The Manifestations of Faith
A Series by Dennis Gunderson – Part 6 of 8
When dealing with evidences of true conversion, there is no warrant for suggesting that we can be satisfied with seeing anything less in a child than we would in an adult. What we must anticipate seeing is substantially the same in both cases, assuming of course a less mature and articulate expression in a child.
There must be:
"repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21).
A true believer is one who turns from sins and has rested his entire hopes for eternity on Christ and His accomplished work on the cross alone. He is one who, like a child jumping into his father’s arms, relies solely on the Savior. That is why in this chapter, I will delineate, as I see them, the most simple and basic indicators which will always accompany true repentance and faith.
They are as follows:
Sound Profession of Belief in
Christ Crucified and Risen.
If anyone is saved, he is saved through knowing the truth; and certainly the minimum that could be expected of a saved person for a credible profession would be to believe the truths of 1 Corinthians 15:34:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
This is the most foundational matter of all. Who could regard any profession as valid unless the individual could express, at the very least, that Jesus has died and risen for him? If faith includes anything, it obviously includes this: to know and profess to believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to die for sinners, taking the punishment for our sins, and that He rose again from the dead. We have already insisted that merely stating this belief is not salvation; but there is certainly no salvation without this confession! There is more to faith than notions in the head, as I have clarified above. But this much truth must be known to the mind and believed.
Affectionate Love For Christ
Whatever faith in Christ is, it includes love for Him:
If any man does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. (1 Corinthians 16:22)
It was Jonathan Edwards who wisely said, "True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections." If this is present, it will show in some degree even in a child. I have never baptized any child, nor will I, on the basis of a mere profession of the right facts. But the few whom I have baptized, as far as I could tell, loved Jesus Christ.
Here is what to look for: Is Christ loved by him? Does he delight in Him? Does he desire the Father? Is there that hunger for the presence of God, seeking Him through prayer and the Word? After all, being saved is coming to God. Paul says Jesus Christ "brought us to God." (Galatians 1:4) If I am to believe that anyone is saved, I want to see evidence that he has entered into happy fellowship with God. Like a newborn babe he should "desire the pure milk of the Word"! (1 Peter 2:2) There should be evident enjoyment in worshiping God, for when God saves us He makes us worshipers!
Determination to Obediently Follow Christ
It is very hard to see determination in a child for reasons already given. To see a person’s true determination requires that we see them face challenges, watch as they make choices, and thus observe what is important to them. However, very few of the decisions of a small child have large enough ramifications to reveal much by observing them. They just do not face enough meaningful, life-changing choices for us to have much confidence that they are capable of choosing seriously to follow Christ at any cost. Most children barely know that challenges await them and that God-given determination is necessary to follow Christ nor appreciate that the economy of life is that each of their choices will require a payment of sorts or may require real sacrifice to themselves. They might say, "Determination for what?; What difficulties will come my way?; What do you mean¾ this choice will cost me something?" They scarcely know. But the call of Christ to come in faith to Him is a self-denying call. Faith in Christ involves repentance and a settled choice to follow Him. Luke 14:27 says:
"Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple."
The call to faith is a call to turn to God from idols (1 Thess. 1:9).
There was a very good saying in use by preachers around the time I was converted which described Biblical faith as "giving Jesus the throne of your heart." It was the contemporary way of saying that he who would trust in Jesus must commit his whole life to Him; that faith includes commitment; that receiving Christ as Savior includes obeying Him as Lord.
While it is very hard to determine in children whether a commitment will be a settled and lasting one, we certainly can and must look for a heart whose desire is obedience to Christ. Does the child show strong interest in pleasing God by willing obedience to Scriptural commands? Does he or she have a heart to obey parents, and authorities? When corrected or instructed according to biblical truth is it received in a humble and responsive manner? Does the child try, out of love for God, to apply teachings to his life in the best way he can? A determined commitment to obediently follow Christ is more difficult to ascertain in children than in adults. But we must know that it is present before we can responsibly call them disciples.
Since a commitment to follow Christ as Lord will necessarily include a rejection of the love of sin in his life, the following can not be overly stated:
Repudiation of Sin
The very definition of repentance is "to change one’s mind", that is to change one’s mind about the sin that so characterized life as an unbeliever. True conversion is turning from sin to God. So an indispensable evidence of salvation to look for is confession, or sincere admission, of sin. Notice what is said about the ministry of John the Baptist:
And they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. (Matthew 3:6).
It is never wise to baptize anyone who does not come acknowledging his sinfulness. Why else does a sinner come to Christ (if he is truly coming to Him) than to be saved from his own sinfulness? He feels gratitude and love expressly because he has been saved from sin. So we must insist on this as part of a credible profession. Matthew 1:21 tells us that this is what our salvation is all about:
"You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins."
If any person, a child included, knows what sort of Savior he is coming to, he will be self-initiating about admitting his sinfulness. I say "self-initiating" because of how often I have seen children "confess" before their pastors that they are sinners and have turned from sin to Christ, but only after extensive hinting and prompting. There is an obvious danger of putting words in the mouths of children. If it is truly in their own hearts, it should flow from their own hearts that they are sinners and that they love Jesus Christ as the One sent from God to save them from sin. If some awareness of forgiveness of sin, of God’s grace, of genuine repentance and becoming a servant of righteousness, does not flow freely and unprompted from their lips, there is little reason to believe that they have been converted. If you are again perhaps feeling that I am requiring far too much, I warn you to view that reaction with suspicion. For you, as all of us today, are a product of an era in the history of Christianity that has taught us to react with resistance and hostility whenever a preacher declares that obedience, sacrifice, and determination to follow Christ are evidences of discipleship. We impulsively react with, "But how can you tell? How much is enough? Who can ever really know for sure? Who among us is without sin?" This is not a well thought-out or God-glorifying response. As Christians, there are many things the Bible exhorts us to examine, judge, test, or discern. We are told to know people by their fruits (Matthew 7:16-20, Galatians 5:22-24). So even when it may be particularly difficult to discern fruit, as is the case with children, we must make every effort to do so. We are required to expect some fruit even in the most youthful disciple.
Particularly as a pastor, I haven’t the right to ignore the necessity of critical evaluation, as one who will give an account to God for the souls of those I shepherd (Hebrews 13:17). Those of us in the ministry cannot afford to have inadequate answers to serious questions. Those who look to us for help have needs that are of too great a consequence for that. We must give guidance to people seeking help for their souls!
As we close this chapter, I want to assert again that independent faith and devotion to Christ are very difficult to discern in children, and is valid and appropriate to move cautiously in receiving a child’s profession of faith. Yet, thankfully, the Bible does give us guidelines for examining a profession made by our children.