Are My Children Christians?

Children. They’re a blessing from the Lord, right? Absolutely! But if you’re a parent you know that these little people are the source of more fear, anxiety, and worry than anything else in all of life. We are constantly concerned about our children—their health, their development, their personalities, their habits, their choices, and their friends. There’s enough there to gray the hair quite quickly! Yet, for every Christian parent there’s a concern that goes deeper than all of these: is my child a Christian?

If you’re a parent you know that’s a question that is often asked. It’s a question that keeps you up at night. It’s a question over which you have prayed time and time again. It’s a question that reverberates in your heart when you hear the shocking and sad news of a miscarriage or the death of a little one. And it’s a question that inevitably arises when your three old sons asks, “Daddy, am I going to heaven?” How do you answer that question?

My opinion and your opinion of our children–however optimistic or pessimistic that may be–is not the determining factor.

Well, I hope it’s evident to you that my opinion and your opinion of our children–however optimistic or pessimistic that may be–is not the determining factor. We don’t have the prerogative to set the bar wherever we’d like it to be set. That is, we can’t say, “Well son, you’ve got good manners so yes you’re a Christian.” Or, “My daughter, you’re not as bad as that kid down the street, so I think you’re good to go!” Not at all! As the wayward Prophet confessed, “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9). It’s his to define, to determine, to give, and withhold as the God who says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:15).

However, this doesn’t mean the question is completely and entirely lost in the hidden purposes and mind of God. Rather, as the Canons of Dort remind us, “We must make judgements about God’s will from his Word.” What is of supreme importance–and we need to always remember this–isn’t my view of my children, but God’s view of my children. And to know how God views my children I must turn to the Bible–:

  1. He views them as savable. Every child is born in sin–guilty and corrupt. David confessed, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5, see also Romans 5:12-21). As there is no age requirement to be a sinner, thankfully there’s also no age requirement for salvation. Children, infant children, and even unborn children can be saved by God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Zechariah was told by an angel that his son, John the Baptist, would be “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15, see also 2 Timothy 3:15). His saving grace is even for the youngest child.
  2. He views them as in covenant with himself. God said to Abraham, “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:7). Far from setting his promise aside or altering it, Paul reminds us that Jesus came to “confirm the promises given to the patriarchs” (Romans 15:8, see also Galatians 3:14). God is still a God to us and to our children. That’s why Peter at the advent of the New Testament church preached, “For the promise is for you and for your children” (Acts 2:39). God established his covenant–its terms and promises–and has always included children in it.
  3. He views them as blessed members of his kingdom. In his earthly ministry Jesus, as the tender shepherd of Isaiah 40:11, had a particular regard for infants and children. Remember when his disciples rebuked Jesus for blessing children–even infants? He responded saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Luke 18:16). Jesus’ point isn’t simply to say that those who are “childlike” will enter into heaven (though he makes that comparison), but the true force of his words is that those children who were being brought to him and blessed by him belonged to the kingdom.
  4. He views them as saints. Paul addresses the recipients of his letter to Ephesus as “the saints who are in Ephesus” (1:1). Later in the same letter–addressed to saints–he specifically writes to children, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). Paul identified children as a part of those who were saints and wrote to encourage them in Christian obedience (see also Colossians 1:1, 3:20). Since this exhortation is given in the context of the “household rules” it’s obvious that Paul doesn’t think of children any differently than he thinks of husbands, wives, masters, and servants in the church.
  5. He views them as holy. In writing to the Corinthians Paul carefully walked through many dilemmas. One of those dilemmas was how recent converts–whose spouse remained unconverted–should view their marriage. Should they stay or should they go? Paul reinforces the validity of such a marriage by appealing to their children. The children of “mixed” marriages are evidence that the marriage is still legitimate. Paul says, “Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14). Paul takes for granted that the children of believers aren’t in the same category as the children of unbelievers.

This is the way the Holy Spirit speaks about our children: as those who are capable of being saved, as those who are relationally in covenant with God, as those who belong to the kingdom, as those who are numbered among the saints, and as those who are set apart from unbelievers. And it’s this testimony that guides our thinking on this very important question. How should we view our children? As God has taught us. We need to give them love and affection, encouragement and exhortation, reproof and rebuke as members of our spiritual family, and we should expect to see repentance, faith, love, obedience, and perseverance–in child-sized proportions–in their lives. And if the time should come (and may God forbid it!) where they show themselves fruitless, we need the love, mercy, and courage to say, “My son or daughter, enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

3 Comments

  1. blund June 29, 2015 at 6:16 pm #

    Dear Rev. Borg,

    What a wonderful article! I so appreciated your clear, biblically-saturated, writing.

    I have a question, however: do the children in your article need conversion? If they do, what are they converting from? I leave it to you to define conversion as broadly or narrowly as you like. Thanks in advance!

    • Kyle Borg June 29, 2015 at 11:19 pm #

      Dear Rev. Lund,

      Thanks for stopping by and for your encouraging words.

      Let’s, for the sake of discussion (and ease), define “conversion” with J. Murray as faith and repentance (RAA, 87) and with Berkhof as, “that act of God whereby He causes the regenerated sinner, in his conscious life, to turn to Him in repentance and faith” (ST, 483). I might add that here I distinguish between regeneration and conversion–the one being a secret act of God which precedes the conscious response of faith and repentance which, according to HC LD 33 is “a daily killing of the old man.”

      With such a definition, yes, the children described in this article still need conversion if they grow to such an age wherein they can exercise faith and repentance. As to what they need conversion from tell me what you think about: a) from their original state in Adam as guilty and corrupted by sin; b) from their actual sin–both the lack of conformity and their transgression from the law of God (WSC q. 14); and, c) if J. Murray is right when he says “covenant mercy cannot be severed from covenant keeping” (CB, 87) and Witsius is justified in saying it is “natural for young people in the transition stage of life to reject the lessons of piety” (Witsius, Utility and Efficacy of Infant Baptism, s. 30; see also EoC 1.3.6.19), then they also need to be converted from being covenant breakers.

      I leave it to you to disagree with me! Thanks in advance!

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