Discussing salvation with children

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jennywigg

Puritan Board Freshman
I grew up in an "ask Jesus into your heart" atmosphere, where Jesus stood outside the door of your heart, waiting for you to "let Him come in." Now that I've seen the light and realize He'll "come in" when he gets good and ready, how should I explain the concept of salvation to my 9-year-old? I'm trying to steer clear of using "decisional" terminology, but since she's already heard some of it from her grandmother, I can tell she's wondering about all this "asking" business. We pray for the salvation of her and her brother and sister, but I'm not quite sure how to explain the process to her before the fact. Am I making sense at all? I find myself telling her - in so many words - to wait around until the Lord changes her heart. It doesn't seem quite right, though. Is this just a matter of me not knowing the correct terminology to use with her?
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
Use the Bible's terminology. Just like adults, children should be told that God calls them to (1) repent and (2) believe the Gospel. Repentance is a change of life. And belief in the Gospel (also called faith) is a transfer of trust from yourself to the finished work of Christ, in whom our sins are forgiven. See Mark 1:15, Acts 2:38, Acts 20:21.

Repentance and faith are the elements of conversion. It is a great comfort to know that this conversion ultimately does not depend or our ability to work it up, but on the new life given to us by God's Spirit. You're very right to avoid telling kids to "pray Jesus into their hearts," because the work of the Spirit cannot be conjured that way by saying certain words. Jesus made this clear to Nicodemus. Yet, although God is its author, conversion itself is still a volitional act... that is, something we consciously choose to do. We decide to repent and exercise faith.

For a biblical conversion example there's no one better than good ol' Zacchaeus. He showed both strong faith (giving up his dignity and self-trust to climb that tree for a glimpse of Jesus) and sure repentance (changing his greedy ways and paying back those he'd cheated).

As a children's ministry guy I've been through this many times and ways with both teachers and parents. There's much, much more I could say. But it's bedtime. So I'll let the topic rest and maybe check back sometime tomorrow.
 

JoannaV

Puritan Board Sophomore
Waiting around isn't the answer either.

Acts 16:30-31 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

Tell her about grace and redemption and justification and reconciliation and propitiation and the need to believe. I guess the best thing to do is to side-step too much side-talk about the moment of salvation. It's hard to always say the right thing to your own children, every hour of every year. Now is the day of salvation.

Maybe it will be that you know the moment your daughter believes, or maybe you will have to see fruit before you will know, and maybe there will be a time before she believes that she claims to believe. But try not to worry overmuch about these things. Keep the gospel continually before her. Yes you want to avoid "decisional" terminology. But you need not make unreasonable effort to avoid the opposite. That is, it is God who saves. You pray that seed will fall on good ground. But you need not worry yourself if it falls on stony ground and appears to grow for a while, for that does not preclude good ground later on.


I am sure someone else will give a succinct and clear explanation :lol:
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
We pray for the salvation of her and her brother and sister, but I'm not quite sure how to explain the process to her before the fact.

Why are you convinced she is unregenerate? Does she deny the faith you have taught her?

I mean no offense, but I think it is possible you are bringing decisional baggage into your understanding of your daughter's salvation. It is not only a mature, developed faith that evidences salvation. If your daughter professes faith, then there is no reason to regard her as an unbeliever. You can still exhort her to repent, grow in her faith, trust in the gospel, etc. because all Christians need to hear those things all their lives. In a sense, conversion applies to all of a believer's life.

I would tell her if she truly believes in Jesus, then God has changed her heart. Discipleship is an ongoing process, however.

Good question.

---------- Post added at 11:54 PM ---------- Previous post was at 11:41 PM ----------

Also, be careful not to assume the experience of a child raised in a Christian home will fit the experience of adult converts. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes it doesn't. I have no idea when I was regenerated, nor do I need to know. I was taught to believe in Christ for forgiveness of sins from as early as I can remember. I didn't have a "conversion experience," and your daughter may not have one either. She may already be regenerate. I would hope so, and I think the "judgment of charity" should be afforded her if she has not rebelled against your teaching.

That being said, it is always fair game to warn any Christian, including your child, to examine themselves and make sure they are in the faith. Teach your daughter to trust in Christ alone for salvation, and it won't really matter whether she can pinpoint the exact moment of her inward conversion.
 
