20 May 2014
Leading Children to Christ
By Pat Palau
Today people often think children somehow become Christians by osmosis. But God has no grandchildren—growing up in a Christian home doesn't make you a Christian. Each person must make his or her own decision.
Some parents don't talk about salvation with their children, as if it were a theological matter only for adults to discuss at church. The message many children pick up is: "Wait until you grow up and then you can make your decision." But it's really the other way around. God calls us to become like children (Matthew 18:2-5)!
As parents, we need to model what being a Christian is about, and show that we deeply care whether our children make a genuine commitment to Jesus Christ. This doesn't mean we need to rush or force their decision! It means that, through prayer, we trust the Holy Spirit to use us and speak through us to our children. And we can trust that God's work in our children's lives will not be messed up by our mistakes.
So here are a few basics for sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with your children:
Conversations with children about spiritual matters often take place spontaneously...especially if you're trying to put them to bed. Still, take advantage of those times when your children want to talk with you.
Our youngest son, Stephen, asked a million questions when we'd put him to bed. For a while, he was fascinated with heaven. "Where is it?" "Who's there?" "How are we going to get there?" And, "How can we get there so quickly?"
With these questions, the teacher in you comes out and you think, "Okay, how do I illustrate that?" It's trial and error. If they misunderstand, don't panic. Our errors and mistakes won't threaten God's purposes.
When your child misunderstands, don't give up talking about the Gospel. Go back and say, "Now remember what we were talking about yesterday?" and readdress the issue in terms they understand. Use illustrations from their lives, from nature, from things they deal with daily.
Young children are naturally inclined to trust and believe in God. They may sometimes absorb wrong concepts about "asking Jesus into your heart," but kids have wrong concepts and later say, "Can you believe what I thought when I was five?"
A child's inadequate concept of God is not innately wrong. As 1 Corinthians 13:11 says, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child." The Bible doesn't criticize a child's thinking. The One who made us knows us. He understands how children think, and doesn't expect us to fully understand the Gospel before we commit our lives to Jesus Christ.
Covering the Basics
It's essential that we emphasize God as our heavenly Father. Instead of initially focusing on sin, we should reinforce the fact that our heavenly Father, who is perfect, loves us with a love that never ends. Sin does need to be addressed. We don't know when children develop a sense of guilt and personal responsibility, but it may be earlier than we realize. The aim, of course, is to show children that Jesus took our sins on Himself.
A simple illustration of this is to hold an object in one hand, explaining that that object represents all our sins. When Jesus died on the cross, God took our sins and laid them on His Son.
Then place the object in your other hand. Where are those sins now? They're on Jesus, not me. He took them. That illustration can be repeated again and again to get the point across to your child.
Telling the Story of Jesus
The cross and crucifixion of Jesus Christ is profoundly moving to children. Don't shy away from it.
The best approach in teaching about the Lord Jesus is to start at the beginning and proceed chronologically. First, God loves us and entered the human race, born of the Virgin Mary. As a man, He healed the sick and fed the hungry. Then He was betrayed, crucified, and buried. Three days later He rose from the dead and six weeks later went back to heaven.
Our goal as parents should be to bring up our children in an atmosphere where to trust Jesus Christ as Savior is as natural as to trust one's Christian parents, only more so.
Every conversion story is different. But a person at some point should confess the Lord Jesus as Savior. Such an experience is important to help us peg down our commitment and relationship with the Lord. We need that for a sense of security to counterattack Satan when he assaults us with doubts: "How do you know you're a Christian?" Those decision points are especially important for a child to remember.
It's important, though, for a child to remember his or her own experience instead of simply going along with what we say. My grandmother brought the Gospel into our family and used to tell people that "Oh, Patsy prayed to receive Christ when she was 3." Okay, but that meant nothing to me and I knew it. The day I clearly remember trusting Jesus Christ and making sure of my relationship with Him took place when I was 8 years old.
Sometimes we cling to something our child said or did years ago, believing he or she is a real Christian. But that child may end up being rebellious and dead to God as a teenager. If we don't see any spiritual light in a son's or daughter's eye, we can't afford to cling to the testimony we've been giving for that child. He or she should give it.
As a parent, look for signs of spiritual life in your children. Does he see God's presence in circumstances? Is she concerned for others, especially the lost?
Every Christian must at times reaffirm, "Lord, I do trust You. I do believe You. No matter what doubts and troubles may come, I believe You're my Savior." We've seen that in our own family. One of our sons said he had received the Lord through one of Luis's messages. But several years later, that wasn't the incident he came back to when giving his testimony.
Children may have several parallel decisions, all building blocks in his or her Christian experience. What matters is the decision that stands out in his or her heart and mind.
Children raised in Christian homes often commit their lives to the Lord Jesus several times in different ways as they're growing up. If you ask them when they became a Christian, they'll probably say, "The earliest decision I can remember is...." Others, like Billy Graham's wife, Ruth, say they can't remember a specific day when they received Christ, but they can't remember a day when they didn't trust Him either.
We have to recognize that is often the situation of a child growing up in a Christian home. Why should we instill doubt when a child has always loved Jesus and always trusted Him?
Need for Assurance
Wanting to make sure we're saved is a natural, human response to doubt. As a parent, we may not say anything immediately if we hear a child say, "I asked Jesus into my heart again today." Wait for a teachable moment when the subject comes up naturally and then say, "When we come to Jesus, we're His forever. Nothing can separate us from God's love." We can teach about assurance without making a frontal attack if a child doesn't understand it. God understands.
Lacking assurance shows immaturity. Children need reassurance. Parents can move alongside a child and say, "You know, aren't you glad that Jesus will never, ever let you out of His hands? See how close His hand is? You're inside there. He's never going to let you go. You're part of His family forever." Memorize biblical promises about assurance, such as John 10:28, with a child. Then when doubts come, say, "Remember what we memorized last week?"
How do we know when our child has sincerely received Jesus Christ as Savior? Emotion isn't a reliable barometer. Tears are irrelevant to the sincerity of commitment. A child's heart attitude is what counts, but that isn't always easy for a parent to discern.
Discipleship in the Home
Our goal as Christian parents is to lead our children into a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and then spend the rest of their growing-up years discipling them. We must keep those two concepts separate. First we're born into God's family, then the lifelong process of discipleship begins.
As parents, we often see things in our children's lives that are inconsistent with Christianity. It's in the home where we have the privilege of saying anything that crosses our mind. Our worst side comes out. But when you're looking at your child and wondering, "Is this kid really a Christian?" remember when you were born again. We need to have long memories.
Philippians 1:6 says, "I am confident that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." As soon as a child accepts Jesus Christ as Savior, he or she is saved. God has begun a good work in that child's life, even if we can't always see it.
Unless we become like little children, we can't enter the kingdom of heaven. "The kingdom belongs to such as these," says Jesus. Let's actively, prayerfully encourage our children to come to Him.