by Ken Wilson
As the old adage goes, “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.” I found this true when my pastor and I recently interviewed three children for a Grace Evangelical School of Theology assignment. The three children were: Chris (age 9), Beth (age 8), and Stephen (age 7). At the beginning of the conversation, all were asked how a person gets to heaven. Surprisingly, the accuracy of the responses was inversely proportional to their ages.
Chris’s family began attending our local church only four weeks prior to this interview. It is a well-disciplined home-schooled family with four children.
When questioned about how a person gets to heaven, Chris answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and follow him.” Then we questioned him about the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Chris correctly understood Jesus as God who became a man in order to die for our sins. We needed a Savior because we had wronged God by not obeying Him. So, Jesus died on the cross in our place.
When I asked about following Jesus as a requirement to go to heaven, Chris responded that we must indeed be baptized and obey Christ. If we don’t obey, then we do not get to go to heaven. There was no hesitation in his answer.
I was able to explain that the sole requirement is believing that Jesus guarantees eternal life to all who believe in Him. Baptism is something we should do as Christians but it is not necessary to go to heaven. After I explained to Chris that his parents always accept him as their child, even when he is disobedient, he understood the difference. Faith alone is the only requirement for assurance.
Though a rather shy girl, Beth was able to communicate her beliefs. She answered, “We need to ask Jesus into our hearts.” Her understanding of the Person of Christ and our need for a Savior were accurate. When I asked her what was involved in asking Jesus into our hearts, she responded, “We should pray and ask Him to come in.” The pastor and I agreed not to attempt a correction of this false theology if this answer was given. We would pursue it at a different time when more explanation could be provided with the parents present (so the child would be more comfortable with this truth).
Beth also had some confusion about faithfulness to Christ as a disciple versus eternal salvation by faith alone. She added to the gospel when I specifically questioned her whether anything else was necessary other than asking Christ into our hearts. At this point she added, “obeying Christ.” I again discussed the difference between acceptance and approval. She then understood the difference and could articulate faith alone as the answer. Eternal security was reinforced using Romans 8:30-39.
The youngest child was the most confident in his answers. Stephen’s immediate reply was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” He knew that our sins separated us from God so that we could not reach heaven by being good. When Stephen told me that “Jesus was fully God,” we asked him if Jesus was also a man. He answered, “No.” When we asked about Jesus becoming tired and thirsty, Stephen immediately changed his answer. He did have difficulty understanding how Jesus could be both fully God and fully man. (The pastor and I assured him that we did not understand it either but we believed it by faith since the Scriptures affirm it.)
Stephen had the best comprehension of “faith alone.” He adamantly denied that baptism or obedience or anything else was required for entrance into heaven. He proceeded to explain to me that believing in Jesus gets you to heaven while obeying Jesus gives you rewards in heaven. The more we obey, the more rewards we receive. (This brought tears to my eyes since this child’s father is not a Christian.) I congratulated Stephen on his answer, adding that I wished more adults had his accurate understanding of the difference between eternal life and discipleship rewards. Obviously, Stephen’s assurance was the natural result of this correct doctrine.
We shouldn’t judge a child’s understanding of the gospel by his age. As evidenced by Stephen, the age of the child has little to do with his comprehension of the gospel. A younger child who has been taught the gospel accurately can not only understand and believe it, but can also articulate it clearly to others.