The Likelihood of Deception in Children
A Series by Dennis Gunderson – Part 4 of 8
Paul, in the second half of Ephesians 4:14, says children are easily swayed "…by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming…" Deceivers find easy prey in children. Proverbs 22:15 states, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child." Proverbs reiterates this theme; the very introduction of that book of wisdom tells us so. It is part of the very rationale for the book itself, intended to be a primer in moral wisdom and instruction from fathers to children. Proverbs 1:14 says it all:
The Proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:
To know wisdom and instruction,
To discern the sayings of understanding,
To receive instruction in wise behavior,
Righteousness, justice and equity,
To give prudence to the naive,
To the youth knowledge and discretion.
The fact is, a child is naive. Did you notice how naiveté and youth are equated in the above passage? It is to be expected that the young be naive. That is why they need instruction! They are simpleminded; their experience is short and new in life; they do not comprehend things in their actual proportion, order, or value.
A respected pastor has told me he is sure he could lead just about any child under ten years of age to profess faith in Christ not to actual salvation, but to make a profession. Why would he say a thing like that? Was this a boast? Not at all; his point was only to remark on how easily a child can be deceived about the state of his soul. He can be fooled by a good talker more easily than we would like to believe. So your child’s profession of belief in the basic gospel facts alone should not be grounds for assurance. By all means let us rejoice that he has heard and knows the gospel! It is the kind grace of God that he should ever hear of Christ and understand the message at all. But do not assume that this means he has believed from the heart.
Many unsaved people we know say they believe Christ died for their sins; but you are skeptical of such professions because you are painfully aware of how rampant deception is. You have heard such words from one person after another and found them to mean nothing at all. Since basic gospel truths have been household knowledge to the great majority of families for several generations, a mere statement of belief in them is hardly something to get excited about.
This being so, how much more common will it be to hear such a profession from a child who sits week after week in a church where Christ crucified and risen is faithfully preached and where biblical instruction is received at home several times a week? Should we be surprised to hear them say they believe the things we do? Of course they will believe it intellectually, converted or not. They have heard it preached, sung, and testified to with vigor and passion. They have seen the truth work in lives for good; they have heard it defended from objections and presented to them as indisputable fact, in some cases since they were born! Further, the majority of your friends, and perhaps even a number of your own family, the people they have learned to love and respect, believe these truths. Can you think it remarkable then that such a child says he believes the gospel we have believed and have taught him so long? I think we should be shocked if he said he did not believe it.
In fact, for a child in such a setting to hold and voice open unbelief in the facts of the gospel would be near proof that he has been alienated from the truth by drastic hypocrisy among those nearest that child in church and perhaps even in his own home! So it is foolish to conclude that a child is saved merely because he makes the bare acknowledgment that these things are true.
Be wise enough, parent, not to assure your child of his eternal safety on such shallow grounds! Love your child enough not to mislead him in ways you would not mislead an adult professing the same things. Isn’t this the most common deception among adults and children alike¾ to suppose that because I know and believe the facts, I am saved? How many both outside and within church life, adults and children, presume that a mere knowledge which never affects heart or actions is enough! Of all persons, a child is perhaps the least equipped to know his own heart in this matter. Don’t help him fool himself.
Are you remembering that there is a deceiver who hates your children, as he does the whole human race, and who schemes to take advantage of them as easy prey at this point of weakness? Satan would love to trick your little one into a false confidence in his salvation and set assumptions in his heart about himself which he may never shed. Once a false confidence takes root in a soul, how easily it remains until old age.
If you have kept the cautionary remarks I made earlier in this work in mind, you will admit that you have not read anything which would lead you to doubt whether it is possible for children to be converted at even a very young age. Rather, our primary concern has been to establish how the many obstacles which exist in the nature of the child make detection of the false profession a most difficult effort.
When these things are ignored, I am afraid that natural and understandable parental hopefulness is blocking the heart of the parent from listening to wisdom. I have learned to listen carefully to what a child’s parents have to say about his profession of faith but I can say, after many years of pastoral work, that I am also persuaded that at times, parents are capable of having the least reliable opinion about their child’s profession! How can I say such a thing? Because natural affection and high hopes obstruct otherwise good judgment. Keeping these facts about the nature of children in mind may prevent us from making grave errors of judgment in handling their tender souls.