Every Christian father and mother longs to hear these wonderful words and prays earnestly for that happy day. Yet, it’s so hard to know how to respond when our children eventually utter them.
Some might go to the discouraging extreme of immediate skepticism: “Well, son, there’s a lot more to it than just saying you’re a Christian. We’ll see where you’re at in a couple of years.”
Another danger is simply to accept our child’s profession without any questioning or examination: “Great, we’re all going to heaven now, honey.” This fails to recognize that it’s fearfully common for children to profess faith just to please their parents or to follow others in their peer group.
Perhaps other parents might just accept this as part of the routine of being brought up in a Christian home. There’s happiness, but there’s no surprise, no delight, and no thankfulness for the mercy of God. It may not be said like this, but it’s sometimes the underlying thought: “Of course you’re a Christian, you’ve been raised in a Christian home.”
How then do we balance our joy with realism?
1. Welcome: Our first words should indicate how glad we are to hear this profession of faith. “You know that this is what we’ve prayed for and labored for all these years. We’re just overjoyed that you’re saying these longed-for words. There’s nothing we want more for you than to become a follower of Christ.”
2. Question: Without turning it into a suspicion-filled interrogation, we should then ask a number of questions – first experiential and then doctrinal.
The experiential questions should be framed in a way that communicates affirmation rather than hesitation: “Can you share with us what God has done in your life? How did you come to this faith in Christ? Who or what played a role in it? What impact has it made upon you? What’s changed most?”
The doctrinal questions should focus on the content of the faith. What is our child’s view of sin, of God, and of Christ? What or who are they putting their faith in? What is their understanding of repentance? What emphasis do they put on the cross? The questioning should be a gentle and joyful exploration of what they believe.
Both the experiential and doctrinal questions will either help us to enter into the joy of our child and worship God’s sovereign work of saving grace in their life, or else they might flag up some worrying misunderstandings and confusion for further discussion at a later date.
3. Patience: Even if our children have given “wrong answers” to our questions, we should not immediately write them off and conclude that this is a counterfeit faith. There can be much confusion, error, and misunderstanding in young believers. We must exercise patient charity over coming weeks and months to see if they are teachable and receptive to gentle correction and discipleship in these areas.
And even if our children give all the right answers, we still need to exercise patience to see if this is a genuine work of God. Some children from Christian homes can say all the right things without personally experiencing conversion. With them, we need to patiently wait to see if their lives will match their lips.
4. Teach: This is a time that is ripe for teaching our children. If this is a true work of God, their hearts will be tender and impressionable. Let’s especially encourage them to get into the habit of daily Bible reading, perhaps using Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids. As Jesus said: “If you continue in my Word, then you are my disciples indeed” (John 8:31). The Word is the best discerner and revealer of hearts and it will help our children discover for themselves where they truly are before God.
5. Challenge: Once we have laid the groundwork of positively welcoming this profession, hearing their spiritual experience, and patiently waiting for God’s Spirit and Word to work, we can begin to challenge our kids about what may be inconsistent with their profession of faith. Often this is in the area of their relationship to their siblings. We might quote “For he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20). If God is savingly at work in our children’s lives, then their relationships with their brothers and sisters will be changed for the better. Loving siblings is one of the most humbling, testing, and revealing of challenges for kids who have become Christians.
Worship or Warning
As time passes, and the child goes on in the faith, we will hopefully be able to rejoice more and more heartily in God’s gracious work in their life. This is especially true as they navigate the teen years. This is when childhood faith will be truly tested. As the teen years pass, it get’s harder and harder to be a Christian, as temptations multiply both inside and outside the child. But there can be no greater joy than to see our children walking in the truth through these years (3 John 4).
If, however, there is little or no evidence of that work, if the child remains as he or she was before, or if the teen temptations sweep them away, then we need to lovingly warn them that many say, “Lord, Lord!” but don’t do the things that he says (Luke 6:46). If a child is truly born again, they will love God not the world. The Apostle John guides us to the right balance of warning and encouragement:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).