Uncultured Dad Q&A – How do you know if your young child is ready for salvation? What to ask? How to ask?
Without reading too much into the meaning and intent of this question, I would propose the answer is clear in the Bible. As we say in the Army, the bottom line up front is: as soon as a child is conceived, they are ready for salvation.
That might sound strange and deserving of an explanation. But God’s Word is clear:
- all people are sinners from their conception onward
- all sinners need salvation
- children are ready for because of their great need for salvation
- God gives salvation as a gift to be received through faith
Let’s consider those propositions in more detail:
All People Are Sinners from Their Conception Onward
Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” King David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned those words after his repentance over his sin with Bathsheba. While these words are poetic, David is not using some metaphor or hyperbole to address his sinful state. No, he is being brutally honest about the sinful nature he inherited in his own conception and that he was born into in this world. Without God’s miraculous intervention and gift of salvation, David’s natural state from conception would have condemned him to eternal death. From the moment of his conception, David was in need of salvation.
What David describes is not simply his own state – he describes is the state of every human being ever conceived through human reproductive acts. All people, regardless of place, time, lineage —all people are conceived with the stain of sin implanted in them. Only One human being was an exception to that: the One conceived by the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ. All people, including infants and young children, because of this stain of sin need salvation from it.
All Sinners Need Salvation
The Apostle Paul, in Romans 3, quotes Psalm 14 and 53, saying, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12, ESV). Later, in that same chapter, Paul writes, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22–23, ESV).
“All” and “none” are absolute for humanity. Paul means everyone – to include children. All people need salvation from their unrighteousness- from their being born out of right relationship with God and from their failure to achieve a right relationship with God. All people need salvation from their sins – that which causes them to fall short of the glory of God.
Paul also writes in Ephesians 2:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Paul connects the sin that infects all mankind to being children of wrath. All of mankind was born with that corrupted human nature. That is the curse that Adam by his sin gave to the rest of humanity. (Paul reflects on that in Romans 5:12.) Thus, all of mankind – young and old alike – have that corrupted human nature and are deserving of God’s Wrath. All need salvation from this corrupt nature and the punishment it deserves.
There are numerous other places in the Bible that highlight mankind’s total depravity and loss of righteousness (original sin). That original sin, that loss of right relationship and standing with God, affects all people even today. (It still even affects Christians, but that is a different topic.) Mankind, anyone ever conceived in the womb, needs salvation from this depravity and sin.
Children are Ready for Salvation Because of Their Great Need
To put all this into more practical terms, do babies die? Yes. Why? Because of sin – the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) – the payment for sin is death; the person who sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). Therefore, children, even infants, need a Savior who conquers death. Do infants and toddlers sin? Yes, they quite frequently disobey their parents, quite frequently harm others (love your neighbor as yourself). Therefore, they need a Savior to atone for that sin. Do children follow perfectly God’s Law – to love Him with all their heart and to love their neighbors as themselves? No, in fact, because of that original sin, that total depravity – they cannot follow God’s Law perfectly. They need a Savior to perform God’s Law perfectly on their behalf. All people, including children, need saving from these failures and consequences. Therefore, your young child is always ready for salvation because your young child needs salvation.
One might raise a question: how God can hold children accountable for their sin? How can God condemn young children? The answer is simple: God is God, we are not. Those are not the most comforting words about God, but they are true. That might strike against many of our sentiments, but that does not change that God does things His Way. God is God, He has that right to do things His way, whether we like it or not. We are His creatures; He is the Creator. Paul makes this clear in Romans 9:
But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
If God consigned us all to sin that He might have mercy on us all – that is His choice. If He holds all accountable for sin -that is His choice. If He gives His Son to pay for all sin and give salvation through faith in His Son alone – that is His choice. Who are we to argue with God?
Salvation from sin, death, and hell is the greatest need that a child has; it is the greatest need any person has. If we have the means to meet that need, why would we withhold it from them? The wonderful thing is – God has given those means to us for them: His Word of Promise – the Gospel.
God Gives Salvation as a Gift to be Received through Faith
So how can children be saved? The same way everyone else is saved: faith alone in Jesus Christ. But again, one might raise a question – how can children have faith? Easy – children trust the promises God has given to them.
Faith that saves is not something complicated – it is simply trust. As the author of the letter to the Hebrews says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV). Faith is trusting what God has said and what He has accomplished in history through Jesus Christ. Faith is simply the conviction that what God has said is true. Faith is assurance that what Jesus did, He did for me. Can children trust that promise? Absolutely. How does that happen? God gives them that faith.
