As teachers and parents, it is important that we continually proclaim and live out the Gospel for our children with the hope that, by God’s sovereign grace, they will embrace true saving faith. But it is often difficult to discern where our children and students are at spiritually–especially young children. Here are some helpful thoughts from Sally Michael, as published in the booklet titled Helping Children to Understand the Gospel:
There are genuine conversions of young children, but many times we confuse spiritual interest with saving faith. It is easy to confuse childhood curiosity with conviction. Spiritual interest is a good thing and we should rejoice when we see it, but we need to acknowledge that it is not always saving faith.
When a child shows spiritual interest and a desire to pray to Jesus, we should encourage him to pray and “ask Jesus to work in your heart” or “ask Jesus to save you from your sins.” These are good prayers, but they are not certain evidence of genuine faith in and of themselves. We should encourage young children to trust in Jesus and to receive Jesus and to pray prayers like these, but not give that child the assurance that he is “saved” when he has prayed a prayer like this. A particular prayer may or may not be an expression of genuine saving faith. We need to impress on children that the person who is truly trusting in Jesus will continue to trust in Jesus and to turn away from sin.
It is hard to discern what kind of heart soil the Word of God is falling on when it is sown on young hearts. Many children who profess to know Christ are not saved. A child may think he is saved, and his parents may think he is saved because a prayer was prayed. But if over time there is little interest in spiritual things—if he is bored in church; if he is attracted to the world—he may yet be unconverted. A period of time when there was spiritual interest is no guarantee that the soil was fertile. Persevering in faith is a sign of genuine faith. Wrongly presuming salvation upon a child’s profession of faith can lead to spiritual neglect. Both the law and the Gospel should be kept continually in front of the child, no matter what profession he has made. A parent who has presumed salvation may not continue to pray for the child’s salvation or continue to encourage the child to trust in Jesus, and instead treat the child as a Christian in need only of further sanctification. The dangers of fostering a false assurance in children should be clearly recognized.
The job of the sower is to keep the Gospel in front of the child—to keep sowing the Word of God upon every opportunity; to break up clumps of soil with discipline and training; and to water the seed with unceasing prayer.
(Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)