I pray for my children’s salvation every day. If you are reading this post, then probably you do too—and you should! There is nothing that a Christian dad desires more than the salvation of his children.
I believe that ultimately, God is sovereign in salvation (John 6:65; Acts 13:48). It is a gift that He gives to whom He chooses (Eph 1:4-5, 11; 2:8-9). However, God also describes salvation as a decision to turn from one’s sin (repentance—Acts 17:30) and trust Christ alone (faith—Acts 16:31; c.f. 20:21). Moreover, He wants us to invite others to make that decision (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22)!
One of the most exciting and terrifying jobs of a parent is to present the decision for salvation to your children. Here are some principles I have tried to follow when working with children, including my own.
1. Do not invite your child to trust Christ until he or she is ready.
Children are very impressionable. It’s easy to get a child to pray a prayer. However, the prayer itself does not save. All of us could probably give an example of somebody we know who prayed to trust Christ as a child but is now living a godless life.
How do I know if my child is ready? Here are some questions I’ve asked myself in order to make that determination.
- Does he understand the gospel?
This should go without saying, but it makes no sense to encourage your child to pray to trust Christ if he doesn’t even know what that means. And yet, sadly, parents and well-meaning Christian workers do this all the time. How can you determine whether or not your “child gets it”? Try asking some open-ended questions.
“If your child can’t give the right answers to basic doctrinal questions about salvation without prompting, you probably have more teaching to do.”
If your child says, “I want to get saved,” ask him, “Why?” If he says, “So I can go to heaven,” play “devil’s advocate” and ask, “Doesn’t everyone go to heaven? Why not?” See if the child says anything about sin. And then if he does, ask him to define sin. Ask him about who Jesus is and about the meaning of His death on the cross. The substitutionary atonement is a big concept, but the child should at least have a basic grasp of the fact that Jesus died in his or her place. Ask him what it takes to be saved to see if he understands grace alone.
If your child can’t give the right answers to basic doctrinal questions about salvation without prompting, you probably have more teaching to do.
- Is he convicted?
Perhaps the main way that people hollow out the doctrine of conversion with children is by failing to address repentance. Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Repentance is necessary for salvation. This is why conviction is so important!
“If you get the sense that your child is not sorry for his sin, you probably have more convicting to do.”
How do you motivate a child to “get saved” without convicting him of sin? You teach him about heaven and hell and then say, “Do you want to go to heaven when you die?” No sane child is going to answer, “No, I want to go to hell!” So then you just have the child repeat a prayer after you. But that is not biblical salvation because the child is not repentant. He might not even know why he needs to repent!
If you get the sense that your child is not sorry for his sin, you probably have more convicting to do.1
- Has he demonstrated personal initiative?
The Bible is clear that salvation is a personal decision. No one can decide to be saved for you. If a child gets saved because his mom or dad wants him to or because all of his friends are doing it, that isn’t genuine salvation. John 6:44 says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” So what you want to determine is this: “Is God drawing my child right now?”
“If your child has not shown personal initiative to trust Christ, you probably have more praying to do.”
When I worked with children at camp Ironwood in Southern California, there were many times I would work with a child who raised his hand for salvation. Sometimes, partway into the conversion, I’d get the impression that the child was losing interest. So I’d ask him, “Do you want to go play?” Some people would probably say that’s a horrible thing to do. But my thought was, if God is drawing this kid, he’ll want to stay and talk. But if he was just trying to make me happy, I wanted to give him an “out.”
Once I was confident that my first daughter understood the gospel, I told her, “Whenever you want to make this decision, just let Mommy or me know.” Then we waited for her to approach us. If your child has not shown personal initiative to trust Christ, you probably have more praying to do.
2. When your child is ready to pray, don’t tell him to “repeat after me.”
I struggled a lot after I trusted Christ with wondering if I said the right words. Because of that, when I am dealing with children, I always have them use their own words. Only once have I dealt with a child for whom this was a hang up. If they truly understand the gospel, are convicted of sin, and want to be saved, praying in their own words is almost never an issue.2
3. Don’t tell your child that he’s saved.
I’ve either run into or heard about a lot of children who think they are saved because Mom or Dad said so. What a horrible foundation on which to base one’s assurance!
1 John says a lot about tests of salvation, and Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Mat 7:15). Therefore, it is good and right for you to help your children examine themselves as they work through assurance issues. However, some children or teens may try to shortcut that process by asking you point-blank, “Do you think I’m saved?” Don’t answer that question! It is important for your children to study the Bible and come to their own conclusions. Telling your kids that they are or aren’t saved can 1) give false assurance, 2) create false doubt, or 3) reinforce the idea that “the prayer” is what saved them.
Consider instead asking questions like “What does it mean to be saved?” or “What made you wonder about whether or not you’re saved?” Let their answers to these questions lead you to Bible passages that help to address their concerns.
4. Pray for wisdom.
Rarely am I as conscious of spiritual warfare and of my need for God’s help as when I am discussing salvation with a child—especially if he or she is one of my own children!3 However, one promise I can always fall back on is James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
Satan is real, and he does not want your kids to get saved. However, God is greater, and He loves your children. Not only that, but He promises to give you wisdom if you ask for it. I cannot count the number of times I have cried out to God when counseling children, and He has directed my words. You do not need to be afraid of not knowing what to say or of saying the wrong thing. Stay in the Word, ask God for wisdom, and let Him guide you.
I pray for God’s blessings upon you as you counsel your children about salvation.
Also, one of the most beautiful things you will ever hear is a child asking God for salvation in his or her own words. ↩︎
It may make you feel better to know that even pastors with seminary degrees feel inadequate in this area. ↩︎
Growing Fathers Team
Kristopher serves as as the youth and discipleship pastor at Northwest Valley Baptist Church in Glendale, AZ. He and his wife, Elise, have four young children—Anaya, Felicity, Mollie Jo, and Klayton.View all posts by Kristopher