Baptism testimonies are one of my favorite parts of church. I love hearing the variety of ways the Lord works the miracle of new birth in people’s hearts. But as a parent of five, I get a special thrill hearing the “boring” testimonies. You know the ones I mean? The testimonies that go something like this: “I grew up in a Christian home, felt sorry for my sin at the age of five and talked to my mom about it. She explained the gospel, I believed, and I’ve been following Jesus ever since.” Of course, there is nothing “boring” about that testimony at all. Rather, it’s a marvelous display of God’s mercy and grace in saving a person from a lifetime of sin and struggle. Isn’t that the testimony most Christian parents desire for their children?
The more dramatic conversions of former drug dealers and wandering college students are amazing displays of God’s power and grace, but along with hope and wonder, don’t they strike a degree of fear into the hearts of Christian parents? I know they do for me. On the one hand, there’s the hopeful reminder that God can and does reach people from all backgrounds. But there’s also the reality that some of our children will wander from the truth. By God’s grace, some of those who wander will return and one day be standing before those baptismal waters, but there is no guarantee. The hard reality is that some people who grow up in Christian homes with faithful parents reject the gospel.
What is a Christian parent to do with the fear that their child will reject the Lord?
Two things: be faithful and remember you are not the Holy Spirit.
First, be faithful. Live out a genuine (not perfect!) Christian life before your children. They will learn so much about the Jesus you follow by watching you live. What do they notice? Do they see a life of daily repentance, humility, and trust in God, or one of prideful self-reliance? There’s no doubt that you will sin against your children repeatedly, sometimes grievously. You will get angry and impatient. You will be overly harsh and controlling, or passive and unconcerned. Your sin is guaranteed, but how do your children see you respond to your own sin? When you come to them with humble, brokenhearted requests for forgiveness, they will notice the power of Jesus at work in your imperfect but redeemed life. They will observe you persevere in loving them through their angry words and swinging fists. And that love they see in you will teach them about God’s even greater love.
Faithfulness also includes being sure your children know where to go for God’s mercy when they are ready to receive it. Teach them about Jesus from their earliest days (Deuteronomy 6:7–9). Be sure they know the narrative of Scripture, their need for a Savior, and God’s marvelous provision in Jesus. Sing songs praising Jesus for his grace (1 Chronicles 16:23). Read good Christian books to them. Don’t underestimate their ability to understand, even from an early age (Luke 18:16–17). Remember those “boring” testimonies? Those are only possible because people shared the gospel with young children! Pour into them when they are young and the “cement” of their hearts is still wet and moldable. When they are discouraged and ashamed, share the good news of God’s unconditional love for them (Romans 5:8). When they are joyful and successful, teach them to praise God as the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). Center your lives around your local church so your kids grow up seeing a body of vastly different people loving each other, and by God’s grace, grow to desire that community for themselves.
The gospel does need to be verbally communicated to your children, yes, but there are plenty of times when silence or a provocative question will be more powerful in your child’s heart than just another “pep-talk.” You need to use wisdom here. You know your children. You know when your words are being received, and when you are just beating the proverbial dead horse.
So be faithful both in communicating the gospel and in living it out before your children. But there’s a second, and much more important point to remember.
You are not the Holy Spirit
It’s simple, yet profound, and incredibly freeing as a parent to remember that you are not the Holy Spirit. No amount of faithfulness on a parent’s part can change a child’s heart. And that’s the great paradox of Christian parenting, isn’t it? The thing your children most need and the thing you most desire for them, is the very thing you are utterly incapable of giving them. They need new hearts, new affections, new loves (Ezekiel 36:26).
You, parent, are not the Holy Spirit. You can lead your children to the truth, but you cannot make them drink it. It is Jesus who saves, not faithful parents (Isaiah 12:2). This has become even more clear to me as our children have gotten older and our lack of control over their hearts is more apparent.
Remembering that you are not the Holy Spirit is gloriously liberating and hope-inspiring. Your child’s salvation does not depend on your faithfulness! It depends entirely on the gracious provision of our good God, who made our children and loves them more than we can imagine (Lamentations 3:22–23). He is perfectly wise and knows every hair on their heads, every detail of their lives, and he not only knows—he cares!
Remembering you are not the Holy Spirit also ought to drive you to your knees as a parent. You cannot change your children’s hearts, but God can, so plead with him to show mercy and save them.
Your faithfulness may be used by God to the good of your children’s souls, and it often is. But their salvation is ultimately dependent on God’s character, not yours. Our God delights to save sinners (Luke 15:7). His gospel is the power of salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16).
What is the Christian parent to do in the face of unbelieving children, whether in diapers, leaving for college, or grown? Don’t despair. Be faithful. Pray. Hope. And trust God with the results. Every time God works in the heart of a sinner, calling them to himself, it is equally miraculous. And there’s nothing boring about that at all.
JESUS SAVES: THE GOSPEL FOR TODDLERS
Toddlers are not too young to learn the gospel! Help them discover how and why Jesus saves in this hopeful and beautifully illustrated board book. Using easy-to-understand, simple concepts, children’s book author Sarah Reju offers a way for parents to teach the good news to children ages one to four.