From a booklet by Dr. Alan Day.* Used by permission.
For a number of years now, there has been a growing trend to accept children for baptism at younger and younger ages. Each week in the southern Baptist convention an average of almost three thousand children under the age of twelve are baptized. Eight hundred of these are younger than nine years, and more than fifty are preschoolers. (Number of baptisms by age divisions—1988,” The quarterly review [JAS 1989]: 21.
We could suggest several explanations for this trend. Some may say it is because we are doing a better job of teaching our children. This may be true.
Others may suggest that children are smarter than ever and should be expected to make these types of decisions earlier. However, I have not personally seen any convincing data to support that today’s children are smarter than children fifty or one hundred years ago.
Parents and church leaders are rightfully concerned with the question, “When can a child be saved?” In my experience, parents can be divided into five categories when the issue of their children’s salvation is discussed.
First, there are the perplexed parents. These are the ones who feel personally in adequate and ill-equipped to deal with their children spiritually. Many of these are unsure of their own salvation, or perhaps they have lived defeated Christian lives and feel they have not earned the respect of their children spiritually.
Second, there are pushy parents. These folks assume that their child is a spiritual prodigy, a precocious youngster ahead of his years. They may tend to hurry their child in other areas as well because they are convinced they have a very gifted child. As a result, they may put a lot of pressure on the child to make a commitment and be baptized.
Third, there are passive parents. These parents are really uninvolved in their child’s spiritual formation. They leave it to the pastor and Sunday school teachers to make the decision regarding their child’s profession of faith. They send their child to church and they may attend themselves, but that is the end of the spiritual part of their lives.
Fourth, there are panicky parents. They may have the same affect on their children as pushy parents, but their motivation is fear rather than pride. They are afraid their children will grow up without excepting Christ. If the child has not made a public profession of faith by the time he is seven, eight, nine, they become fearful that he is going to grow up to be a pagan.
Fifth, there are patient parents. Patient parents teach their children the things of God. They nurture them in their faith. They learn the signs of spiritual life. They pray for their children, and they have confidence in the Lord that, in due time, their efforts will be rewarded.
It is obvious that I recommend that you become a patient parent. I have designed this booklet from sermons preached to help parents develop confidence and to steer them away from some of the mistakes that many make with their children.
In dealing with our children, there are several facts we want to keep in mind.
First, there are not two “Gospels “ in the Scripture—one for children and one for adults. There is only one gospel. It is important that we not water down the gospel to make it credible to children. If a child is too young to understand the gospel, he is too young to be saved.
Many parents make the mistake in thinking that if their child confesses, “I love Jesus,” then that makes him a Christian. That is not true. You can ask the average child, “Do you love Santa Claus? Do you love the Easter bunny? Do you love the president? Do you love God?” And they will likely just say “yes “to all the above. Being saved is not the same thing as saying you love Jesus.
The gospel is the story of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins. To respond to the gospel properly, a child must understand what sin is, he must understand something of the divinity of Christ, he must experience repentance following the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and he must have true faith in Christ alone as Savior.
It is important that a parent not accept a statement such as “I love Jesus “or “I want to be baptized” as evidence of conversion. Otherwise, we create a second gospel for children, which the New Testament knows nothing about.
Second, it is important to realize that there are no examples of infant baptism in the New Testament. Every person who was baptized had made a personal and individual decision to receive Christ.
Some have suggested that the case of the Philippian jailer is an exception (Acts 16:27-34). But it is important to notice that the term “household” does not necessarily imply little children. Also, verse 32 makes it clear that the gospel was presented to the entire household, and the context implies that those of the household each individually believed in Christ before they were baptized (notice verse 34, “Having believed in God with his whole household”). If there were little children present, they were mature enough to respond to the same gospel message that the jailer himself believed.
