Ever tried to show your kids something in the distance … with no success? You explain that it’s on the other side of the pond, just above the brown house, in one of the trees. They can’t see it. Their little eyes aren’t quite ready for these kinds of exercises. Undeterred, you try the line-up-your-arm-right-next-to-their-face pointing trick.
So then you just tell them about it: “Well, in the tree across the pond, there’s a hawk, probably waiting for a fish or a squirrel.” It’s not quite the same, but it’s something. Your kids know that daddy sees something, and they know a little bit about it based on your description.
Maybe after straining their eyes a while longer, they will see it too.
When our children are young, their spiritual eyes are dim as well. In fact, they’re blind. It’s sometimes hard to accept, but, before they trust Jesus, our precious children are entirely in the dark, never able to catch a glimpse of the only Person who can heal their soul. To an unilluminated person, the glory of Jesus is as invisible as the properties of the air so essential for life.1
What’s worse, without some sort of intervention, our children will remain blind.
Who will open their eyes?
In I Corinthians 2 Paul shines a spotlight on the only One who can open blind eyes. Leading up to this passage, Paul has been highlighting the single most important message anyone can hear: “the word of the cross,” or the gospel. The gospel alone is the power that brings salvation to dying souls (1 Cor. 1:18, 24).
We have a problem, though. The beautiful gospel of Jesus Christ, larger than life, is completely invisible to most people. “The natural person,” Paul explains, “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).
Smart people, powerful people, influential people, even religious people—none of them “get” the gospel. It doesn’t make sense to them. No matter how smart or bright or sincere your children are, they will not “get” the gospel on their own. Nobody does.
At the same time, anyone can “get” the gospel. Paul goes on to explain that “God chose what is foolish…God chose what is weak…God chose what is low and despised” to be the kind of people whose eyes are opened to the powerful message of the gospel (1 Cor. 2:26–31).
In order for your child’s eyes to be opened, two ingredients must be present:
- The simple message of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:18–2:8)
- The powerful Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:9–16)
The Holy Spirit alone opens blind eyes. Like an infrared camera, He allows us to see things which we could never see on our own.
The same Spirit who, on day one of creation, “turned the lights on” is the only One who can turn the lights on in your child’s heart (2 Cor. 4:6).
The Holy Spirit alone can open your child’s eyes.
So we wait.
While You’re Waiting
For a believing parent, the Holy Spirit’s singular role shouldn’t prompt passivity. Far from it, the Spirit’s work should provide you with energy and direction as you wait for the lights to turn on in your child’s heart. While you’re waiting, here are some actions you should take:
Not a day should go by that we do not pray concerning our children, “Open their eyes.” Pray as Paul does in Colossians 4:3–4 “that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ — that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”
Why is it that so many children of believing parents end up also believing in Christ? We can sometimes assume their eventual belief is just a given, a product of circumstances, but it’s not. God, in His sovereignty, strategically positions prayer warriors (such as parents) in the lives of people He will save—prayer warriors who will regularly, fervently entreat Him to save their children.
The Holy Spirit uses your prayers!
2. Speak the gospel
The Holy Spirit also uses your witness. You may have noticed in Colossians 4:3–4 that Paul didn’t just request prayer for an open door; He also requested prayer for a clear declaration of Jesus Christ.
Dads, please don’t leave the presentation of the gospel to your children’s Sunday School teachers.2 Joyfully point your children to God every chance you get.
Talk about Him while you’re examining a beetle—“The God who designed this beetle also made you and loves you so much.”
Talk about Him when your child is discouraged about his sin—“Did you know that even the sin of cheating can’t keep you from God’s grace?”
Talk about Him when your child fears an upcoming change—“When you start to feel nervous about going to Middle School, Jesus wants you to come to Him.”
Then share the good news! If you’re wondering where to start, here’s a simple outline for speaking the gospel:
- God (Who is God?)
- Man (Why did God make you? What went wrong?)
- Christ (What has Jesus done?)
- Response (How do you receive Him?)3
What a joy it is to be the bearer of this wonderful news to our children!
3. Live the gospel
As parents, we aren’t called merely to speak the gospel; we also point to the gospel with our actions and words—what Paul calls “[adorning] the doctrine of God” (Titus 2:10). We want our children to know that the gospel is not on par with Santa Claus or the Marvel universe. It’s real, and it’s changing dad from the inside out!
My children must see that the gospel is more than mere words to me. They must see that the Holy Spirit has planted the gospel deep in my heart and is producing His distinguishing fruit in my life.
What might that fruit look like in everyday life?
- I meet often with God because I realize how needy I am.
- When I’m having a really good day, I rejoice in Him.
- When I’m having a really bad day, I rejoice in Him.
- I use my free time to help with the dishes instead of scrolling through my news feed.
- I interact lovingly with my wife.
- When my children take advantage of me, I keep on loving them.
- When we see or hear something that diminishes God’s glory, I speak up.
- When others are hurting or sad, I show God’s compassion.
- When a servant is needed, I get out of my chair.
Tall order? Not for the Spirit. He wants to produce His fruit in my life so that all, including my children, can see the gospel more clearly. All of these actions show our children that the gospel is not mere words; it really is powerful enough to forgive and transform sinners.
Maybe your child isn’t in elementary school. Maybe she’s an adult and still does not profess Christ.
As a dad of young children, I do not pretend to know your pain. Waiting for little eyes to open is hard, but I’m sure it gets harder as the years go by. It’s easy to begin to put too much stock in your own role as a parent, often leading to intense pangs of regret over opportunities missed.
You can know this. God is still God and cares deeply for you and your child. He is still powerful to save your child regardless of her age.
So, what should you do while you’re still waiting? There is no hard and fast formula, but a good starting place is actually the three points above: keep praying, keep speaking, keep living the gospel. Persevere. Keep loving your child. Don’t cut her off.
While you persevere, surround yourself with a body of believers who can come alongside you. Share your burden and enlist their support. Then, all of you keep praying. No matter how wayward your child may be, while she is alive, she is never beyond the reach of God’s grace.
Whether your child is 5 or 45, there is still only one Person who can open blind eyes.
The Bible clearly describes all unbelievers as spiritually blind (John 3:3; 12:46; 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:13; 1 John 2:11). What, then, do we make of the ever-growing knowledge of the gospel often present in an unbelieving child’s heart? I believe this reality is described in John 16:8. Prior to our conversion, the Spirit convicts us “concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” This convicting work seems to act more like a sunrise, gradually exposing an unbeliever to the realities of his sin and God’s offer of salvation. This convicting work should not, however, be equated with regeneration. “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). ↩
As parents, we can sometimes assume our role is to supplement the teaching our children receive in the local church. We, however, are the primary disciple-makers and evangelists in our children’s lives. Children’s ministries, then, should seek to partner with parents in the discipleship of their children. ↩
For smaller children, a resource like the wordless book can be a great help. It is also a good idea to begin to memorize gospel verses together as a family. You can count on God’s Word to do a work in your child’s heart! One helpful resource is The Gospel ABC Alphabet available from the CoffeyDesignCo Etsy shop. ↩