I have two young children. My wife and I have tried to teach both of them the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus faithfully (though far from perfectly) since their births. Yet, when it comes to a profession of salvation, one is quite confident while the other perpetually wallows in insecurity. Does this mean one of my children is regenerate and the other is not? No. Does this mean that neither is regenerate, despite their professions? No. Does this mean they are both regenerate, but simply have different levels of assurance? Not necessarily. What this means is that kids, like us, are complicated, and we need wisdom and discernment when it comes to the matter of their regeneration.
The doctrine of regeneration, or the new birth, is central to Christianity. For the Christian parent, therefore, it is an issue of great concern. If we care about our kids, which we tend to do, we spend a lot of time wanting them to be saved, wondering if they are saved, and/or waiting for them to be saved.
It is important, however, that we parents be careful about falling into one of two extremes.
On the one hand, we can assume our children are what they say they are simply because they say so. However, if we understand the doctrines of regeneration and conversion rightly, we know that a mere profession of faith if meaningless. It would be extremely easy for most parents to lead their young children in a “sinner’s prayer” any day of the week, wipe a “phew” from our foreheads, and check the salvation box. In so doing, we run a great risk of implanting a false security in their minds that will become more and more difficult to supplant with age.
On the other hand, we can be so close-minded about salvation in our young children that we never even entertain the possibility that God may have genuinely regenerated them. One thing that is clearly absent in Scripture is the notion of an age requirement for following Christ. Jesus certainly welcomed the children, and rebuked those who would keep them from Him.
So, what do we do?
- Live out a Christian life in front of your kids. No one listens more closely to your words, sees more consistently how you react, and watches more carefully what you do than your kids.
- Preach and teach the Gospel clearly, accurately, fully, faithfully, and joyfully. We must be diligent to teach the full counsel of God—His attributes, our sin, His judgment, His salvation, our response. And pay attention to that last word “joyfully.” If the Gospel doesn’t excite us, why should we expect it to excite them?
- Discourage sin and disobedience. Be consistent in discipline, and take as many opportunities as possible to point out what the Bible says about that sin.
- Encourage them when they show signs of understanding, obedience, and faith. Do not disregard professions of faith, or imply they are lying about it—but encourage them by using Scripture to affirm or modify their vision of what true faith looks like. Show them that genuine salvation is a work of God alone, and encourage them to continue to seek after Him.
- Never cease praying for your children’s salvation. Never cease praying for yourself, that you would be a faithful witness and guide into God’s truth for them.