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Saved Children

girl praying

by Dennis Pollock

Recently I visited a church where I heard a sermon that troubled me. The problem was not really in what the pastor had to say. I agreed with nearly all of it. The problem was in what the pastor did not say. The sermon was about raising godly children who would grow into adults who obey and honor God with their lives. I could hardly disagree with the theme. This is surely the goal for every Christian parent.

The pastor talked about the different stages of child rearing, and how foolish it is for a parent to try to become their child’s friend. He spoke of the need for discipline, coaching, and training in the ways of God. Again, what was said made sense, and most reasonable believers would have found no fault. But in the course of his forty-minute sermon, there was no reference whatsoever to helping your child come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Indeed, for the first thirty-five minutes of the message the name of Jesus was not heard at all. At the end he did mention Jesus but in no way even hinted that children, or even adults, need to be born again through faith in the Savior. To be fair this message was part of a series on children, and he may have talked about salvation in one of his earlier messages. Still, given the fact that in this large church there were no doubt first-time visitors every Sunday, it seemed almost criminal for him to neglect reminding his listeners that their children needed, above all else, to be saved.

He referenced God frequently, and had he substituted Allah for God, his sermon could have been well-received in any Muslim mosque, save for the reference to Jesus at the end of the message. Over my years of hearing sermons and visiting various churches I have found that this is not unique to this pastor. It is, in fact, a sadly frequent occurrence. We have far too many sermons preached in evangelical churches that are significantly deficient in honoring Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church and man’s only hope for salvation.

It is not as though I believe that if we can just get our children saved, all our responsibilities are over. Parents very much need to hear and learn the various principles of effective child-rearing. But we must never forget that a well-behaved, God-respecting child who has not been saved is just as lost as that rebellious, obnoxious, rude child of the agnostic folks who live down the street. Jesus’ declaration, “You must be born again” is as true for children as it is for adults. As their parents, our children need much from us. They need safety and protection, they need food and clothing, they need nurturing and love, they need discipline and counsel – but our children’s greatest need is for us to lead them to Jesus Christ, that they might receive the gift of eternal life and the indwelling Holy Spirit, which will go a long way in producing children who obey and honor God.

Not So Simple

Some may be tempted to think, “What’s the big deal? Getting a child to pray the sinner’s prayer is an easy thing.” And they are right. You can say to your six-year-old, “If you will pray with me to ask Jesus into your life, you will go to heaven. But if you don’t ever do this you will go to hell. You want to go to heaven when you die, don’t you?” And almost certainly your child will tell you he wants to go to heaven, and will be more than happy to say a short little prayer to make sure that happens. But he or she may not have a clue about who Jesus is or what it means to follow Christ. And the words they pray will be nothing more than words – no heart surrender, no saving faith, no real comprehension of Jesus at all. And then you go about your business feeling like your spiritual duty toward your child has been fulfilled, when in truth you’ve hardly begun.

When the apostle Peter was sent by God to go and preach the gospel to Cornelius and his household, he didn’t begin by asking them all to join in unison in praying the sinner’s prayer with him. Instead he started by telling them who Jesus was and what He was like. Luke sums up Peter’s preaching on the life of Jesus by the statement:

“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).

Peter wisely recognized that Cornelius and his family were entirely ignorant of Jesus, and that it would be foolish for him to begin by insisting that they pray with him to be saved. First they must hear about Jesus – who He is, what He did, and the loving, healing ministry He practiced while on the earth. I don’t believe this was all Peter had to say, but rather, Luke quoted these words to summarize this portion of Peter’s sermon. The apostle no doubt shared specific stories of some of the healings Jesus performed and the people He helped as He walked up and down throughout Israel in His three-year ministry.

You cannot trust someone you do not know. We cannot expect that our children will ever make a meaningful commitment to Christ if they know little or nothing about Him. For this reason, we must make it a huge priority in our lives to see that they know Jesus well. Paul writes, “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14). It is a rhetorical question, calling for the answer, “They cannot believe in such a case.” We are not under the law. We are not living in the Old Testament dispensation. We cannot merely teach our children about right and wrong, fill them with morality lessons, and expect to have “saved children.” They must hear about Jesus – frequently and in good measure. The stories of the healing of the man born blind, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus in the tree, Jesus walking on water, standing up to the Pharisees, the feeding of the five thousand, the healing of the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus’ teachings about trusting in God, and not letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing, and all the other teachings and stories should be told so often to our children that they become “bone of their bones and flesh of their flesh.”

