Children coming to faith (and the sinner's prayer)

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moselle

Puritan Board Freshman
Can you talk to me about how children come to faith? How do you teach them? Is the "sinner's prayer" an important or necessary componant?

Dh and I have had various conversations over this matter. Having both been raised in Arminian, pentacostal homes, I think it's ingrained in our minds that young children should be led in the sinner's prayer as early as possible, and as soon as they seem to have a vague understanding of the concept of sin and needing a savior. Then we as parents "have the assurance" that our children are indeed saved. However, I know that words do not save, and even the knowledge of sin and desire for salvation cannot come unless the Holy Spirit has first done a work in a person's heart.

So again, I don't mind if you explain it to me as though I were seven. And then explain it again. And how do you teach the Gospel and explain salvation to your children.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
Sandy,

First things first. The sinners prayer does not save. At best the sinners prayer is nothing more than a verbalization of what has already taken place. Many Arminians put value in the sinners prayer because it supposedly provides a specific date and time of salvation. It's great for testimonies. "On October 25, 2008 I placed my faith in Jesus Christ." Unfortunately the sinners prayer is not biblical. To be certain there are prayers to God for salvation or rescue from peril (Psalm 3:7; Matthew 14:30; Luke 18:10), but nowhere do we see a prayer where a person is asking the Lord Jesus Christ to come into their heart.

Regarding children and salvation. As your children are exposed to the church (worship and sacrament), God's people and a home life where Christ is exalted, they will hear and witness the gospel. I am not going to tell you how to parent, but I am going to assume that you are or will be talking with your children about the word of God. During these talks you should be able to ascertain whether they display understanding. Do they recognize their sinfulness before a holy God and the eternal punishment for sin? Do they know who Jesus Christ is and what He accomplished on the cross? Do they believe that Jesus rose from the dead and vanquished death and sin? Has the gospel command of "repent and believe (by faith)" registered in their young minds? Do they talk as though these things have been appropriated (again, by faith) and do they display the evidences of faith in their life, no matter how small? As they grow in age does their understanding and commitment increase? Your assurance, and theirs, is based on the precious promises of God's word towards those who believe. No prayer or act of contrition will earn what cannot be earned. Even for a child salvation is on the basis of grace through faith in Christ alone.

So what do you do? Expose your children to the church and live the gospel, by word and deed, in the home. Stay close to your children so you can talk about these things often and you will be the first to notice the change within them.

Psalm 78:5-7 5 For He established a testimony in Jacob And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers That they should teach them to their children, 6 That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children, 7 That they should put their confidence in God And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments,
 
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jambo

Puritan Board Senior
Teach your children, pray for your children, encourage your children and, very importantly, be consistant in front of your children. When you talk to your children about how great God is and how wonderful it is know him, if they do not see that lived out in your daily lives then a lot of work is undone. What speaks to children is seeing the reality of genuine Christianity in the lives of their parents. Consistancies, and inconsistancies, will have a lasting impact one way or the other.

I knew a Belgian church planter who was grealty used in various church planting locations throughout Belgium. Whenever anyone got converted he would simply say "We will see." Meaning fruit of conversion would prove the genuiness of a work of the Holy Spirit. I have often though to back to him and how wise this is in relation to adults or children.

Leading children in "the sinners prayer" I would not do as almost any child would just repeat words in order to please a parent. Nor would I do that with an adult either.

I have seen children "become Christians" but then exposed to the temptations during teenage years they are nothing. The danger of growing up in a so called "Christian home" is that children can obtain a second hand faith which isn't their own faith but their parents faith passed down and therefore is subsequently no faith at all.

Yet God does convert young children and greatly uses them throughout their teenage years and on into adulthood.

Children come to faith the same way adults come to faith. The Holy Spirit works in a child's heart and mind, presenting to them the truths of Christ and the sinfulness of the human heart. As the Holy Spirit works the convicted child repents.

Duet 6.7; 11.19 are examples to follow but Proverbs probably gives the best best advice for Godly families to follow.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
Would someone be so kind as to answer from a paedobaptist perspective?
Taylor, how is it different? Other than our differences on children being/not being part of the visible church; how is there a material difference in how we approach professions of faith in childhood?
 

