Some Positive Concluding Counsel
A Series by Dennis Gunderson – Part 7 of 8
We have now seen that nearly everything about recognizing a valid profession of faith is very difficult to ascertain with certainty in children. Where does this leave us? We have advised against haste and shown its dangers, urging parents rather to take advantage of the long-term opportunities we have with our children. But it is not as though there is nothing positive to be done! What should you do when your child appears to show signs of a work of grace in the heart, yet not sufficiently to make you certain he should be baptized?
If you see possible signs of conversion, tell the child you are encouraged about him! What would you tell any unconverted person to whom you were witnessing if he showed evidence of being "close to the kingdom" (Mark 12:34)? Even if you were uncertain he was a true believer, you would tell him that your hopes were great that God may have already converted him or may be in the process of drawing him to Himself. You would urge him to press on to know Christ, while you sought to clarify for him whatever was still vague; all, of course, while praying fervently for him.
When your child speaks words of committal to Christ, let him know you are overjoyed and that this is what you long to hear from him! Encourage him in light of what you have heard, and urge him to press on. What good will it do if he says, "I know I love the Lord!" and you say, "No, you don’t; if you did you would not behave in the ways you do." You may condemn yourself as a hypocrite, and he may even shame you and tell you so, as he could point out actions and words of yours that were not very fitting for a Christian! (Remember, he sees you at home!) Rather say, "It is good to hear you talk that way! I hope you do love the Lord, and if you really do, from the heart, it will become clearer to you and to us as well, as you walk by the teachings of the Bible and grow in Christ. We’ll pray for you."
Impress on his conscience the perspectives of passages like Matthew 10:37-38¾ that coming to Christ is a lifetime commitment of faithfulness to Christ from which one does not turn back, even if others whom he loves and who love him cease to follow Christ or never even begin to; and that being saved means he should be willing to continue to follow the Lord Jesus even if his mother and father would turn back.
Yes, make him know that Jesus must mean more to him than even you do and that is really saying something, especially if you have a loving home. It is asking a great deal of a child to know whether he would still follow Christ if his parents went down one path and Christ’s Word pointed down another. But that is the point to which he must come. He must be determined to never cease following the Lord, as long as he lives, and no matter who else does or does not.
Urge him with words like Ecclesiastes 12:1, "Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come,…". Urge him to regard nothing on earth as his treasure¾ not an abundance of possessions nor how much fun he has; rather, urge him above all to value knowing God and the things of God (Psalm 73:25). Then prayerfully observe if and how he applies these truths.
Tell him that true grace will be evident as one learns to "bridle his tongue" (James 1:26). Tell him that he should receive discipline as the "chastening of the Lord" (Hebrews 12:5-11 ). Challenge him in each point of Christian duty, not overdoing it as though you expected perfection, but just challenging him as you would yourself by the Word; and expect him, if he is converted, to be reading and applying the Word of God to his own ways.
Keep remembering, in light of all that has been said so far, that we should be wise enough not to swallow his first answer as positive proof of the state of his heart. When he says, "Yes, I’ll follow Jesus forever and never turn back," remember: a child is more impulsive than Peter who said, "Lord, I will never forsake You!" but then did almost immediately. Remember Israel in their immaturity saying they would follow the Lord faithfully, walking in all His precepts, to which the Lord replied:
Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments… (Deuteronomy 5:27-29).
We can expect such immature commitments from children. Know that their mouths may profess Christianity without the power of it in their hearts. Challenge your child, therefore, to know that real Christianity, in a person of any age, causes a change in the heart.
