You don’t need to believe in infant baptism to risk falling into the presumption that if you do x, z, and z, your children will be saved. Baptists and my fellow home-schoolers can do this too at times. That’s why I usually call this “presumptuous parenting” rather than “hyper-covenantal parenting.” It’s a problem that impacts more than infant-baptizing churches.

Last week, I briefly touched on the serious eternal consequences of such false confidence. Today I’d like to highlight some of the more immediate spiritual damage that can sometimes be caused – both to the parents and their children.

Damage to the Parents

1. Proud parents: If I believe my parenting is the key to my children’s salvation, then I’ll boast and take the credit for it rather than give all the glory to God. And I’ll be very critical of the parenting and educating skills of Christians with rebellious children.

2. Sovereign parents: Presumptuous parenting tends to be very formulaic and mechanistic: 10 steps to this, 7 steps to that, etc. Though such parents may often speak of the sovereignty of God, in reality God is not sovereign in the salvation of their children – their skills and methods are. Instead of humbly and importunately begging a Sovereign God to exercise His powerful mercy to save their children, they present God with their parenting and educating, and sovereignly demand that He now do their bidding.

3. Frustrated parents: If I regard and treat my children as Christians when they are not, I am going to be in a state of constant frustration and disappointment when they misbehave. “Why are you doing that? Why are you not doing that? You’re a Christian, come on, act like one!” Yet, without regeneration, they don’t have a hope of meeting my standards, never mind God’s. They need our compassion not our frustration.

4. Despairing parents: What happens if, despite my best efforts, my children end up leaving the church or at least failing to profess faith and live a godly life in their late teens or early twenties? According to some, they have apostatized and left the faith. What despair! What a sense of failure after all my efforts! It’s all my fault.

5. Harsh parents: If I assume my child is a Christian and he is not acting like it, I’m going to use increasingly severe punishments to bring him into line. Because it all depends on me, doesn’t it?

Damage to Children

1. Proud children: If unconverted children are frequently told that they are special, that they are already Christians or “The people of God” (without any qualification of that term), they will inevitably see themselves as better than the unbaptized (or un-home-schooled) heathen. Instead of their privileges humbling them and making them see that to whomsoever much is given, much shall be required, they tend to rest on their “laurels” in complacent pride. As the Pharisees once said: “We be Abraham’s children.” Presumptuous parents produce presumptuous children.

2. Unevangelized children: Such children are taught lots of Christian doctrine and mega-details of Christian conduct, but rarely hear the Gospel from their parents. They are not told they are dead in sins and need to be born again. They are not told that they are shapen in sin and conceived in iniquity (Ps. 51) and that they need a new heart. They don’t have Christ set in front of them daily or from the pulpit as a suitable, sufficient, and willing Savior.

3. Vulnerable children: Such children can do outwardly well for a while…until they are confronted with temptation in the absence of the multiple external restraints. They go to college, or work away from home, or start a business, or enter a relationship, but have no inner spiritual resources to resist temptation and often begin to compromise in areas of personal morality and financial integrity. And even if they resist sin, without grace, they become self-righteous and self-confident Pharisees, which in some ways is even worse.

4. Joyless children: They do what they ought to do but without the inward fuel of joy and delight in God. Prayer and Bible reading and church are mere duties. They do it because they have to do it and have always done it and are expected to do it. Not because they need to, want to, or love to. They have enthusiasm for sport, entertainment, business, friends, hobbies, etc., but none for worship, Christian service, and spirituality.

5. Mislabeled children: Often when the children of presumptuous parents go astray, they are labeled as apostates who have departed from the faith. However, if they never had faith they can never leave the faith.

If such were baptized as infants, we might call them covenant-breakers, but they are not apostate. To call such children hopeless apostates, especially of the Hebrews 6 variety, is to put them outside the pale of prayer and evangelism.

But as they never professed saving faith in Christ, they are not treading the blood of Christ underfoot and treating it as an unworthy thing. No, they are simply rebellious sinners whose hearts have been revealed. They must be prayed for and witnessed to in hope of them repenting and believing the Gospel for the first time.

Optimistic Parenting
I’m not arguing for pessimistic parenting here. I’m arguing for optimistic parenting that is founded upon God’s Gospel promises (e.g. Jn. 3:16; 6:37; Rom. 10:9; Isa. 55:6; Acts 16:31).

I assume my children are born unregenerate, but I use all the means of grace God has made available through the church, education, and family religion, and optimistically preach the Gospel to them at every opportunity, reminding them again and again of both their privileges and responsibility.

My hope is not in my flawed covenant-keeping, my faulty educating, or my fail-filled child-training. My hope is in my merciful Savior sovereignly blessing His Gospel promises to the salvation of my children.

  • Tracey

    Thank you for this, David. I think that false assumption on behalf of parents is why our teens are “leaving the faith” in droves once they leave their parental authority. It was never their faith to begin with, but was assumed to be.

    • David Murray

      Totally agree with you Tracey.