Third, all conversions in the New Testament were personal decisions, not parental decisions. The idea of “household salvation” as taught by some, viz., that a parent can “claim” their children’s salvation or that their salvation is guaranteed by the parents’ faith, is simply not biblical. That is the reason we Baptists reject infant baptism, since the only persons baptized in the New Testament had already experienced regeneration through personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Faith is not transmitted genetically or naturally, but supernaturally. The Lord uses the natural home environment and the faith of the parents, but the most individual and personal decision a person ever makes is the decision to accept or reject Jesus Christ
With those three observations in mind, we need to annunciate several principles that will help parents in understanding how to deal with their little children.
A child is safe until he reaches the age of moral accountability. Little children do not need to be baptized to protect them, nor do they need to be dedicated in a formal church service to protect them. Since the gospel is always addressed to the intellect and the will of a person, and since it demands the response of repentance and faith, only those capable of responding are held accountable for their sins. Before one can repent of his sins, he must have come to the place where he knows what sin is, and he must understand that he is personally responsible for his sins. Children who have not reached this level of maturity are not “lost”; neither are they “saved”—they are “safe.”
A second principle is that children reach the age of accountability at different ages. Actually, it is in accurate to speak of an “Age “of accountability, since that seems to imply that the age is fixed, say it age nine or ten. We would be more accurate if we spoke of the “stage” of accountability.
Some children have reached the stage of accountability as early as five or six. I personally think this is rare, and I discouraged parents from pushing a child – even a truly precocious child – toward baptism at such an early age. Others become conscious of personal sin at age eight or nine, while it is possible that some may take until ten or eleven. A parent should become neither panicky nor pushy if their nine year old has not yet made a decision to receive Christ.
From this it follows that infants and little children who die go to heaven. We can confidently assert this on several grounds. First, the nature of God leads us to this conclusion. We cannot believe that the God of the Bible would create little children to cast them into hell before they could choose right or wrong. Second, the nature of Christ leads us to this conclusion. Jesus, the friend of children who said, “Suffer the little children to come to me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” who took them on his lap and blessed them – the Jesus of the New Testament would not cast little children into hell. Third, the nature of the gospel demands this conclusion. As noted above, the gospel requires a personal moral response, and only those mature enough to respond can be held accountable for doing so. Fourth, there are some biblical text that, directly or indirectly, teach that infants go to heaven when they die. The most important passage perhaps is from the lips of David after the death of his infant son. “But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I should go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23). David was talking about going to heaven to see his child. Indeed, that is the hope of every parent who has taken that long, lonely, difficult walk to the cemetery and placed that tiny little casket in the sod, then had to turn around and leave their baby there in the cemetery. They have the comfort and assurance of the Scriptures that even though a child cannot come back to them; they can go to be with that child in heaven, because the child has gone to be with Jesus.
That is the reason I believe there may be more people in heaven than in hell. Note very carefully: probably at least a third of all the people that are born on planet earth die in infancy and in childhood. There are going to be millions and millions and multiplied hundreds of thousands of children in heaven. That is one reason heaven is going to be such a wonderful place. G. Campbell Morgan spoke of heaven from the book of Zachariah as being a place with little children playing in the street. He said when you think about heaven, it out not to be thought of as a church service but as a playground where children are playing. There will be multiplied hundreds of thousands of children in heaven. Isn’t it going to be glorious for children to play in the streets and not be worried about being run over by a drunk driver or being picked up by a pedophile or a sexual pervert? Little children playing in the presence of the son of God – heaven is going to be wonderful!
A friend of our family named Dolly died a few years ago. She had a rare, incurable disease that would not allow her to bring children to full-term and pregnancy. She carried several children but they eventually died in her womb – then she herself died of that disease. Oh, how Dolly wanted children! But you know, the thought crossed my mind when I heard that she had died, and I said to myself, “You know, dolly is in heaven. She is now able to take those little children in her arms that were conceived in her own womb but who never breathed the breath of life and never gave cheer to their mother and never cried and nursed at her breast, and she, in heaven, has been able to hold all those children. And God fulfilled the desire of that godly mama.” Isn’t that a beautiful thought?
