Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." After laying His hands on them, He departed from there.
- Matthew 19:13-15
In this passage, Matthew describes different people present at the scene where Jesus blesses these children. There is Jesus Himself, the Apostles, and the small children who are trying to come near the Lord. For the purpose of this study, however, I want you to focus on the people not mentioned but who are surely present. These little ones were not wandering the countryside by themselves. Someone had to bring them to Jesus and I would say that the unseen witnesses to this event were the parents. What a difference it makes to a child when the parents are consciously leading their children to Christ!
A good example of the positive results achieved by parents who make this effort is told by Carl Brecheen in one of his seminars. He describes the history of two families who lived at the same time and in the same town, but had very different results with their children and descendants:
1. Max Dukes: Did not believe in God, refused to give his children any religious training or bring them to church. He had 1020 recorded descendants and of these:
- 300 had prison terms
- 120 were prostitutes
- 600 were alcoholics
Millions were spent in public money to assist or prosecute these people, and there is no visible record of any type of contribution that this family and its descendants ever made to society.
2. Johnathan Edwards: Believed in God, taught his children to love the Lord, encouraged them to attend and serve the church. He had 929 recorded descendants and of these:
- 430 were ministers
- 86 were university professors
- 13 were university presidents
- 75 authored good books
- 5 were elected to Congress
- 2 were elected to Senate
- 1 became Vice President of the United States
This is only a single example, but in it we see the great difference it makes when parents lead their children to Jesus Christ. For this reason, I'd like to share some thoughts on the topic of evangelizing children and their ability to respond at a young age to the gospel.
A Child's Responsibility
Discussing the salvation of a child's soul is a sensitive issue because there is no uniform opinion as to when a child is fully responsible and accountable for salvation before God. The problem is that people ask the question, "When does a child resemble an adult enough psychologically and emotionally in order to make a decision about obeying the gospel?" The problem here is that this approach uses only the psychological measuring stick of human development to determine something which is spiritual in nature.
It is interesting to note that in Matthew 18:3, Jesus says that an adult has to become like a child in order to be saved, not the other way around. I believe that a child is subject to the gospel when he is old enough to respond to the gospel. I do not mean the ability to respond like an adult, but respond to the degree that a child can respond, and children can respond to God!
So the Lord called Samuel again for the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli discerned that the Lord was calling the boy.
- 1 Samuel 3:8
Samuel was a boy of 8-10 years of age (the word boy in this verse refers to a child under 12 years) when he responded to the call of the Lord.
Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast; and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. But His parents were unaware of it, but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day's journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him. Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You." And He said to them, "Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father's house?"
- Luke 2:41-49
Jesus was twelve when he began to be independent from His parents (Matthew 19:14).
Note that Jesus invites the children to come to Him and warns us against preventing them from doing so. Children can and want to respond to Christ and we should allow them to do so when that desire is in accord with the gospel.
Note the following passages:
Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father,
And give attention that you may gain understanding;
- Proverbs 4:1
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
- Ephesians 6:1
Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.
- Colossians 3:20
All of these passages are speaking directly to children, not to parents. In these passages, the assumption is made that children can understand and are responsible for obeying. Now, not every child develops at the same pace or understands at the same time. However, children are subject to the gospel and should respond to it when the following circumstances are present:
- They can acknowledge that they believe as true what they have been taught about Jesus. When you ask a child if he believes in Jesus or in God and they say yes, that is genuine faith! It is not the deep faith of an elder who has been a Christian for 40 years, but it is faith uncluttered by doubt or fear, and acceptable before God (we teach our children to believe from the time that they are babies, and when they say they do, we tell them their faith is not good enough).
- A child is responsible for the gospel when he is able to make decisions based on an understanding of right and wrong. Babies and small children are innocent of sin, not because they never do anything selfish or wrong. They remain innocent because they do not understand yet that sin is an offense against a much higher power than mom or dad. In other words, a child is ready to respond when his conscience becomes sensitive to the fact that sin is wrong and punishable by God, not only his parents (this how we know that the knowledge of "right and wrong" exists in them).