TaylorOtwell

Puritan Board Junior
Would someone be so kind as to answer from a paedobaptist perspective?
Taylor, how is it different? Other than our differences on children being/not being part of the visible church; how is there a material difference in how we approach professions of faith in childhood?
There may not be. I'm trying to learn if there are differences in this aspect of raising children between the two views.
 

moselle

Puritan Board Freshman
So what do you do? Expose your children to the church and live the gospel, by word and deed, in the home. Stay close to your children so you can talk about these things often and you will be the first to notice the change within them.
Thank you. It never occurred to me that the sinner's prayer isn't actually in the Bible. The reference I usually hear is Rom. 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

But it's followed by:
Rom 10:10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

It would seem that the outward confession comes with (of after) inward faith, not before?

An interesting example of the sinner's prayer "danger" would be with my dh's ex brother-in-law, who was told by my father-in-law he could not marry dh's sister (pregnant at the time) unless he became a Christian. So of course, he said "sure" and repeated the sinner's prayer. After which, they had a rather scary life of pretend christianity outwardly (in view of my in-laws who were pastors of a church) and a most ungodly private life, which has shown it's fruit in their now dissolved marriage and the pitiful state of their own and their childrens' lives. It makes me sad to think my in-laws were so eager to see their daughter married that they would accept those mere words from a man already embarking on his 3rd marriage.

Naturally, we are never doing "enough", but we are always learning. (This board has been a great encouragement to me!) Sometimes it's my struggle to understand my children and their different personalities - my oldest 13yo who is very introverted, unemotional, and quiet, but I know understands the gospel inside and out. And then my 10yo who is very expressive and compassionate for the things of God, but still struggles with the difference between being a "good person" and being a child of God.
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
Many Reformed believe that the children of believers may be regenerated in the womb. They are to be considered Christians until proven otherwise. When a child confesses his faith, he did not "get saved" but was finally able to express the faith that God already implanted in them.

In other words, the (or at least a) Reformed position is that the children of believers are not evangelized, they are discipled.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
While I agree that I disciple my children, because they ARE disciples on account of being born to me, we need to understand that because the gospel is integral to everything in the Christian life, I will be calling my children to faith in Christ at all times. I am calling my wife to faith in Christ at all times. I am calling myself to faith in Christ at all times.

Just because I professed faith in Christ for the first time a long time ago, doesn't really mean much. I mean, if tomorrow I apostatize, what does that "first time profession" amount to? The faith that saves me is the faith I have today. So, I need the gospel all the time. I preach the gospel and call the whole church to faith in Christ every Sunday. When this is missing, the church will die.

So, calling my children to faith is Christ is not to be opposed to discipleship. Nor should conversion be confused with regeneration. I am looking in my children's life (and wife, and church members) evidence of conversion, that is: signs of repentance and faith. Those are things that are brought about by the nourishment of the Word and work of the Spirit.

Evangelism, strictly speaking, is the preaching of the gospel to those who have never heard it. It is preaching in the hope of the Spirit's regenerating work. In a decent gospel-church, the gospel is always present. It is the environment, it is the engine of life. My children are being exposed to it in a saturated way. The effects are up to God, but the gospel is being addressed to those youth from the day they are born.

So, if they can't articulate their moment of conversion, can you blame them? They believe, and cannot remember not believing.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
While I agree that I disciple my children, because they ARE disciples on account of being born to me, we need to understand that because the gospel is integral to everything in the Christian life, I will be calling my children to faith in Christ at all times. I am calling my wife to faith in Christ at all times. I am calling myself to faith in Christ at all times.

Just because I professed faith in Christ for the first time a long time ago, doesn't really mean much. I mean, if tomorrow I apostatize, what does that "first time profession" amount to? The faith that saves me is the faith I have today. So, I need the gospel all the time. I preach the gospel and call the whole church to faith in Christ every Sunday. When this is missing, the church will die.

So, calling my children to faith is Christ is not to be opposed to discipleship. Nor should conversion be confused with regeneration. I am looking in my children's life (and wife, and church members) evidence of conversion, that is: signs of repentance and faith. Those are things that are brought about by the nourishment of the Word and work of the Spirit.

