truer and better than any other belief!
• We have to ask really good questions. Do not just take a few catechism questions and answers and call it a day. Dig deep with your child as you have ongoing conversations!
• We have to be pursuing their hearts!
• As parents, we should invite our Christian brothers and sisters into our children’s response to Christ and future life in him. When we (you) are baptized we are expressing our belief of forgiveness of sin bought by Christ and are brought into a HUGE faith family (read The Family and The Church). Parent, you are not alone! The church has been given to you and you have been given to the church all for the glory of God and the growing of his kingdom!
If your child is asking about her next step with Jesus, the first step is to continue to disciple them and help them understand what that means. Be excited for your child, yes, but walk him/her through each word and help him/her grasp the power and presence of God! If you feel your child has made a quick or peer-pressured decision, do not rebuke them. This is a great time to love them and rejoice that (s)he is taking steps towards some form of godliness. As a spiritual family do not neglect the spiritual gifts of others to help share the good news of Jesus with your child. Involve people that love Jesus, love the Church, and love you to be a second voice in their life. When you see your child desire God take them to the next step: baptism!
One last thing, you are not a bad parent if you asked your child to wait a few weeks to get to know what took place in their heart. If you are a Christian, your identity is not a “bad parent.” Your identity is a son or daughter of God. Like I just mentioned, be excited for your child, but love him/her well. Press into his/her words. It is OK. He/She will appreciate the time and care you gave them when they are older.