Parenting Issues: Dealing with the Young in Salvation

The little footsteps coming down the hallway headed for the parent’s bedroom. As 5 year old Susie paused in the doorway, the hall nightlight revealed a tear-stained face. “Mommy,” she cried, “I can’t sleep. I want to be saved.”

Every Christian parent longs to hear such words from their children and ultimately to joy in the knowledge of their salvation. Speaking to them about the truths of the Gospel, especially at a tender age, is often most difficult. And when their anxiety and soul trouble continue without resolve, it becomes an even greater challenge and burden. We are often caught between two large hurdles – of making salvation more difficult than it is or of making it too easy. Of course, a 5 year old is unable to grasp the meaning of words like “propitiation” or “justification” but does that mean that our “little tykes” must wait until their comprehension is mature and developed? Thankfully, the Lord Jesus Himself said so invitingly, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Many of the Lord’s people were saved early in life and have lived to prove the reality of their profession.

Precedents to Appreciate

While the Scriptures are not filled with many examples of young children trusting Christ, we are not left without some precedents. Moses’ mother Jochebed had a very narrow “window of opportunity” to convey spiritual truth to him. She had moved “by faith” in his infancy, hiding him from Pharaoh’s sword. Undoubtedly, she had filled his heart with the truths of God and their relationship with Jehovah. Somewhere in those early years, Moses had been taught who “his brethren” were and the great riches linked with the person of Christ. And when she finally placed the ark into the river, it was both close to shore and superintended by Mir-iam. Jochebed’s example is a pointed reminder to us that our dealings with our children regarding their salvation begin long before the actual moment of deliverance. She prayerfully preserved her son from the influences of the age and filled his young soul and mind with the eternal truths of God’s Word. Hannah was another mother whose exercise resulted in “a Samuel.” Her prayer for a child was heard but her burden involved more than just an alleviation of her own barrenness. She knew that the nation was spiritually bankrupt and she longed to see a man raised up for God’s glory. Have we prayed that our children will be saved and then used for the advance of the kingdom of God? Perhaps our prayers have stopped short of a full exercise. A New Testament example can certainly be seen in Timothy’s experience for while he had been saved through the instrumentality of Paul, his mother and grandmother had filled his early days with the Word of God. As Paul wrote, “from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures which are able to make thee wise unto salvation” (2 Tim 3:15).The Word of God as the living seed is vital for the Spirit’s working. Thus, the parents’ greatest work for their child’s salvation involves an impartation of the Word of God, both by text and by example. Young lives will be indelibly marked by the realities that they see and hear.

Pitfalls to Avoid

But, now, little Susie is crying at the door. What do we do now? Despite our deep longings for her salvation, there are some pitfalls to avoid. Let me suggest a few:

i) “Talk Them In” 

Well-meaning parents sometimes seek to do the work of the Spirit. We carefully explain the truths of sin, judgment, and the work of the cross and convey the invitation of the Savior. Susie nods dutifully, indicating that she understands what we’re saying. But the sniffling continues and it becomes clear that there’s a “roadblock.” Again we cover the same ground and this time, Susie says, “But Mommy, I believe but I’m not saved!” After the third and fourth times, we begin to panic and frustration starts to build. Finally, after wearying hours, we are relieved to hear them say, “I’m saved”, but even then the nagging question arises, “Have they believed my word or have they believed God’s Word?”

ii) Emotional Assault

It hardly needs to be said that every child is different. Some are timid and fearful while others are perceptive and bold. Young children are easily impressed and influenced by outward circumstance and emotions but this can be a danger zone when it comes to speaking to them about salvation. At times when they seem to be “stuck” and days and weeks pass with continued soul trouble, we’re tempted to revert to some drastic measures. Sometimes parents try to frighten their children into salvation with an unbalanced focus on the Lord’s coming or on the reality of death. “Scaring them into the kingdom” may seem like an appropriate gesture in the short term but the long-term outfall of such actions result many times in the cynical turning-away of our loved one.

iii) Time Delay

How young is too young? The silence of Scripture attests to the fact that our God puts no limit on age. However, I am convinced that if a child is to understand and appreciate a personal deliverance and salvation, there must be some recognition and understanding of personal sin and lostness. This is often difficult to determine when a 4 or 5 year old longs to be saved. An easy way out is to briefly explain the way of salvation and then tell them to “think about it.” A few more years may bring a clearer focus for them. That may well be true but we dare not minimize their burden. A safer route would be to recognize their questions and concern in a sincere and definite way and after explaining God’s way of salvation in a fitting and applicable manner, leave the door open for further talks.