Faith is a gift from God. Faith is something God works in a person (Ephesians 2:8-9). That faith God works in a person by the Holy Spirit is to bring them to trust in the promises God has made in Christ. Faith receives all that Christ has accomplished namely:
- Christ’s righteousness (right relationship with God)
- Christ’s perfect obedience to God’s Commandments
- Christ’s payment for sin
- Christ’s victory over death.
- Christ’s promise of Resurrection
Faith simply trusts, saying, “Christ has done all that for me.”
That understanding of faith is also why Jesus uses children as the example of faith:
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
(Mark 10:13-16, ESV)
Children trust implicitly. An infant trusts her mother while nursing. A toddler trusts his father to protect him. A young child trusts his parents to feed him, clothe him, teach him, etc. That is the charge to the disciples in these words from Jesus – trust Me like a little child trusts; trust My promises in the same way these children trust.
To support that notion of children having faith, of children trusting God’s promises, just review some of those noted in the Bible.
- John the Baptizer leaps in the womb of Elizabeth at the sound of Mary’s voice (Luke 1:41, 44) – trusting God was bringing a Savior through Mary.
- David speaks of his trusting God while a nursing infant (Psalm 22:9-10).
- Samuel as a boy ministered before the Lord (1 Samuel 2, 3).
- Timothy, Paul’s apprentice, had faith as a child – instilled in him by his mother Lois and grandmother, Eunice (2 Tim 1:5-6; 2 Tim 3:15).
Children, even infants, can have faith; children, even infants, are saved by faith alone.
Thus, faith is not, at its core, an intellectual ability or capacity or a set of emotions achieved at a certain age. Intellectual ability and capacity come into play to support faith, but those are not the foundational components to faith. Emotions and feelings are shaped by faith but they are not the grounds of faith. Faith is simply believing/trusting what God has said and done is true. Children, therefore, can have faith; children, therefore, can receive salvation. Perhaps an illustration for this could be helpful.
Faith is very much like communicating. Infants communicate as soon as they enter the world. As they grow into toddlers and young children, their communication skills also develop more clearly through physical actions and verbal utterances. Eventually they learn words, phrases, and sentences and they can express their ideas, understanding and emotions. They continue by learning proper grammar and increasing their vocabulary. At no point along that progression would we say a child doesn’t communicate or even can’t communicate (ask any mom who has had to wake up at 3 AM to tend to her newborn). Yet, we would make distinctions about that a child’s ability to communicate. The ability to communicate should be greater at age 8 than it was at age 2; greater still at age 16 than at age 8. So it is with faith.
A child (even in the womb) can have faith because of God’s giving it as a gift to that child through His Word – His promises. As the child grows, she will develop more capacities to express that faith – both in language and through habits. Thus, her faith, though limited and unrefined, is still faith that saves. Perhaps her faith is that which Jesus refers, “the faith the size of a mustard seed.” A child, therefore, is always ready for salvation.
WHAT ThEN IS OUR Responsibility AS Parents?
The concern of course is that children could trust the wrong things – they could learn to have faith in the wrong things. That should really be utmost in our minds as parents. What are we teaching them to trust? Worse, what is the world teaching them to trust? That is becoming an increasingly scary question to ask. But Jesus promises, “Take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The responsibility we have as parents then is to form our children to trust the right things. That means presenting God’s Word to them – God’s promises to them – that they would believe Him. If we give our children God’s living and active Word, His Word that will not return void – why would we doubt that He has worked/is working saving faith in them? If we are modeling lives of faith for our children, why would we doubt God is forming them to believe what we believe? (We do this in so many other areas unknowingly – such as following sports teams, hobbies, music, etc.). If faith is a gift from God, if faith depends on His sovereignty and election alone, why would we believe that He withholds from giving that faith to children? (God seems to give this faith explicitly to the young children of Israel through the covenant of circumcision.)
All that is to say, if you as a parent, you are hearing your child’s speaking of loving Jesus, of what Jesus has done for them – your child has faith. Your child trusts Jesus. Praise God that your child has heard the Word of God, that God has worked that miracle of faith in him or her, and that your child has believed what Jesus did for them. Praise God that through your Christian witness and life, your child has begun to follow in that path of faith. But that path of faith does not end there. Our responsibility to our children is to continue nurturing that faith within them. Here are a few practical tips for that;
Continuously Expose Them to God’s Word
Read them Bible stories on their levels. Teach them simple songs that are straight Bible texts. Teach them small memory verses, especially if they are set to music.
