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 and know if and when 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.
One of the steps towards baptism here at Providence is having kids and adults be able to say their testimony and be able to articulate the gospel. While it is pretty easy to get you six year-old to memorize that the gospel is “The good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection” it is also necessary for them to be able to expound on some of the realities of what that means as evidence of saving faith. 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 while simultaneously pursuing the 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 real and a genuine saving faith. You can think of avoiding these pitfalls and talking through and around them as one indicator to help gauge the difference between knowledge of Jesus and trust in Jesus. 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. While there is nothing wrong with doing it, there needs to be some sort of understanding and clarity of why it was done, why it was necessary, what the implications of it are, and how it happened. 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 of the fact that we’re a sinner. The reason that we need to ask Jesus into our heart begins with the admittance that you’re a sinner. 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 not after or at the same time.
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 be able to 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. There’s little understanding of why Jesus Gives, nor is there much of an adequate response to Jesus giving. 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. If kids say that they’ve asked God into their heart it isn’t clear what they’re saying, and while it’s true that Jesus is God, it is also helpful to be able to distinguish the different persons and different parts that each member of the Trinity plays in securing 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. And our kids need to understand the similarities and differences and relationship between all of this in order to fully grasp the gospel.
Pitfall 2: Baptism Washes My Sins Away
When having conversations about gospel and baptism, I play a baptism matching and sorting game. There are two categories: right reasons to be baptized and wrong reasons to be baptized. There are lots of different descriptions and kids have to place each description in the correct place – is it a right or a wrong reason to be baptized? One of the cards says “I want my sins washed away.” The question kids have to answer is this: “Is getting your sins washed away a right reason or a wrong reason to want to get baptized?” It’s a challenging question because while it is a good thing to want to have your sins washed away, it is a bad thing to want to use baptism as the means and way to have your sins washed 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 of 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 a bad thing to want to use the baptismal waters to do that. So we must teach our kids that getting baptized is an incredible and important thing, but not getting baptized doesn’t prevent you from having your sins washed away. This is why the encouragement to delay baptism shouldn’t be a hindrance at all because since it is just a symbol it is not needed to atone or remove sins.
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. A lot of times we want to teach the good news (Jesus’ death and resurrection) and then kind of bring in the bad news (sin and separation from God) after the fact. But what we should really be doing is highlighting and reinforcing the bad news and how the good news is the hope that saves us from the bad news. 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 and not just another line memorized.