Just this month, my oldest daughter (who is 8) went to an event where an altar call was given and afterwards said she wanted to give her life to Jesus. Just a week later, our second oldest (who is 5) told us that she wanted to ask Jesus to come into her heart.
Should I baptize them?
As funny as this may sound, what makes this question difficult is their Christian upbringing. Their whole lives they have been taught that there is a God, that He loves them, that we sin, but that in His love God sent Jesus to die on the cross to wipe our sins away, and whoever believes this has eternal life. We pray regularly that God would strengthen us to live like Jesus for His glory. They go to a Christian school where these things are taught and their grandparents on both sides are Christians.
Wouldn’t it be shocking if they didn’t express a desire to follow Jesus?
But how do we know that their professions flow from a new, regenerated heart and not a desire to please the ones they love? When can we even know the difference? Is there a particular age?
While I have not come to conclusive answers, here is how I am sure we should proceed.
1. Rejoice that your children think this way
Even if we have questions, we should be overjoyed that they do want to follow Jesus. These are the kinds of things for which we pray. We have aspired to shape our children’s understanding of the world according to God’s Word and in these early deliberations of their precious young minds, they are agreeing and expressing desire to live joyfully within it. This is glorious!
We shouldn’t regard their faith as immature and incomplete. Are children are not theological test subjects. When my first daughter called me “Daddy” for the first time, she didn’t know what “Daddy” meant. She just knew that my face went with that name. And I rejoiced. We should feel the same way when our children express any desire for God to be their Father, regardless the level of their understanding.
2. Ask good open-ended questions
The questions we ask should be open-ended and not “Yes/No.” Our children want to please us, they are eager to affirm what they think we want them to affirm. They will likely answer “Yes” to any question they sense we want them to accept.
But how are they understanding these things in their own hearts, in their own words? How deep is their understanding of sin? What exactly was Jesus doing when He died on the cross? What does it mean that Jesus is resurrected? What do these things have to do with you when you are made fun of at school? When you are arguing with your sister? This means you, mom and dad, need to understand these things too!
Our children don’t have to be able to teach a systematic theology class, but they should be able to express some kind of understanding in these areas on their own, in their own words.
3. Observe their behavior
Do you perceive gospel actions in your children? I don’t mean that they are nice or good at sharing. Do they put other people in front of themselves? Why they are acting this way? Is it because that’s what good little children do or are they basing their action on a desire to please God and be like Jesus? When our children consistently make hard decisions, centered on biblical morality and service to others, and they do so not because it pleases mommy and daddy or proves they are good but because they want to honor God, it is a revealing sign that they are born again.
In short, we should be encouraged and keep looking. We must probe our children’s hearts. If they consistently understand the gospel in their own terms and they demonstrate a life that is sacrificial and selfless based on a desire to obey God and live like Jesus, we can have growing confidence that they have been born again and, when the time is right, see them baptized. May God do it for us all!