What is saving faith and how do you assess it in your kids’ lives? I love this definition of saving faith: “Saving faith is faith that not only knows and comprehends the facts about the gospel of Jesus Christ but also trusts in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone for salvation.” I’ve previously tried to answer the question of how to better gauge whether or not your kids believe and ought to be baptized. After all, we’re not just desiring for our kids to articulate knowledge about Jesus, but to have trust in Jesus.

As we think about gauging baptism readiness, we are trying to hold in tension this balance between knowledge and trust. The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon once said: “The things that are essential to salvation are so exceedingly simple that no child need sit down in despair of understanding the things which make for his peace. Christ crucified is not a riddle for sages, but a plain truth for plain people. True, it is meat for men, but it is also milk for babes.” So as we think about partnering with parents and walking through these conversations on salvation we are seeking to affirm the simplicity of the gospel while simultaneously pursuing a depth of understanding.

To that end, here are 3 common areas where kids often struggle to fully articulate the gospel and understand the meaning of salvation by faith alone and the public declaration of baptism as a response. They may be able to testify that they have asked Jesus to come into their heart, but unless they can articulate why that is necessary and how they have done it then it is hard to determine if their faith is a genuine saving faith. The hope is by being aware of these pitfalls you can have intentional conversations with your kids about these subjects and help close the gaps in these areas.

 

Pitfall 1: Asking or Accepting Jesus/God Into Your Heart

This is by far the most common pitfall. Oftentimes, kids can define sin correctly and understand that all have sinned and that they now asked Jesus into their heart. But they aren’t able to connect those two things together. We need a Savior because we are sinners. The reason that we need to ask Jesus into our heart begins with the reality that we are sinners. Kids must be able to articulate and admit the bad news before they can grasp and embrace their need for the good news.

There are two helpful tools that can help flesh out this concept. First, is the ABCs of salvation. It’s a helpful exercise and process that helps kids place things in the right order. The ultimate hope is that our kids are taking steps to follow Jesus, but we want to ensure that they are doing them in the right order. Thinking about ice cream sundaes here is often helpful with kids. They are good to eat, but before we eat them, we have to ensure that we put the correct toppings on top. You cannot eat an ice cream sundae without first putting on the whip cream, chocolate syrup, sprinkles, etc. Similarly, you cannot believe in Jesus unless you grasp why you need to believe in Jesus. We must teach our kids that belief in Jesus comes after admittance of sin…

The ABCs of Salvation

A = Admit that you’re a sinner

B = Believe in Jesus

C = Confess and Call out that Jesus is Lord

A second helpful tool is helping our kids understand the entire storyline of the Bible: God Rules, We Sinned, God Provided, Jesus Gives, and now We Respond. A lot of times we race our kids straight to the fact that Jesus Gives and we want to believe that they are saved. Teaching our kids, the stories of the Bible isn’t just so that they’ll know the stories, but it’s so they’ll know the story. It’s so they’ll be able to grasp and understand their need for salvation and how the person and work of Jesus provides that salvation.

A final point worth mentioning is that God is triune. One God. Three persons. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Once again, this isn’t just theological knowledge from our kids catechism. It’s the basis for understanding how God the Father is the planner of salvation, how God the Son is the accomplisher of salvation, and how God the Holy Spirit is the applier of salvation. In other words, teach your kids that while God is the one that saves, it is specifically Jesus that we believe and trust for salvation. It is God the Father that saves through the person and work of God the Son. Understanding these differences will help them to grasp the gospel more fully.

 

Pitfall 2: Baptism Washes My Sins Away

Baptism is a symbol. It’s a picture. It’s like a wedding ring. The ring doesn’t make you married, nor does not wearing the ring make you not married. Baptism is the same. It’s a picture of identifying with Jesus’ death in going down into the water and a picture of the resurrection life that Jesus accomplished by rising from the grave (Romans 6:1-4).

What can wash away your sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Kids need to know that if they are ready to be baptized then all their sins have already been washed away. The water isn’t holy water that helps wash them away. It’s not our bodies that are sinful and dirty. It is our hearts. And only the sacrificial death of Jesus in our place can make us clean. We want to celebrate with kids that they want their sins washed away, but we want to make sure that kids know where and how to have their sins washed away. It is a good thing to want your sins washed away, but it is important to understand that baptism is not what does that. So, we must teach our kids that getting baptized is an incredible and important thing and make it clear that it is only incredible because of what it symbolizes, which is our trust in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus!

 

Pitfall 3: The Consequences of Sin

There are two major consequences of our sins that kids need to be able to understand. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and sin causing separation from God (Isaiah 59:2). The illustration of Adam and Eve being in relationship with God, the fall of man happening in Genesis 3, and Adam and Eve being sent out of the garden and out of the presence of God is the same picture that happens for us all since we’ve all sinned (Romans 3:23). Most kids understand that sin deserves death, but don’t fully grasp that sin results in separation and that the gift of Jesus is what removes our separation and brings us back to God.

The other question that results from this that needs answers is that if the consequence of sin is death, then why have none of us died? The answer, of course, is in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel doesn’t make us move from being bad to good, it makes us go from being dead to alive. It makes us go from being people separated from God to being people that are brought back to God through the gospel. So, teach your kids not just what Jesus did, that he died on the cross for their sins, but teach them why he did it and the peril we would be in apart from him doing it. Francis Schaeffer famously said that if he had 1 hour with an unbeliever, he’d spend 55 minutes showing him his need for a Savior and then spend the last 5 minutes sharing the gospel with him. I think our passing on the gospel in all its truth to the next generation would be better if we did something similar when talking about the gospel and salvation with our kids. Let the truth of the gospel and the beauty of Jesus be the answer to our reality and predicament because of our sin.