  • St. Steve of Northern Lights

    Pastor Murray,

    Thanks for covering this topic and your thoughts on it! I think this topic is relevant and this subject is deep, although there is a simplicity to it, that a child could understand.
    I grew up in a covenantal reformed church, believing that I was “chosen” and in the covenant. However the Lord used conviction of sin in my life, and the faithful pastoring of pastor’s and elders to point me to look to the love of Christ (being driven to the cross)! Praise the Lord for that. I still believe that I am chosen and a child of covenant grace, but I also see that Christ died for me personally, individually! Therefore, the covenant promises apply to me! Seeing Christ by faith, and in love has made all the difference for my Christian life!
    So this is a touchy subject too! It seems that the perspectives people articulate could be the same, but they articulate it differently, or that there is a genuine disagreement on some specific points about this. For instance, “do we evangelize our children?” I am still uncomfortable with that language. Do we evangelize our churches?
    A question: Is it helpful in considering this subject to ask: Is the way a Pastor preaches. teaches, and shepherds the people in the congregation (with loving preaching of Christ, including warnings and exhortations to follow, repent, etc), be the same as Godly parents to their children in the covenant? The Pastor preaches/teaches, exhorts, sets a godly example, expecting God to work, by his grace and will, in the lives of the flock? So the Parents preaches Christ (the whole counsel of God) to their children, aka little sheep, expecting that according to God’s will and promises, they will grow? And no discipline seems pleasant either church discipline, or parental discipline. So just as a church member could naively or ignorantly say “I am saved, I am a good persona and a member of the church, so a child could naively say, “of course i am a christian, i am in the covenant!” But we expect that as we all abide in the vine, Christ will abide with us and we bear more fruit.
    This doctrine of the covenant, perhaps is of a similar vein to the calls in Hebrews, to make our calling and election sure? How can that NT preacher preach such a message to saved Christians, with the warning to do so, “lest we drift away!!!!” That should be preached from the puplit and from the parents lap!?

    Any thoughts? And thanks again for bringing up this topic!

    In Christ Jesus,

    PS I wonder if both views, also have different views about disciplining children?

    • David Murray

      Stephen, I think you’re right that sometimes it’s sometimes a difference in the words we use, although we are perhaps talking about the same thing. That’s why we have to strive for language that’s as clear and unambiguous as possible. I definitely believe in evangelizing my unconverted children and the unconverted in the church. By evangelize I mean putting the warnings and promises of the Gospel before them and calling them to Christ. There are parallels between pastors and parents in that both use God’s means both for the conversion of the unsaved and the edification and growth of believers.

  • Carey

    This post is extremely helpful food for thought. I especially love the two sections: Damage to Parents / Damage to Children. You are right-on with this post Dr. Murray. As a parent who desperately wants my children to know and love Christ as I do, I’ve found great strength in knowing that God uses various means in His work, and that I as a parent am one of those means. BUT, I’m ONLY a means, not the cause. I do my best, in His power and wisdom (Colossians 1:29), and learn to trust in the process. He is faithful… and I must be too. Thanks again for this helpful post.

    • David Murray

      Yes, Carey, there’s liberty in that realization, I agree.

  • St. Steve of Northern Lights

    PS – The other call in Hebrews I forgot to mention (right along with Tracey’s comment) is also to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, ” Hebrews 10.25. That should be preached to the body of Christ and to covenantal children in the family as well!
    The other wonderful verse that I should have mentioned above is “Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord!” Romans 7.25

  • Wesley

    This is a fantastic post and good food to chew on – thanks so much for sharing this with us. Truly, He will “have mercy on whom He will have mercy” and it is our job as parents to do our upmost to place as much “wood” as possible around their hearts and then pray like Elijah for the fire from heaven that only the Holy Spirit can bring to set their hearts aflame for God.

  • Joshua Tilghman

    I like your comments pertaining to number 1 on proud children. I was pampered in this way when I was young. I grew up feeling like I was “special” because I was already saved by God and had some kind of special relationship with him that my friends didn’t. This did a lot of damage to my life later on. I felt that God would bless me and I never really had much direction since I was taught that God blesses those that are his. When I finally woke up to the fact that God helps no one that doesn’t help themselves, I had already lost so much time and had much ground to gain. However, it was the greatest thing that could have ever smacked me in the face.

    Thanks for this great post!

    • David Murray

      Thanks Joshua. Glad that God smacked you in the face with your own responsibility to see Him for yourself.

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  • Anne

    You said:
    “My hope is not in my flawed covenant-keeping, my faulty educating, or my fail-filled child-training. My hope is in my merciful Savior sovereignly blessing His Gospel promises to the salvation of my children.”

    …. and I praise God every day for that! At best we are but ‘unprofitable servants’, and our hope is only in God’s mercy. At the same time, I am blessed beyond measure – being a mother – to be in the position of maybe being used by God as a means of bringing the truth of the Gospel to the souls of our own children

  • OFelixCulpa


    Great thoughts! You have exposed some of the faulty assumptions that Christian parents often have. In general, I think Baptists are unable to act consistently with their belief that their children are unregenerate–they subconsciously create a status somewhere between unregenerate and regenerate and place their children in it. This allows them to treat their children as if they were regenerate (teaching them to pray, for example) while believing that those same individuals are in all out rebellion against God. One doesn’t have to be paedobapist to recognize the theological difficulty there.

    This is petty, but I just have to give you kudos you for being able to correctly spell the word ‘apostatize’! Why is it that we have such a hard time with that one?

    • David Murray

      The Devil loves gray.

    • B Smada

      Totally agree, even though their child is so obviously living in sin ie. living with a person and not married, the parents dismiss it, saying oh but he has Christian literature- Bibles everywhere in the house, and he prays! One can easily justify that what they’re doing, or what their child is doing is ok. And it does’nt help their child’s ‘fence-sitting’ when they go and stay at their home, further supporting their child’s lifestyle. These days i feel Christians have become so blinkered, no real black or white anymore, confusion reigns. What hope is there for unbelievers seeing the truth when Christians don’t even practice it… maybe sometimes afraid of the consequences.

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  • Sarah

    Isn’t there a certain age whereby the children are covered by their parent’s faith? So presuming in this situation is appropriate.

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