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Stargazer65

Puritan Board Freshman
Honestly, I think the key problem here is that you are trying to get the experience of a child raised in a Christian home to fit the experience of adult converts. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes it doesn't. I have no idea when I was regenerated, nor do I need to know. I was taught to believe in Christ for forgiveness of sins from as early as I can remember. I didn't have a "conversion experience," and your daughter may not have one either. She may already be regenerate. I would hope so, and I think the "judgment of charity" should be afforded her if she has not rebelled against your teaching.

That being said, it is always fair game to warn any Christian, including your child, to examine themselves and make sure they are in the faith. Teach your daughter to trust in Christ alone for salvation, and it won't really matter whether she can pinpoint the exact moment of her inward conversion.

I wholeheartedly agree with Austin. I was saved as an adult, and therefore had different conversion experience than my wife, who can never remember a time when she ever rebelled against God. My wife just grew from a simple childlike faith in Christ, to a mature faith. One of my daughters is also 9 and just recently professed her own faith in Christ for salavation from sin. All of my sons made this profession at a younger age. I don't neceesarily believe they were unregenerate before they made an outward profession, I just believe that is when they matured to a point where they could express themselves. Also a more extroverted person might express it earlier in life than an introverted one.

Continue to teach the gospel to your daughter. Continue to pray for her. Don't discourage any volition on her part. I thought Jack said it well "Yet, although God is its author, conversion itself is still a volitional act... that is, something we consciously choose to do. We decide to repent and exercise faith."

As Joanna quoted "Acts 16:30-31 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house."
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
You've received some great answers here. I'd add that it is the day-to-day discussions that may seem minor but are really crucial. I still have two young sons in the house and I find myself constantly answering questions, weaving the gospel into daily conversations, and using the sin so evident in all of us to point them to grace. This isn't the deep breath, "I'm going to have the gospel conversation with you now," but an ongoing discussion, teaching them as you rise up, as you go along the road, etc., etc.

One distinction from a decisionalism household is our conviction to teach them that they are part of a covenant household. We tell them that they don't have a choice about believing in God, that they don't have the choice to choose what is wrong. This neither assumes that they are heathens that need converting, nor presuming upon God's grace. It is stating a fact: they are covenant children and should behave that way.
 

jennywigg

Puritan Board Freshman
I still have two young sons in the house and I find myself constantly answering questions, weaving the gospel into daily conversations, and using the sin so evident in all of us to point them to grace. This isn't the deep breath, "I'm going to have the gospel conversation with you now," but an ongoing discussion, teaching them as you rise up, as you go along the road, etc., etc.

Yep, that's kind of what we're doing, so maybe we're on the right track! I feel like we weave the gospel into our daily lives so much that surely they're getting the idea this is the Big Idea. I'm not so much assuming she's regenerate (or any of our kids, for that matter); it's more that although they're sweet kids, they don't seem to have a huge desire to read their Bibles and seem somewhat bored when we do our catechism/Bible study together. We're still feeding them, though, and praying!
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
Jennifer,

It sounds like you're on the right track. Since you're a believer, it's good for you to treat your kids as part of God's family, as young disciples, and as kids you expect, due to God's faithfulness, are or will be believers too. Christian parents often seem to be able to tell when their kids are converted, but it's also true that many, many times they can't. God may give kids true faith at a very young age or it may take longer. And since (1) true believers still sin and (2) unbelievers can be very good at faking Christian behavior, you just might not be sure.

As their mom, you will probably worry. Just remember that it's not your job to convert them. That is, thankfully, the Spirit's job. Your job is to use the Spirit's tools:
1. Tell them the Gospel.
2. Teach them God's Word.
3. Pray for them and with them.
4. Openly model repentance and faith in your own life.
That right there is plenty to keep you busy. Moms who do these things are powerfully used by God.

If your kids profess faith, treat them as young believers. Okay, we know they might not be. But the things listed above, and the call to repent and believe the Gospel, apply to both unbelievers and believers. Whether or not your kids are converted yet, they need the same things from you. Repentance and faith are ongoing habits of the Christian life. So never fall into the trap of thinking, "Now my kids are saved (because they said the magic prayer or whatever) so I no longer have to worry about telling them the Good News of Jesus." No. They always need it, even if you think they're already saved. And there ends the burden of not knowing what to do.
 
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