Principles to Apply

Although pointing a soul to Christ doesn’t follow a formula or an ABC step program, there are principles to apply. The following are a few suggestions which might be of help:

i) Be Gentle

Gentleness is a treasured factor. “The servant of the Lord must not strive but be gentle…” (2 Tim 2:24). We are dealing with precious souls in view of eternity.

ii) Stop to Listen 

Many times, we plunge into a full explanation of the way of salvation without determining the basis of concern or the level of conviction. A few well-aimed questions would allow us the knowledge of the source of the problem. Some children have great concern over the Lord’s coming but little awareness of sin. Others struggle with believing while still others might be wondering whether the Bible is true or not. Find out where you should start.

iii) Check their Understanding

As you speak with them, ask them questions about the truths that you have covered. Sometimes it’s helpful to have them tell you the Bible illustration that you are using. For example, if you are speaking about the Passover and the blood of the lamb, let them relate the narrative and seek to explain why the oldest son was sheltered from judgment. This will give an insight into their comprehension and at times, they will “see” the truth of the passage even as they’re speaking. Never tell a child that they are saved on your authority. If they ask “Am I saved?’, respond by asking them, “What does God say?” or “What does the Bible tell us?”

iv) Pray for Guidance

Every soul-winner knows the feeling of helplessness as he seeks to point a soul to the Savior. It is a “spiritual work” that involves the conviction and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. Despite all our best efforts, the darkness of soul persists and we can only cry to God for wisdom to say the right words and for His power in deliverance.

v) Wait Patiently for God’s Time

Trying to “rush the clock” only brings disaster. God’s time is “now” but not every child is saved after the first talk. As links in the chain, we should seek to focus the truth of salvation for them and allow the Spirit of God to do His work. Many a Sunday School teacher has planted seeds of truth in the heart of a child which only come to fruition in later years. Never pressure your child into a profession. Young children want to please their parents and so this is a subtle danger.

vi) Don’t Rush to Publicize

It is tempting to rush to the computer after a profession of faith and email the news to everyone we know. Though we love to share our joy with others, sometimes we can do a grave disservice to the child (or adult for that matter) to place him in a position to communicate or defend his salvation before he is ready. False professions can become grounded in this way. Wait. Let him have the joy and confidence in telling others.

The Person to Accept

Ultimately, our purpose and desire is to show the beauty and sufficiency of the Lord Jesus to our children. Many children are totally consumed with believing and it comes as a great shock when they realize that it’s Christ and His work in which salvation rests. Thus, it’s helpful at times to steer clear of “believing verses” and center more on the work of Christ in view of our sin.

i) The Remedy for Sin

Children often become locked in circular reasoning such as the following: “I need to be saved because I’m going to hell” and “I’m going to hell because I am not saved.” They are missing the central issue. I have found it more helpful to ask a concerned child several key questions such as, “If your sins were forgiven, could you go to heaven?” and “If your sins were forgiven, would you be saved?” There is nothing about believing in these questions but they focus on the root issues of our need. If a child understands that it’s his/her sin that’s the problem, you could take them to 1 Peter 2:24, 1 Peter 3:18, Hebrews 9:26, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Romans 5:6-8 and many more passages that deal specifically with the work of Christ in “putting away sin.” The truth of a finished work from John 19:30 would tell them that there is nothing more to do while Ephesians 2:8-9 would instruct them that human works and effort are unacceptable. The value and necessity of the blood is fittingly illustrated from the Passover account of Exodus 12 while 1 John 1:7 tells of the complete cleansing for sin that is found in the blood of Christ.

ii) The Reliability of the Scriptures

Faith never stands by itself but always has an object. When it comes to salvation, our faith must rest ultimately and solely in Christ and His work at the cross but the problem that arises for many children involves the lack of seeing. How can I believe in someone that I can’t see? It’s at this critical point that we must help them to understand that we are able to know the Savior and all that He has accomplished by His Word. To believe Him is to believe His Word. The two are inseparably linked. “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom 10:17).

iii) The Rest that Comes with Salvation

Young hearts may not be able to fathom the fulness of salvation but a few simple words of encouragement and instruction to a child who has trusted the Savior are of great value. Tell him/her of the great blessings of knowing Christ and the assurance of eternal life. Children are prone to “feelings” and so may well have some “roller-coaster” experiences regarding their salvation. Stress the satisfaction of God with the work of the Lord Jesus at the cross, allowing them to see that since God is satisfied, we can be also. And in the days to come, take time to pray with them and encourage them to pray as well. We have not only a remedy for sin but an eternal relationship with our God through His Son. Nurture that relationship with prayer and caring so that we, as parents, may share in the joy of knowing that our children walk in truth.