“Mom, Dad,” we heard as the light turned off.
“I know Jesus is God. I want Jesus to save me and be my King.”
Those words streaked through the dark and paralyzed my wife and I as we stood in our son’s doorway. We had just prayed, kissed him good night, and turned the light off when he sat up in bed and spoke those words to us. I remember that simultaneous rush of excitement and fear. All I could think was, “I do not want to mess this up.” I had counseled countless parents and children through this same process. Now it was my child, and it was different.
“I’m ready to ask Jesus into my heart,” is not necessarily a statement of saving faith for a child. Children are naturally curious and often begin asking specific questions about salvation, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. The age of five or six seems to be a common time for these questions to begin, depending on the child. This should be one of the most exciting indicators that your child is growing in their understanding of God. You need to see it more like a beginning rather than a finish because discipling is a life long process.
LifePoint has always enjoyed the blessing of many children in our fellowship. One familiar question often heard from parents is, “How do I know when it is time for my child to be baptized?” Parents needs to be attentive to and prepared for this question. We believe Scripture is clear that it is the parent’s responsibility to disciple their children. Our vision at LifePoint is to be a help and encouragement, as well as a provider of strong gospel-centered resources to equip parents in this exciting journey. I hope this post provides some insight and encouragement to parents who want to fill the hearts and minds of their children with Jesus.
Explaining salvation to your child should be set within the larger story of God. A basic knowledge of God includes knowing that he is the creator of all things, the father of Jesus, and that he created us in his image to know him in a personal relationship. Salvation makes no sense outside the larger story of God and creation. Do not be afraid to teach children God’s divine attributes. These concepts may seem complex for children, but teaching them about God’s power, wisdom, and love provides a foundation for faith.
Introducing your child to Jesus begins with basic information. A child should know that Jesus is God’s only Son, was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for sin, was buried in a tomb, raised on the third day, and now reigns in heaven with God the Father. These characteristics help the child understand that Jesus was a real person. Introducing Jesus’ divine attributes such as holy, eternal, powerful, loving, and Lord of all is also important. This helps the child understand that Jesus is God. John 1 is a great reference to read with your child and show them that Jesus is the Word; he is God and became man.
A basic knowledge of the person of God and of Jesus is essential to provide a proper context to understand salvation. The next important concept to understand is sin. Many parents have asked if teaching their child about sin is really important when they are young. The common hesitation is that it makes them uncomfortable and afraid it will in some way make their child not love or like God.
The importance of a child’s understanding of sin cannot be overstated. This will become a key indicator of your child’s preparedness for saving faith in Jesus. They must understand what sin means. A child must know that every person has “missed the mark,” including themselves. A child must also know that because of sin we are separated from God. The Genesis story in chapters 1-3 is a great help in showing how sin separates from God. Children must understand that sin means we cannot save ourselves and are in need of a savior. This is not always an easy concept to teach to children. The heart can resist the idea of sin even at an early age. This is why it is important for parents to not rush through explaining sin but take time to make sure the child understands.
A child may initially grasp a concept of sin, but it is often removed from any personal responsibility. Knowing what sin means isn’t enough. A child must recognize sin as personal. There must be conviction and godly sorrow for sin. Conviction over personal sin and a genuine sorrow for how sin separates from God is the most important characteristic for a parent to observe and discern the child’s readiness to profess faith in Jesus. A parent must be very careful not to read into the child’s response or articulate a response for their child. Until sin is personal for a child, they cannot express a saving faith.
I offer a word of caution and counsel at this point to parents. Do not move too quickly past sin. More than wanting your child to know what sin is you want your child to be trained to recognize sin in their life and learn to rightly respond in repentance. This will take time and much encouragement and reinforcement from you. Pride says we should move past sin quickly. Grace encourages us to deal with sin fully. Learn to affirm and walk with your child through this process of recognition and repentance instead of trying to move them beyond it.
The gospel comes to life when we are in our greatest need. Grace is sweetest when sin is darkest. The most exciting part of discerning a child’s understanding of sin is explaining the power of what Jesus has done on the cross. Jesus took care of sin on the cross and all that sin did to separate us from God. When we show them how helpless we are in sin it makes God’s grace in Jesus that much sweeter. Using aids such as The Jesus Storybook Bible can help to explain and describe how Jesus has taken care of our sin and brings forgiveness and cleansing.
We should be careful to talk about grace in biblical ways. When you explain salvation, be careful to give a biblical understanding more than just an illustrative one. God’s salvation is sometimes illustrated in ways that reduce or oversimplify. I recently heard salvation explained as, “God picks us up after a wreck on our bicycle and makes everything okay.” This seriously reduces what God has done in salvation. A child may not fully comprehend all aspects, but that does not negate their faith. Be careful to talk about God, Jesus, sin, grace, faith, and salvation in ways that are true to a biblical understanding.
The value of celebration and thanksgiving for forgiveness and cleansing cannot be overstated. As important as it is to make sure a child understands sin personally, it is equally important to celebrate Jesus’ forgiveness and cleansing. Children learn to value what we teach and train them to make important. Thanksgiving and celebration in Jesus should characterize how we train our children to respond to Jesus’ love and forgiveness.
Counseling your child about salvation is not a “memorize and test for accuracy,” but it can feel this way. Be careful not to “lead” or “drive” the conversation. Ask open questions and let your child tell you what they are thinking and feeling. Inquire honestly, but don’t push. Let them work through it in their timing. Don’t stress over “getting it done.” When God is working in their heart they will not forget about it. Read the Bible with them regularly. Use their questions as opportunity to teach them about Jesus. Teaching and training your child in the knowledge and wisdom of God, in a strong understanding of sin and salvation, and in a hopeful love and faith in Jesus should be a regular rhythm of life.
If you have further questions or want to speak with a pastor or ministry leader, please feel free to contact us at the LifePoint offices. We have resources to help you disciple your child about salvation. We stand ready and eager to help and encourage you in any way we can. May God raise up an army of children through LifePoint to serve his kingdom mission for greater glory.