It was 1991 and we had two sons graduating from high school, and I realized they were at least 1.5 million children who should have been graduating from high school that year but who did not because they were killed in 1973, the first year of Row v. Wade. In 1973, we in America said it was all right to kill a baby in the womb. Since that time an average of 1.5 million lives have been taken each year! But the good news of the gospel is that those little children are with Jesus in heaven! One day we will see them.
So, these are principles that guide our thinking as we think about the question, when can a child be saved?
With these observations and principles in mind, we draw some conclusions with regard to leading our children to Christ.
First, don’t be in a hurry. I tell our staff to beware of “picking green fruit. “If you pick the fruit green, it may never mature properly. If a child is hurried toward a profession of faith, several negative things may happen. He may have a spurious experience that prevents him from having a genuine experience later. He may depend upon his baptism as proof of his salvation, when, in fact, he has never been saved. I believe this is the case with a multitude of professing Christians who have never been born again.
Second, know your child spiritually. Observe him carefully. Listen to him as he talks about God. Watch for signs of conviction of sin. Do not confuse childish curiosity with Holy Spirit conviction. If you stay close to him spiritually, you will readily recognize when God is dealing with him.
Third, pray for your child’s conversion. Daily carry him to the Lord, asking him to cultivate the child’s heart and prepare him for a genuine conversion. Pray for wisdom to plant the seed of the word of God in his heart.
Fourth, trust the Holy Spirit. Remember that faith is not the result of argument. Faith is not just believing some concepts. Only the Holy Spirit can convert. You can argue your child into a decision or you can use your influence to compel him to a profession of faith; but if he is to be saved, the Holy Spirit must do the work. We must never forget the supernatural dimension of conversion. It takes just as much of the grace of God to save a nine year old as it does to save a thirty year old.
Fifth, expect your child to want your faith and your God. If you love Jesus and you are living in obedience and faith then be optimistic and expect the best. Pray in faith that your child is going to be saved in due time. Do not threaten your child with how we’re of the devil if he tells lies or does bad things. In his own time he should learn about hell, but you do not want him to make a false profession just because he is afraid of the devil or because he is afraid of going to hell. Emphasize the joy of knowing Jesus and of serving Him.
Sixth, understand your child developmentally in other words children learn to think about life, God, the world, and themselves according to several predictable stages of intellectual development. A child of nine cannot understand the concept of sin the way a youth of fifteen can. Don’t expect them to think of God, salvation, sin, etc., in the same way a more mature person will. The gospel message cannot be changed, but a child’s grasp of the gospel will change. In dealing with your young child, you will have to force yourself to think as he thinks so that you can, to the best of your God-given ability, determine if he is ready for a profession of his faith.
Seventh, some children who make early professions of faith may have a crisis of faith during their teen years. They may begin to doubt that their conversion was genuine, especially if they were younger than eight or nine. They may hear of more emotional conversions and then question their own.
I teach that it is important that a child have a present faith, not that he remember the precise moment he first had faith. So if your child doubts his earlier conversion, ask him if he really is trusting Jesus right now. Lead him to examine his life for evidences of spiritual life. Ask him if Jesus is his Lord. Lead him to make a recommitment and, thus, to “nailed down” his conversion. It is not uncommon for those reared in Christian homes to have one or more crisis experiences through the years, especially at special times such as revivals. Show your child that the most important thing is not remembering the exact moment when he was saved, but knowing that right now he is depending on Jesus and Him alone to get him to heaven.
This diagnostic question may help. Ask your child, “If you were to stand before the Lord, and He ask you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ What would you say?”
On the other hand, if your child made an early profession of faith and then in the teen years became worldly and gave a little or no evidence of spiritual life, teach him that he cannot depend on his baptism and church membership to save him. Now it is not uncommon for believers to stray for a while, but a child that throws away his faith and his faithfulness as soon as he has the opportunity to start making adult type decisions may never have really been saved. While we believe in eternal security of the believer, we do not believe that a Christian can live like the devil. Teach your children that just as a living tree will bear fruit, a real Christian will seek after holiness and purity.