One of the worst mistakes parents can make is to permit their child to become preoccupied with anguish over his standing in the church and whether he is a baptized member yet or not. Urge him instead to focus all his attention on knowing Jesus Christ, his Lord, to whom alone he will give account! If he wants to talk about baptism and you are not sure he is God’s child, you can say, "Do not worry about that right now. Keep seeking to know God and one day we will talk about that. Let your concern be to know Christ." You do not have to say, "We do not think you are a true believer." If it is painfully obvious he is not, you may well have to say so, as not to further a serious delusion. But if it is still difficult to tell, you need not state an opinion which he may take as a verdict, but just urge him to pursue Christ all the more. Nor do you have to say, "I think you are saved, but I am urging you to wait on baptism." He will not understand such a response if he knows baptism should be an early act of obedience. Instead, explain to him that true conversion can be a very difficult thing to recognize, especially in a child, and that rather than worry about making his profession public, he should instead concentrate on pursuing Christ with all his heart. If he thinks otherwise, he is in danger of forming a concept of the Christian life which is man-pleasing, concerned more with people’s assessment of his conversion than being assured in his own mind that he has met the Lord.
Keep before the child the whole range of biblical duties; let the power of commandment do its work and pray that it drives him to Christ. When he sins, encourage him to go find refuge in the forgiveness of Christ. Keep him focused on having a relationship with God, not on whether you, other people, or the elders think he has been converted. Do all you can to keep him from worrying about baptism, a public profession, or church membership. If you are not noticeably vexed over this, it will do a great deal to keep him from being so.
I have seen parents bring a child for pastoral counsel on baptism with a highly visible fear of conflict between them. This fear had obviously become a factor in how defensively they spoke for him. Johnny wanted his parents to speak up for him to the pastors. They were afraid that not to do so would appear to Johnny as failing to be supportive, and that failure to do this would bring tension into their relationship. So they planted themselves firmly as advocates for the "case" of his conversion¾ and at an early age alienated the child from his pastors! Because of the cowardice of his parents, we, his pastors, appeared to him as hostile men who presented an obstacle to be overcome for his acceptance in the church. There are, no doubt, some pastors who are not cautious enough and give in to this type of pressure. What a tragic way for pastor or parent to handle your child’s undying soul! Do not be coerced in this way by a child; lead your children¾ do not let them lead you or badger you about what they think is the right way to show concern for their souls!
If you see some good signs¾ a new or increased interest in God’s Word, development of good character and godly conduct, and a better expression of correct beliefs¾ and if you want to have your pastors speak with him about his soul, by all means do so. Be sure however to prepare your child for such a meeting, so that if your pastor decides it is prudent to wait awhile before baptizing him he will not think of your pastor as hard or overly critical. And refrain yourself from pressuring your pastor to baptize your child if he does decide that, at least for now, he cannot do so in good conscience. You would be requiring that man to be sure of things which, according to the Scriptures we have seen, he can almost never be sure of!
Though all may not be clear to you, understand this¾ if your child is truly regenerated and dies prematurely, he will not go to hell because you decided to wait prudently for the development of his profession. There is much time for your child to obtain a clearer understanding of the faith and express it competently as his own. I know many who are now adults who wish their parents had not been in such a hurry to get them baptized as children, and who were nearly sealed for life in unfounded hopes by such swift action. On the other hand, I have never known one made to wait for baptism who later felt robbed for the time he was made to wait, even if his baptism was delayed for quite some time. Such a one usually thanks God that no one was too quick to give him assurance.
Some Parting Thoughts
We must always labor for the conversion of all souls God brings to us, especially our children! Do not be shocked when God saves His people while yet children! Never let the children feel as though we would rather they wait until they are older before they come to Christ. Nor let them suspect that we simply will not believe them if they say they have come to Christ. We do not want to blunt the urgency of the gospel invitation and render them passive about coming to Him. But we do want to sincerely encourage them to pursue Christ, and not our stamp of approval on whether they have the real thing or not. They must seek Him, not man! Urge them in every way to have all their attention riveted on coming to Him who is the Way.
"A righteous man who walks in his integrity how blessed are his sons after him!" (Proverbs 20:7)
I hope your sons and daughters will be blessed with the knowledge of Christ the Lord through your home! May you see to it that from childhood they know "the Holy Scriptures which are able to make (them) wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). And may they come, in their maturity, like Moses, to forsake this passing world and follow Him!