When our children enter school at the age of five or six, they begin what will be an eleven or twelve-year course of instruction in mathematics. Beginning with learning the basic numbers and how to count, they progress to adding and subtracting, and then multiplying and dividing. They learn about fractions and common denominators, and equations and algebra and geometry. Over the course of their primary, middle, and high school years they learn more math than most of them can ever possibly use in their lifetime. This is done because the powers that be have determined that math is a useful subject and can be of great benefit to adults in both their careers and their daily lives.

If we truly believe what the Bible says about salvation in Christ Jesus – that it abolishes eternal destruction and bestows eternal life, that we are given the Holy Spirit who serves as our Comforter, Guide, and Enabler, that we are placed in a justified state with God that is never diminished, that we are given the incredible privilege of being made the children of God – we would make the salvation of our children a never-ceasing quest. We would do anything and everything we possibly could to make sure this becomes the experience of our boys and girls. No amount of money would be spared, no labor, no expenditure of time would be considered excessive in pursuit of this all-important objective. Just as we would not think of depriving our children of an education in math, reading, writing, and grammar, neither would we consider ever withholding from our children the knowledge of God revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and especially the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the means by which He gives the gracious gift of salvation.

We Must Pray

If we truly desire the salvation of our children, we will pray toward that end, continually and consistently. Prayer that arises frequently and fervently from the hearts of believers softens the ground, and moves God to direct circumstances, tenderize hearts, shut dangerous doors and open righteous ones. Prayed-for children are blessed children. Children with praying parents experience the gracious dealings of God in their hearts and lives in ways that other children never will. It is a given that Christians will pray, and they will always pray for those things and objectives which they consider to be of the greatest value and import.

We cannot pray about every single activity of our lives. (I did not pray about which color of socks to wear today, did you?) But the bigger things are those things over which we must surely pray. And what could be bigger than a life – especially a life which God has entrusted to your care? Yes, by all means pray for your child’s safety, pray for his or her future, pray for his health – but whatever you do or don’t pray about, without question you must pray for the salvation of each of your children! Use the words of Scripture in praying for your child. Pray that they might “have the eyes of their understanding enlightened,” and that God might work in them “to will and to do of His good pleasure.” And since no one can come to Jesus without the Father drawing him, pray that the Father might powerfully draw your sons and daughters to Jesus.

Timing

clockWith children, timing is a critical factor in their salvation. Yes, from the time they start to talk, it will be possible for you to have them repeat a prayer for salvation. And it often doesn’t take too much to convince them to be baptized in water. But if you rush them before they are spiritually and mentally ready, you will end up doing more harm than good. There is much we can do to work with the Holy Spirit in the salvation of our children, but we must keep in mind that the best time to draw the net and bring them to Christ is when there is clear evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in their hearts in preparing them to receive that good seed which will produce the fruits of salvation. When my youngest son was around six or seven I discovered that he was crying during the worship service at our church.

He was sometimes subject to headaches, and I assumed that this must be the case this time. But when we got home I asked him why he was crying. He told me, “I just want Jesus so much!” It was perhaps not the most theological expression, but it was from the heart and it was beautiful. I knew that the time was here. Until then I had deliberately held off from pushing him to receive Jesus or be baptized. Now he was ready, and it would have been foolish to delay. I immediately shared Jesus and gave him the plan of salvation. He prayed to receive Jesus and was soon afterwards baptized. At the time of this writing he is nearly thirty and the years have proven the reality of his conversion. No, he is not perfect (nor his dad) but he is a believer. He is saved.

Fruits of Salvation

It is not always easy to determine whether salvation has truly occurred in a child. Because of their age, there will still be foolishness, there will be lots of mistakes, and at times there will surely be a need for discipline and rebuke. But gradually you should begin to see the rise of a lifelong passion for the Lord, and for the things of God. I remember when my oldest daughter, a teenager at the time, was talking to me about a young man with whom she had been sharing Christ. As we talked and she expressed her desire to see him come to know the Lord, tears formed in her eyes. I realized that the grace that was in her life since her early days was maturing. Clearly the “things that accompany salvation” were appearing in her. In times like those a Christian parent gives a sigh of relief and thinks, “Wow. I think this one is going to be OK.”


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