Christian parents want our children to know Christ because we want what is best for them. Many parents, however, struggle with how to know whether their children have come to a saving knowledge of Christ. While there’s no way to give a complete answer in a short blog post like this, I’ll try to offer you a handful of basic principles. No child gives evidence of salvation in a vacuum. These are things a child has to learn from faithful parents who teach him the Word of God. And these are lessons of the heart that only the Holy Spirit can truly teach. A child may certainly be saved before his parents can see it, but there are some evidences that point to our child’s salvation.
- Growing awareness of God’s goodness. Even before they begin to trust in God personally, our children will start to express that God is good, that He loves us, and that we should love Him back. They know that the Ten Commandments are God’s good standard, which we should all obey. While by itself, this isn’t proof of their salvation, it is the foundation of all the other evidences of salvation in our children. “This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 Jn 1:5-6).
- Increasing sense of personal sin. Your child may notice when another person does something wrong, and say, “That’s a sin.” That shows that your child is thinking about God’s standards. But there’s evidence of personal conviction when your child himself does something wrong and freely admits that “God does not approve of what I did.” The tenderest of consciences will agree with God: “What I did was wrong. I should not have done that. I disobeyed Jesus and did not show love for Him.” The Bible tells us, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God . . . through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:19-20).
- Leaning on Jesus for forgiveness and salvation. Leaning on Jesus is the very basis of assurance of salvation. A child who leans on Jesus doesn’t just change his behavior after he sins. He doesn’t just say, “What I did was wrong. I’ll try to do better next time.” Instead, he might say, “What I did was wrong, and I need Jesus to forgive me of that sin. Jesus had to die to pay the price for my sin.” I hesitate to describe the exact words of a child because different children will express things differently. But he leans on Christ. He’s not just trying to do better to please his parents or to avoid discipline. He recognizes that he has no hope but Jesus, no way to fix things himself. His only hope of mercy is Christ, His death and resurrection. Scripture says, “For we who have believed enter that rest . . . whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works” (Heb 4:3, 10). Paul said, “I [the old unbelieving Saul] have been crucified with Christ. It is not longer I [Saul] who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I [believing Paul] now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:19-20).
- Growing desire to know the Bible and pray. When God saves a child, that child wants to know the One who saved him. When God rescues a child from the guilt and shame of sin, that child will have an increasing, sincere desire to know what the Bible says about God and to talk to God in prayer. He’ll want to read the Bible so that he can know who God is. He’ll want to pray to express his heart to God. Parents should set an example in these things and encourage their children in them. 1 Peter 2:2 says believers “long for the pure milk of the Word,” and according to Acts 9:11, one of the proofs of Saul’s conversion was “behold, he is praying.”
- Faithful repentance of sin and increasing obedience to Christ’s commands. While #3, “leaning on Jesus for forgiveness and salvation,” is the basis of assurance of salvation, faithful repentance and growing obedience strengthens that assurance. When children begin to turn from their habits of sin to Jesus, and when they start obeying Christ in ways they didn’t used to obey Him, they grow up into full assurance of salvation. They honor and obey their parents more faithfully out of love for Jesus. They turn away from idols in their lives, and they sincerely want to be with God’s people, the church. All of these are signs of salvation. The Apostle writes, “By this we may be sure that we are in Him, whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (1 Jn 2:5-6).
No child (or adult for that matter!) does any of these things perfectly. But if your child has a pattern of these evidences of salvation, you should bring him to the pastors of your church for baptism and church membership.
Pastor Tom Hicks