Evangelism, strictly speaking, is the preaching of the gospel to those who have never heard it. It is preaching in the hope of the Spirit's regenerating work. In a decent gospel-church, the gospel is always present. It is the environment, it is the engine of life. My children are being exposed to it in a saturated way. The effects are up to God, but the gospel is being addressed to those youth from the day they are born.

So, if they can't articulate their moment of conversion, can you blame them? They believe, and cannot remember not believing.
That, my friend, is what being a disciple is about. Boldface it, underline it, print it out and then stick it on your wall.

We need to remember that the fixed point in the Christian walk is the work of Christ and not our affections for Him. Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.

This is why I believe it makes a difference how you view discipleship. If you're looking for that single moment when you can definitively underline the decision of your child and pronounce "Mission complete" then you may not have missed what discipleship is for your child but also you may not have a healthy sense of what it means to be a disciple yourself. This idea of "identify the professors, examine them to see how regenerate they appear, and then baptize them" is antithetical to Christian discipleship in my humble opinion.

The Gospel comes to us as grace from beginning to end and our profession gives us no more confidence that we stand now simply because we stood then. We simply look to the Cross of Christ and, Today, we believe.

For my children, then, there is certainly a life of belief I am trying to model for them. I'm exposing them to the means of Grace. They are being taught from the knee the sweetness of Christ. I pray with them regularly that their hearts might be humbled before a holy God. I discipline and pray with them that they might turn from their sin and look to Christ. I sin before them and I repent. I'm imperfect and realize, in the end, it's all in the secret counsel of God to grant true faith to my children but that He has ordained means and commands my earnest work as well as the Church's work toward that end.

Finally, I realize that with children (and adults) it's not simply about getting them to believe upon Christ at an age appropriate level. It's also about imparting wisdom and a love for the 3rd use of the Law that keeps them from stumbling as I am often wont to do. Read the first couple chapters of Proverbs to get a sense of a father who has a believing son that he wants to keep from foolish behavior and things that lead to destruction. It's Godly wisdom. The father isn't simply interested in a decision today from his son or fruit that he believes today but, along the way, that he steers clear of the wrong side of town. The father is concerned about his son growing up to be a Godly man who brings up Godly seed of his own.

Indeed, I pray for my own children that their children would someday call upon the name of the Lord. That's what we're aiming for.
 

Kim G

Puritan Board Junior
Contra Mundum,

Thank you for your post. I also grew up in an IFB home and have been wondering about faith as a child. Thank you also for the reminder that we are all constantly being called to continually put our faith in Christ. I'm learning so much! Keep talking. :)
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
While I agree that I disciple my children, because they ARE disciples on account of being born to me, we need to understand that because the gospel is integral to everything in the Christian life, I will be calling my children to faith in Christ at all times. I am calling my wife to faith in Christ at all times. I am calling myself to faith in Christ at all times.

Just because I professed faith in Christ for the first time a long time ago, doesn't really mean much. I mean, if tomorrow I apostatize, what does that "first time profession" amount to? The faith that saves me is the faith I have today. So, I need the gospel all the time. I preach the gospel and call the whole church to faith in Christ every Sunday. When this is missing, the church will die.

So, calling my children to faith is Christ is not to be opposed to discipleship. Nor should conversion be confused with regeneration. I am looking in my children's life (and wife, and church members) evidence of conversion, that is: signs of repentance and faith. Those are things that are brought about by the nourishment of the Word and work of the Spirit.

Evangelism, strictly speaking, is the preaching of the gospel to those who have never heard it. It is preaching in the hope of the Spirit's regenerating work. In a decent gospel-church, the gospel is always present. It is the environment, it is the engine of life. My children are being exposed to it in a saturated way. The effects are up to God, but the gospel is being addressed to those youth from the day they are born.

So, if they can't articulate their moment of conversion, can you blame them? They believe, and cannot remember not believing.
Bruce,

Naturally we disagree on whether an unregenerate child is a disciple (I believe they are not), but I am in general agreement with the rest of your post. You said, "I need the gospel all the time." I concur. In regards to children, I would be looking for evidence of the change the gospel creates in the life of a believer. Children may manifest these changes different than adults simply because children are still developing physically, emotionally and mentally. A closely attuned parent is likely to observe these Spirit wrought changes.
 
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