That also means that you need to set the example too. Read the Bible for yourself also; go to Bible Study; go to church where the Bible is read aloud. Children will pick up on your habits and will mimic them.
Continuously Pray for and with Them
Praying for your children is a lifelong task we have as parents. We pray for them not only that they have faith, but that God maintains that faith within them. Even when they are grown, we should continue praying for them. Pray for them to grow in wisdom and stature. There will never be a day in their lives that they do not need the grace of God.
Not simply pray for your children, also pray with them. Pray with them at home. Pray with them frequently. This goes hand in hand with forming them as disciples. Your children will see what you do and mimic that. Hearing prayers in church will be beneficial, but hearing prayers consistently from their parents will have a much greater impact.
Continuously Bring Your Child to Church
Attending Church services must be a priority. The gathering of believers is essential to the life of faith. (See Hebrews 10:24-26). Having that community is important – and that community is important for your children to see. So bring them to church. Have them sit in church with you. Have them sing with you, Have them pray with you. Have them listen to the preaching with you. I realize how tough that can be, but being a parent has never been easy. Ask God for patience and strength to do it.
Also, do not limit Church activities with your children to just the church service. Involve your family with other families from the Church. Life together as Christians is not limited to Sunday mornings for an hour and a half. Invest in the families that gather with you. Build those relationships, gain wisdom from them.
Additional Thoughts on “READINESS”
Where the question of a child’s readiness in faith does become relevant is in regards to participation in the life of the church. There are certain things set forth in the Bible that do require a certain development and maturity before participating in. Two obvious examples of activities in the Church that require maturity and development are marriage (Genesis 2:24) and becoming a pastor (see 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). But perhaps more common, and more applicable to children, is the reception of the Lord’s Supper.
Paul writes concerning the Lord’s Supper:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
(1 Corinthians 11:27-29)
The Apostle is explicit that a person must not only examine himself, but also discern the body. Both of these requirements must be met in order for a person to receive the Lord’s Supper. A person who does not meet these requirements will receive the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, thus will be guilty concerning the Lord’s Supper and will eat and drink judgment on himself.
There is no denying that to partake in the Lord’s Supper requires an intellectual understanding – both of sin and of what partaking in this Supper means. In that regard, it is imperative to ask children (and adults too for that matter) about their understanding before partaking in it. That also implies that there is a level of instruction that precedes participating in it. (The same is true for getting married or becoming a pastor.)
To use participating in the Lord’s Supper as a model for making a public confession of faith (for when you do partake of it you are making a confession of faith – see 1 Corinthians 11:26) – then there are questions that should be asked. In fact, in most churches, across denominations, this questioning is standard – that whoever wishes to make a public profession of faith, especially by partaking of the Lord’s Supper, must answer questions from their pastor and parents sufficiently first.
There are numerous resources that can guide you in those questions, but I will share the one I am most familiar with – from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism for those who desire to receive the Lord’s Supper (Sacrament):
Christian Questions with Their Answers
Prepared by Dr. Martin Luther for those who intend to go to the Sacrament
After confession and instruction in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the pastor may ask, or Christians may ask themselves these questions:
1. Do you believe that you are a sinner?
Yes, I believe it. I am a sinner.
2. How do you know this?
From the Ten Commandments, which I have not kept.
3. Are you sorry for your sins?
Yes, I am sorry that I have sinned against God.
4. What have you deserved from God because of your sins?
His wrath and displeasure, temporal death, and eternal damnation. See Rom. 6:21, 23.
5. Do you hope to be saved?
Yes, that is my hope.
6. In whom then do you trust?
In my dear Lord Jesus Christ.
7. Who is Christ?
The Son of God, true God and man.
8. How many Gods are there?
Only one, but there are three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
9. What has Christ done for you that you trust in Him?
He died for me and shed His blood for me on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.
10. Did the Father also die for you?
He did not. The Father is God only, as is the Holy Spirit; but the Son is both true God and true man. He died for me and shed His blood for me.
11. How do you know this?
From the holy Gospel, from the words instituting the Sacrament, and by His body and blood given me as a pledge in the Sacrament.
12. What are the words of institution?
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”
In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
(The remainder of the questions can be found here.)
Without delving too deeply into denominational specifics, the Church, throughout the majority of Her history, has tied the promise of the Gospel specifically to the act of Baptism. There are numerous texts in the Bible to relate baptism to God’s delivering of His salvation. One example is 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.” (Consider these two videos here and here for two points of view on this verse. For a more robust discussion of baptism from various denominations, listen to this.) The concept of salvation (specifically for children) must be contemplated in light of these texts and their meaning.