You might ask, “Don’t you believe that a 4 year- old can be saved? Well, if you mean by that: “Can a four year- old be taught a couple of bible verses and catch phrases and told to love Jesus (the unseen person he has not met), and then led to repeat a prayer with the promise of Heaven as a reward?” Absolutely! Without a doubt, I believe that he can perform this act. This however, IS NOT bible salvation. Do people honestly believe that it IS?
Now, on the other hand, if you were to ask whether I believe that a 4 year- old can understand his lost condition as a sinner condemned before a righteous God to an eternity in Hell, repent and trust in Jesus Christ alone as his only hope of forgiveness; I would have to say that I think it is pretty unlikely. Granted, there may possibly be children that young who do indeed have great spiritual understanding beyond their years, and as much as every parent wants to believe that their child is such a spiritual phenomenon; I would imagine that it is truly rare.
Almost every child in church today believes in Jesus. “… the devils also believe, and tremble.” James 2:19 That does not mean that they are saved. (Most of these children also believe in Santa. That does not make them elves, or even very discerning.)
Simply believing in the existence of Jesus or even in the facts of His death, burial and resurrection is NOT salvation. Praying a prayer is also NOT salvation. And by the way, if you told them to pray to Santa, or the Easter Bunny, they'd probably do that too, and REALLY MEAN it.
As a former Catholic, from a child, I believed in God, and that Jesus Christ was the sinless son of God, who came to earth, lived a sinless life, died on the cross for my sins, and rose again the third day. I even knew him as the one who saves us from our sins, but I was not saved. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that through the conviction of the holy Spirit, I began to see myself as a sinner, and became repentant toward God. Even then however, there remained within me, a stumbling block which prevented me from truly believing the gospel. I was still clinging to the works-based salvation method that I had been taught, believing that I could offer something toward the price of my pardon.
When through the hearing of the word, God shined the glorious light of the gospel of Jesus Christ into my heart with the truth of salvation by grace through faith, and not of works, my life was never the same! Praise God for His great mercy toward me!
Is this not the same salvation that He offers to all? Obviously, not all will have the same stumbling block to overcome, but all must come through that same repentance toward God and faith toward Jesus Christ alone. THIS is biblical salvation, not merely praying a prayer, or professing to believe some facts to earn entrance into Heaven.
I have heard many give their own testimonies of “getting saved” at a tender age such as this. Often they have fond memories of kneeling before a manger scene or making a decision somewhere, but rarely is repentance toward God or even genuine faith in Christ even expressed. Most often, praying a prayer is the highlight of their memory, with no testimony of changed life.
Many of these confess that they lived apart from God for a great deal of time, or that they experienced a “recommitment” later in their lives, in which sanctification and changed life began. Those things should begin WITH salvation, not years after. Can I suggest to you that according to God’s word, SALVATION was probably the thing that came later, and not just a “recommitment”.
Some may argue that children do not have much sin to change from, especially children who grow up in church. They are generally “good” kids. Well, if they were not sinners saved by grace then they are NOT SAVED at all.
“When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Mark 2:17
Jesus came to call SINNERS to REPENTANCE, not the righteous, or even self-righteous. There IS NO salvation without repentance, and NO new life without change.
If your salvation amounts to pretty much the same scenario, with no repentance or changed life, I would beg you to please “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.”2 Corinthians 13:5 “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12
If you’re a Teacher, it’s time to take responsibility for what you’re teaching. We want so much to see our children saved, that we may think it is a small thing if a child makes a false profession. We may even think it will help them to choose right later. but in our zeal, we may actually be doing more damage than good.
When we offer salvation without repentance, instead strengthening them in the word and preparing them to receive the Savior, we are inoculating them against the gospel by removing their fear of the Lord and assuring them that salvation is already theirs.
Often, the aim of child evangelism is to get these children to “accept Jesus” and ask Him into their hearts at the earliest possible age. Sadly, most times, this is before they even know what sin is. Who would ever expect a toddler to understand the concepts of repentance and faith? Often grown-ups struggle with understanding these things, and yet, we begin pressuring these children for a decision right out of the nursery.
We fear to scare them with talk about Hell, and yet we think they should be accountable to God for their sin and competent to make a conscious and abiding decision about their own souls? What sort of insanity has overtaken our minds? Then, we trust that these toddlers and preschoolers, who do not know their right hands from their lefts, REALLY meant that decision we coerced them into making?
What are we thinking? How did salvation become such a small thing to us that we view it as merely coercing a prayer from anyone? We should be ashamed of ourselves AND our Christianity to minimize such a precious gift from God to a mere parlor trick or numbers game. This is sure not MY Christianity. Is it really yours?
I remember when I was first saved, believing that we just needed to give people the answer- that Jesus paid it all! I thought that once they knew that, then of course they would be saved and changed just as I was. So, I shared the answer (the gospel) with as many as I could, and I too, led those people through prayers and assured them that they were saved. It didn’t take long, however for me to see that these were empty professions from people who most often, didn’t even know what the question was, or care, let alone WANT the answer. These people said the prayers, but were not saved, or changed. They did not become new creatures, and I had to accept that when I told them that they were saved I had told them a lie.
I did not understand that salvation was a work of God, and that without the Holy Spirit working in that person's life, convicting, enlightening, and ultimately regenerating them, there could be no rebirth. Without the Spirit, they could pray a sinner's prayer all day, everyday and never be saved. How foolish I was to think that I could assure someone's salvation simply because I got them to say a prayer. I know that God forgives and understands when we are new believers and not yet solidly grounded in the truth, but how many mature Christians are still doing this?
How long will we continue to lie to people, and to our children? How long will we lie to ourselves? How long will we hold onto our man made prayer as guarantee of salvation?
Preach the gospel to everyone, but assure no one. That job belongs to the Lord.
“And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Acts 20:20-21