A Parent’s Greatest Concern
A Series by Dennis Gunderson – Part 1 of 8
The family is all together at home, you’re in your favorite chair with a book, and the phone hasn’t even rung once all evening! But then your seven-year-old daughter strolls over to your chair and quietly delivers to you a most unexpected announcement, shattering the calm:
"Daddy, I think I’m saved."
These are words you have longed to hear; but still, you are in a state of shock! After all, this is the first time she’s ever spoken with such confidence of being converted. Mixed feelings fill your mind: on the one hand you have joy, but you can’t deny that you also feel a certain hesitation not because you don’t want to believe her, but because you want to be sure it’s so.
You wonder if she really understands the gospel. You feel that for you to let any of your doubts show might be hindering the little ones from coming to Him"! Yet you can’t help but wonder if, by not exercising some caution, she might be deceived as millions are! What will you do?
The difficulties are not imagined but real; to face this is honest and wise. My foremost hope is to help the reader by shedding light on the complex issues that arise when a young child professes to have trusted in Christ, and to move each of us to more fervent efforts to lead our children to Him! But we should be careful to recognize that an essential part of that work is to guard them from deception.
There are some special difficulties in recognizing the genuineness of a work of God’s grace in a child¾ and Scripture itself points these out. Certainly a child’s profession of faith cannot have the clarity of language and doctrinal substance as that of an adult. But many naive believers strenuously insist that a child is saved if he can merely say he believes he is. It is of little matter to these churches that the child cannot even express the most basic faith in Christ, nor show any heart to follow Christ or turn from sin. Is this not proof of the tragedy that the watered down gospel of our generation has eroded what is regarded as a genuinely Christian profession of faith, the standard being nowhere more thinly applied than with children? Failing to ask, "What does the Bible call a true Christian profession?" has resulted in churches full of unbelievers both adult and children.
The minds and hearts of parents are ever on their children; we love them with a natural affection given by God. But even such love cannot make us perfectly wise! We must be open-minded to learning how we may better guard them and ourselves from false hopes based on unscriptural thinking. To fail to do so is to fail them.
Let us begin by exhorting our children, with all our hearts, to come to Christ, and at an early age. How crucial it is that parents stress to their children that they may and ought now to come to Christ.
Are You Doing Your Part?
Your desires for your children have an ancient heritage, as the writer of this Proverb states:
The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice,
And he who begets a wise son will be glad in him.
Let your father and your mother be glad,
And let her rejoice who gave birth to you.
Give me your heart, my son,
And let your heart delight in my ways!
Nothing frightens Christian parents more than to think that their child may grow up to be another selfish, flippant teenager! For the foolishness of ungodliness reigns in our generation, and a wise youth is increasingly difficult to find. However, if you are following Christ, then your child should have a great advantage toward a godly life. Yet many who want their children to be wise expect it to happen automatically even many Christian parents. So here is my question: Are you doing your part? Are you teaching your children about the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you urging them to know the Lord? Are they coming not merely to understand your views on what the Bible teaches about politics or abortion or on evolution and creation, or any other issues that may attract your attention, but also to a clear grasp of what the Son of God came to do for sinners?
I am not merely asking, "Are you seeking to lead them to Christ." That non-biblical terminology is often misleading, for it is usually meant this way: to evoke a confession as fast as possible, even if poorly considered. I encourage you not to try to force a confession from the mouth of anyone, for a truly believing heart will bring forth its own confession, without inducement or "baiting." Anyone who comes to Jesus cannot help but speak out of that which has filled his heart! But your responsibility to urge your children to come to Christ is not in the least degree diminished by the fact that you should not try to pressure them to say they have. Do you see the difference? To fail to distinguish these things can put you in danger of promoting hypocrisy compelling one to state his beliefs before it is certain they are his. Whatever you take Proverb 23:2426 to teach, do understand this the writer’s desire is to see our children converted and will be satisfied to aim at nothing less. This is my hope and joy also! The Proverb resounds with the satisfaction that fills the home of any Christian parents who know the incomparable delight of their children walking with the Lord! It says they "greatly rejoice," and I know they do! The joy every parent has in his child, no matter how great it is already, is multiplied beyond description when he believes on the Lord Jesus! To the natural ties of unity already given by God are added a tie which can never be broken.
Fathers and mothers who want this joy as their own should indeed plead with their children. First, we should plead as the father in the Proverb:
Give me your heart, my son, and let your eyesdelight in my ways. (Proverbs 23:26)
Because we have embraced God’s ways and can therefore point to our own lives as examples, we should exhort our children to give their inner persons to us, to receive our words about following the Lord as those of a friend who knows.
We must urge them not to withdraw from us when we speak of coming to Christ. They should never allow an emotional wall to be built against the things of God, as though the subject were something "adult" which parents use to make their children feel guilty for one more thing they haven’t yet done! We should attempt to create an atmosphere in which they know it is welcome, even desirable, to ask us about God’s ways.
We should also urge them to come to Christ now. We must encourage them to recognize the temptation to put their spiritual need out of mind and "think about that some other time" as a trick of the devil. We must not let them believe they may ignore Christ now and take Him seriously later! Rather, it often becomes increasingly difficult to turn to the Lord with passing years, as sin has its hardening effect and tightens its grip on a life each day truth is spurned.
We must encourage them to turn to Christ now, before their sins multiply and a whole lifestyle has been molded in the service of sin. Why add more to turn from in order to turn to the Lord? Why wait until it is even costlier to turn and Satan has a firmer foothold in all the affections of one’s life?
We must tell them that coming to Christ early will prevent many wasted years of living. We must explain to them the regrets of so many adults who lived well into adulthood without Christ, and tell them how we would spare them such pains and regrets. By coming to Christ early they will be more prepared for all that life may bring their way!
You may feel that such strong appeals may manipulate or mislead them into making a false "decision." I am very sympathetic to your concerns; showing the deceptive dangers of that possibility is what much of this book has been written to accomplish. But do not let the zeal to avoid that dampen your zeal for their conversion. Are you exhorting them to come to Christ, and is it apparent to them that it means so much to you that they would trust and serve Him? If you love them, let it be known how important this is to you.
If you read the following chapters without care, you may conclude that I am trying to utterly rule out all I have just said about hoping for our children’s conversion. Please resist the temptation to feel that I am saying we should scorn a child’s profession of faith and always suspect it. Nothing could be further from the truth, nor is it the point I seek to make. But tell me, if we do not guard them from self-deceit, who will?