- A child is responsible when he can grasp the idea of "lostness" and being saved from this lostness. When children understand the relationship between forgiveness and salvation, they are ready. When our children were small and were punished in some way, there would be a time after the spanking, time-out, etc., when I would go in and hold them in my arms and we would review the events leading up to the punishment and what was expected of them in the future, and then there would be hugs and kisses. This was our parental way of saying that everything was okay. Daddy or mommy was not angry with them. The punishment was over. Forgiveness had taken place.
When a child understands the concept of forgiveness, that child is old enough to be baptized with the idea that this is how God forgives. Baptism is how God puts you on His knee and hugs you and tells you that everything is okay now.
Therefore, children who can confess their faith, know that wrong brings punishment by God, and understand forgiveness are subject to and responsible for the gospel.
Parents also have a responsibility regarding their children and the gospel.
1. We have to teach them.
II Timothy 3:15 shows that Timothy was taught the word of God by his mother and grandmother from an early age. Thankfully, when it comes to teaching children, we have help and the type of students who are ready to learn. Education research tells us that:
A. Kids are easily reached.
Adults are busy, but kids are eager to learn and know more about Jesus. Kids love Vacation Bible School and Sunday School, as well as all the church activities designed to teach them.
B. Kids are easily taught.
Adults have a lot on their minds, but kids have clear, open minds and great memories. All they need is someone and something to fill it with (unfortunately for children today, movies and video games make up the bulk of their diet).
C. Kids are easily convinced.
Adults doubt and are full of sin so they resist, but kids are eager to do right and please God. Better we convince them of Jesus early on because an unbelieving world (and education system) will do its best to convince them that there is no God.
The first responsibility of parents, therefore, is to see to it that their children learn about Jesus. The problem is never the eagerness or willingness of the kids, it is the parents who fail to bring them to be taught, or neglect to teach them themselves.
2. We have to aim them.
Raising Christian children is like shooting an arrow at a target:
- Parents are the bow
- Children are the arrow
- Jesus is the target
We cannot expect to hit the target if we do not aim at it. The Bible tells us that we should raise our children with the express purpose that they will know and obey God's word (Deuteronomy 11:18-19). We do not raise children and hope they will become Christians by chance. We raise them in a Christian environment and teach them about Christ with the hope that they will one day become Christians. The sooner they decide to obey the gospel, the less of their lives that they will waste.
Parents must not feel guilty or embarrassed if they regularly insist on VBS, Christian camps, and youth activities. We, as Christian parents, do not need to defend our insistence on church attendance and Christian behavior in the home and school because this is who we are and what we are aiming at for our children. We do not always hit the target but we are at least aiming at the correct target!
What does this mean for us as parents and children?
- It means that if you are a young person who wants to be a Christian, who wants to go to heaven, then talk to your parents about it and do not put it off for another time.
- If you are a parent, it means you have a great challenge before you because you will have to go against the flow of a hectic lifestyle and a society addicted to materialism and a godless media that celebrates immorality. You will have to establish the salvation of your child's soul as a priority. Parents often say, "All I want is for my child to be happy." I tell you, "Your child will never be happy if he lives his life without Christ." If you really want happy children, bring them to Jesus and bring them to Him as soon as possible!
In Matthew 19:14 we see the invisible hands of parents bringing their children to be blessed by Jesus. Let their example be our guide as we gently push our own children away from ourselves and into the loving arms of the Lord.
A Little Child's Dad
by Lloyd Kiric
I may never be as clever as my neighbor down the street.
I may never be as wealthy as some other men I meet.
I may never have the glory that some other men have had;
But I've got to be successful as a little child's Dad.
There are certain dreams I cherish that I'd like to see come true.
There are things I would accomplish ere by working time is through;
But the task my heart is set on is to guide a little lad
And make myself successful as that little child's Dad.
It's the one job I dream of; it's the task I think of most;
If I fail that growing youngster, I'd have nothing else to boast.
For though wealth and fame I'd gather, all my future would be said;
If I failed to be successful as that little child's Dad.
I may never get earth's glory; I may never gather gold;
Men may count me as a failure when my business life is told;
But if the child who follows me is Christian, I'll be glad;
For I'll now have been successful as a little child's Dad.