By far the most important contribution you can make to your child is to give him a Christian mommy or daddy. Do you want to spend eternity with your child in heaven? Have you settled the matter of your own relationship with Christ? Are you saved? Have you trusted Jesus as Savior and Lord?
In the book of Exodus Moses challenged pharaoh to let the people go from Egypt. The last plague that the Lord sent upon the Egyptians was the death of the firstborn children. The Lord instructed Moses that every family was to take the pascal lamb and slay it, take the blood of that lamb and apply it to the door post and lintel, and the death Angel would pass over Egypt, and every home that had the blood over the door post would be spared and that firstborn child would not die.
According to Jewish legend, there was a man who had a little daughter, his only child. She was about age ten. That night came, and the father explained the deadly seriousness of the event. They had the pascal lamb for supper with the bitter herbs, and they participated in the right of Passover; and then the child was put to bed. The little 10-year-old girl, being the firstborn, would have been the one the death angel would take if there was no blood over the door post. The little girl, anxious about the matter, said, “Daddy, did you put the blood over the doorposts Daddy, have you put the blood over the doorposts? “ And that daddy said, “Yes, sweetheart, of course daddy did. Now go to sleep and rest.” And then she went to sleep but she awakened a little while later and she went to her father’s bedside and she said, “Daddy, are you sure the blood is on the doorposts?” And he said, “Of course, sweetheart, the blood is on the doorposts. The death Angel is going to pass over. You’re going to be safe.” And so she went back to sleep and slept very fitfully the first part of the night. And then, a few moments before the stroke of midnight when the death Angel would pass over that land, she awakened and in fear she went to her daddy and said, “Daddy, are you sure the blood is on the doorposts?” And that daddy took his little daughter in his arms to carry her to the door to show her and assure her the blood was over the doorposts. But, to his shock and dismay, there was no blood! He had left this to a servant to do and it had not been done. And ever so quickly before the death angel passed over, he slaughtered a lamb, he took the blood in the basin and with his own hands smeared it over the door posts. So when the death angel passed over he indeed did pass over that home, and the little daughter was spared.
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Mama and daddy, it is our responsibility to make sure the blood is applied to our home. We cannot leave this to others. It is our responsibility to make sure that we ourselves have given our lives to Jesus Christ. It is our responsibility to see that we live transparently committed to the Lord Jesus Christ so that there is no doubt about the fact that we love Him. I can almost guarantee it – the statistics on this are so powerful as to be undeniable – if you live in such a way, your child is going to grow up to want your Jesus. Your child is going to be drawn to your Savior, because you have put the blood on the door post of your own heart, and then, in due time, he (she) him (her) self will trust your Savior and your Redeemer.
Can I ask you a question? Can you say, dear parent, that there has been a time in your life when you know that you have given your heart to Jesus Christ? I’m not asking you, “Have you walked in aisle?” I’m not asking you, “Have you been baptized?” I’m not asking you “Are you a member of the church?” I’m asking you, “Have you trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?” That is the issue. And if you have never done that, I’m asking you, I’m pleading with you, “I beseech you in Christ stead,” Paul said, “be reconciled to God.” The only way to be reconciled to God is by personal faith in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. If you have never received Christ as your own personal Savior, why not right now ask Him to save you? Perhaps the following words will express your hearts desire:
Dear Lord Jesus,
I realize that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. I believe you died on the cross to save me from my sins. I repent of my sins. I accept you as my Lord and Savior. I commit my life to you to live for you all the days of my life and to live with you eternally in heaven. Thank you for saving me.
Dear friend, if you prayed that prayer and meant it, God has saved you. Welcome to the family of God! Now enjoy your children and lead them to know your Savior too.
*Dr. Alan Day was the long-time pastor of First Baptist Church in Edmond, OK. Many in his state called him the greatest theologian of his time in Oklahoma. He passed away in 2011 following a tragic motorcycle accident but his life and his ministry continue to touch people lives.Follow Us:
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