By Trudi Bils
To many of us, this is a ridiculous question. For in fact, we were saved as children. Statistics are on our side as well, revealing that 85% of Christians made the decision to trust Christ somewhere between the ages of four and fourteen. Further, those of us who have been actively learning and practicing the discipline of soul-winning have probably led a child to Christ, perhaps even one of our own.
It is imperative that we ask this question, however, because some would have us believe that childhood is not the time to make such a decision. Jonathon Edwards (who trusted Christ as a child) seemed to place greater, if not exclusive, recognition on salvation occurring in adults, when he said, “. . . that by far the greater part of persons in this town [his Northampton, MA township in 1735] above sixteen years of age, are such as have the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ” (A Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in Northampton, Mass., 1735 [New York: American Tract Society, n.d.], p.25; italics supplied). Some today have expressed the opinion that salvation is an adult decision which children could not be expected to make. Anna B. Mow in her book Your Child: A Guide for Parents and Teachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963) mistakenly described salvation as an “encounter” with the Lord and wrote, “This means that it [salvation] is more than making a decision about one’s own life; it is making a decision for Someone and the decision must be followed by a commitment to Him for life. God has done His part and then we do our part” (p.139).
If it is true that salvation involves a lifelong commitment to Christ, then our question becomes valid. We might wonder, is it possible for a young child to understand all, or at least some, of the ramifications surrounding a decision to commit his life to Christ? And, if he were to realize what’s involved, could he really decide to make such a decision? Finally, if he were able to choose to “follow Christ” for salvation, could he persevere to the end?–a requirement which is implied and often stated by advocates of the Lordship gospel. For example, John MacArthur writes, “The point is not that God guarantees security to everyone who will say he accepts Christ, but rather that those whose faith is genuine will prove their salvation is secure by persevering to the end in the way of righteousness” (The Gospel According to Jesus [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988], p.98).
If this kind of commitment was a condition for obtaining eternal life, we would have to agree that leading a child to Christ would be no easy task. Yet Jesus Himself knew that children could receive salvation and longed for them to do so (Matt 18:14). He even went so far as to instruct adults to “become as little children” in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:3). This is because Jesus knew the simplicity found within the wonderful Gospel message. He said in John 6:47, “Most assuredly I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.”
Though some have tried to alter or add to the meaning of the word believe (mentioned as the sole condition for salvation over 150 times in the New Testament), its definition remains as God intended it. “What faith really is, in biblical language, is receiving the testimony of God. It is the inward conviction that what God says to us in the Gospel is true. Faith is… taking God at His word. It is nothing less than this. But it is also nothing more” (Zane C. Hodges, Absolutely Free! [Dallas: Redenciï¿½n Viva, 1989], pp.31-32). This is a message that is all inclusive–no strings attached. Even, and especially, a child can grasp this message and place his faith in Christ for eternal life, and many do.
R. A. Torrey said, “It is almost the easiest thing in the world to lead a child from five to ten years of age to a definite acceptance of Christ. . . . The younger the children are when you seek to lead them to make an actual acceptance of Christ, the easier the work will be, and the more satisfactory” (from Frank G. Coleman’s, The Romance of Winning Children [Cleveland, OH: Union Gospel Press, 1973], p. 14). Thank God for the faithful witnesses who led me–and perhaps you–to Christ at an early age!
Trudi Bils is a GES member and has long been actively involved in sharing her faith with children. Her husband, Steve, is the Executive Director of Child Evangelism Fellowship in Northern Colorado.