Children and Salvation: Is It Ever Too Early?

20130516-084844.jpgMy six-year old was saved Monday.

Well, at least that’s what he told me when he came home from school. As it turns out, a children’s ministry from a local church holds a voluntary Bible club with the kids after school every so often and so, during that time, the salvation bracelet was given to the kids and the Gospel was shared.

I must be quick to say, I am grateful for such a ministry! That a sister church would have such a ministry to our children is both commendable and appreciated. However, my wife and I were more than a bit troubled when Andrew came in declaring, “I’m saved!”

As it turns out, the children were not only explained the Gospel, they were led through a “Sinner’s Prayer” to ask Jesus into their heart. That’s the prayer that is found in, uh…is it John?…Matthew? Hmm…now that I think about it, not sure I’ve ever actually read it***. Anyway , my son is one of those who prayed the prayer.

My concern is in knowing how easy it is to get kids to say the words you want them to say whether or not they understand it or believe it. Because of this fact, my wife and I have been very intentional in talking with our children about the Gospel, praying over them, and leading them down a path that would provide them with ample opportunity to be exposed to Truth and, hopefully, real transformation. Ah, transformation. There’s that word that is often missing in many people’s idea of salvation. Too often, it’s all about having a minimal understanding of the truth…enough to get you to say those words and you’re in. Often, though, you’re not.

An encounter with Christ is about transformation, is it not? For someone who believes that regeneration must proceed confession (Ephesians 2), getting a child to say mere words is troubling, if not terrifying. Now, my son potentially has grounds for actually ignoring a real, inner Gospel call because he’s already “prayed the prayer”. He’s already rubbed the lamp and said the magic words. He’s in.

Is he?

Maybe he is. We will watch and see, talk with him and pray over him. If so, I will celebrate like nobody’s business. If he’s not, things may have gotten more complicated than they need have.

A better alternative?

I think there is one. I believe a better approach would have been for the minister to share the Gospel and then, if there are children who are curious or express interest, stop there and contact the parents. Let them know their child is interested in knowing more about the saving work of Jesus. Then go from there. This is a voluntary club, so the kids are there because the parents want their kids there.  Perhaps the parents want the minister to help them in talking with their child. Perhaps, like us, while appreciating this children’s ministry, they would prefer to wait a little longer on asking for some decision. Instead, they plowed right through and I got a call Tuesday letting me know what happened the day before. A little late.

Frankly, discerning the spiritual condition of a child is difficult. That’s the key, though…discerning. It takes time to watch and listen to the child in order to discern whether there is a legitimate working of the Holy Spirit of God rather than a desire to have a cool bracelet and get dunked in the pool. Some will disagree with me. There was a time in my life I probably would have, too. Belief in a Sovereign God, however, leads me away from pushing my children through the door of salvation. It’s the only thing that gives me peace now as we watch and wait, patient to let the Holy Spirit do His work, realizing that work is not mine.

I came across a helpful article this week about this very thing entitled, How do we discern the spiritual conversion of children. It offers some advice for parents and ministers in helping children rightly understand the things of God. Hope it helps.

***Scripture is clear that we are to repent. Certainly, that involves prayer, but there is nothing that I have found in Scripture where we are to “ask Jesus into our hearts.” Romans 10:13 and Acts 2:21 say we are to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. Though often cited as grounds for that particular brand of the Sinner’s Prayer, I don’t believe that’s ample grounds for establishing that as  a step to salvation. I call on His name in repentance.  Splitting hairs? I don’t think so. The biblical mandate for salvation is simply “repent and believe.” (Mark 1:15, Romans 3:20, Romans 10:9-10, Acts 17:30, 26:20). We find nothing beyond this actually in Scripture.  Is it necessary to add a non-biblical step to what Scripture has commanded? Belief involves trust. Trust and repentance are followed by actions. (Jesus even warned that not everyone who calls Him “Lord” will enter into the Kingdom, but He who DOES the will of the Father. John 10:10). That should be enough. Anything more is fertile ground for providing a false sense of security (“I asked Jesus into my heart. Regardless of what I do, I’m secure.”) When the answer to that question is the basis upon which we determine the security of a person, we’re walking on shaky ground.