When the parents love is strong, this models and enhances love of the child. It seems that with children, its more what is caught than what is taught. They might giggle or cover their eyes when daddy kisses mommy or mommy kisses daddy, but inwardly, this is a great assurance to the child. It builds confidence in the family structure and exhibit’s a safe feeling for the child. It gives the child a sense of security and steadfastness like nothing else can.
What’s this to do with raising godly children in the hopes that they accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior? Or how does this instill manners and morals into children? Because God first loved us when we frankly didn’t deserve it. When a child is at their worst behavior is exactly when the child needs love the most. When they are most unlovable is when you must love them the most!
It is critical to remember that anything a parent can do, even so near perfectly, still can not bring a child to salvation. Even though this is the greatest need that any young child has, this is still the work of the Holy Spirit alone (John 3:8). We can fertilize and water, but God always gives the increase. No child should ever feel pressured to get saved. Adults don’t do well in this regard and neither do children.
Conversely, if a child seems too young to make a profession of faith, you must believe it. Let the child decide. It is not the parent’s decision to state that the child is just too young or not ready. As a father and grandfather, I am continually surprised at just how intelligent children really are. I will not sit in judgment and say, “well, you’re too young” or “you’re really not ready yet”. God alone knows the heart and if they talk to the pastor, and he feels they are ready and want to be baptized, then by all means let them.
Even in the event that they do not fully understand the Gospel, then this may be the early sprouting of the seed that has been planted and it must not be nipped in the bud. It may be that a mature faith will sprout from this latter, or on the other hand, it may be ready to harvest today.
Spiritual transformation is the same in a 90 year-old as it is in a 9 year-old. If there is a willingness to follow Jesus (John 10:27), to love others (I John 3:14), to confess their sins to God (I John 1:9), to obey God (John 15:14) and do what is right (John 17:6), then this is all that is necessary. You might notice that most of these evidences are from the Apostle John. If a child wants to read a book or an Apostles writings, John is most recommended because he is known as the “disciple that Jesus loved”, and his writings reflect the nature of love of Jesus Christ and a converted person perhaps more than any other book in the Bible.
Do not misunderstand me that I am not saying that parents should not stress a need for salvation and Jesus as their Savior, but they must make clear to the child that they are not saved until certain things are believed and don’t allow a child to believe they are saved if you clearly know they are not. The evidences of their beliefs and confessions (see above in John’s writings) will make it clear if they understand or not. We shouldn’t give them a false sense of security in salvation if they are not saved. It is explaining to them the biblical evidences of whether they are saved or not, it is not your own convictions or beliefs of whether a child is saved or ready to accept the Lord as their Savior.
Child-like faith expressions should not be taken as childish, immature or trivial. They should be considered seriously. External actions are not a way to confirm nor deny a child’s being ready to accept Jesus Christ, like, “just read this sinner‘s prayer” or “just let Jesus come into your heart”. We already know that this is not based upon a belief or inner conversion, but more like jumping through hoops, like a trained dog. The only outward expressions of an inward conviction are baptism, but baptism comes after a person’s salvation. An inward conviction of belief will reveal itself in language that the child uses, but an altar call alone may not be confirming enough above all other evidence.
It is considerably rash to rush and have the child dunked immediately after an expression of salvation into baptism. Baptism should me made evidently clear that there is no salvation in getting baptized. It is only an outward expression of an inward conviction. And a rush to baptize a child may make them think that they are not saved until they are baptized, which for the thief on the cross, was not even possible.
Encourage obedience from the perspective of this being the right thing to do is more useful than actual obedience from fear of punishment. Foxhole conversions are rarely sincere and lasting. Internal responses of obedience from scripture are more valuable than the fear of consequences of disobedience because there will be times when no one is watching (but God) and internal lotuses of control have more lasting value than parental peer pressure. Children will be saved by the power of the Word of God and no child (or adult) will be saved apart from the Cross of Christ (the Gospel).
An excerpt from Chapter One of Teacing Children the Gospel, How to Raise Godly Children.