I hope this article will be the final one in a disorganized and rambling mini-series I’ve written about children. I’ve looked at my understanding of what happens to children when they die, and hope today to explain why I assume my young children to be unsaved. This will not be a theological treatise as much as a personal reflection.
Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding A Child’s Heart has helped formulate my thoughts on this issue. He premises much of the teaching of his book on the understanding that all human beings are worshippers. God created us to worship and we will worship–we will either worship God or idols. Romans 1:18-19 tells us “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” We see there are two responses to the clear revelation of God that is extended to all men. People will either acknowledge and submit or they will suppress. Those who refuse to submit to God will turn further and further from Him and will soon worship idols. These will not necessarily be idols of wood and stone, but may be idols of the heart. In either case, they turn in rebellion away from the Creator. Alternatively, they may submit to God, accept His rule, and live in the joy and freedom of knowing God and of being known by Him. The question is, then, are my children in the former group or the latter?
It seems to me there are three attitudes a parent can have towards the hearts of his children: that a child will have a natural orientation towards God, a neutral orientation, or a natural orientation away from God. I’ll discuss each of these briefly.
Towards God – I grew up in a church culture that held, at least in practice if not in theory, to the understanding that children of believing parents have a natural inclination towards God. Children were rarely challenged with the gospel and much of the teaching in church, home and school was impersonal, dealing more with “us” than with “you.” It was assumed that, unless a child proved otherwise, he was saved by virtue of being born as a child of the covenant. This “presumptive regeneration” led to great numbers of children whose words and actions clearly showed them to be unsaved even though their parents, elders and pastors assumed they were saved and continually assured them of this. And as there were many children, blissfully unaware that their hearts were turned against God, so there must have been many adults in the same state. Not only is this understanding unsupported by Scripture, but plain evidence bears out just how harmful it can be. I am grateful that my parents never held to this, but continually challenged us with the gospel.
Neutrality – The Bible allows no room for neutrality. All human beings, including the youngest children, are either for God or against Him. They either worship God or worship idols. There is no one who is neutral.
Away From God – Ever since the Fall, the natural state of men and women is estrangement from God. The familiar words of Psalm 51:5 tell of David’s reflection on the state of his heart. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” The less familiar words of Psalm 58:3 are no less convicting. “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” From the moment of conception, human hearts are filled with iniquity and seek to go astray from God. The human heart is evil and desperately wicked. Scripture paints a bleak picture of the human heart and the picture begins at the very moment of conception. This is true of my children. They were conceived and born in sin. They sin because they are sinners. They need a Savior.
It is not only Scripture that tells me that young children have a natural disinclination to God. My experience and the experience of many friends and acquaintances proves that a great many children raised in Christian families do not submit to God until years after birth. While it is not atypical for children to express a love of God and to even profess faith in God as young children, more commonly children seem to experience true conversion when they are older. I am one of many Christians who began to pray to God from a young age and who even asked God to save me when I was just tiny. But it was not until I was fourteen or fifteen that I feel I was truly converted and when the faith of my parents became my faith. Suddenly Christianity was not the belief my family held to, but the very truth of God that I knew, loved and accepted. So many of my friends have shared similar stories that I know my experience is not unique. It was not until I was a teenager that I knew I was saved. It was not until then that I feel I truly loved God as Father and Christ as Savior.
I know it is unfair to expect my children to have the same experiences I had. They may profess Christ from a young age, and if they do, I will rejoice. Yet I will also wait patiently, diligently helping them to search their hearts, to ensure they know Christ as Lord and Savior. To this point, none of my children, aged six, three and three months, have professed faith in Christ. They claim to love God and know that they need to love God more than even mommy and daddy. But I have not yet seen true repentance, brokenness or understanding of the gravity of sin. It is entirely possible that one or more of them have already been saved. But I do not assume this to be the case. Rather, I assume that my children continue to worship idols until I see them faithfully and diligently serving God. It seems to me that the task of a Christian parent is to seek to guide children from idols to God. It is to understand that your children will worship something and to shepherd them “as a creature who worships, pointing [them] to the One who alone is worthy of worship.” This is the task I have undertaken.
Until my children express faith in God and provide a credible expression of their conversion, I will continue to share the gospel with them and to shepherd them, as faithfully as I can, to understand that even now they are worshipping something. And when, by the grace of God, they turn to God and submit to Him, I will continue to share the gospel with them, that we may rejoice together in the goodness and faithfulness of a God whose love is so deep and so wide. I have faith that God will save my children, but do not have confidence that He has done this yet. Yet I know that His timing is always perfect.