The most compelling question that a father should ask is, “How do I know if my child is saved…How do I know if my child is saved?” After all, the greatest responsibility we have as parents and certainly as fathers is the salvation of our children, to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. That is the command of Scripture. “You fathers, provoke not your children to wrath but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” Ephesians 6 says. We are the evangelists as it were of our children. And the question comes up…how do I know if my child is saved? That is a compelling question and I want in a very simple and straightforward way to help you to be able to understand that question.
What you really are asking is…is God…is God working in the life of my child unto salvation because salvation is a divine work, it is the work of God in the life of your child. And what you’re looking for as you look at your child’s life is evidences of that work. You cannot know your child is saved because at some point in the past your child prayed a prayer. Your child at some point, maybe at the age of five or six or seven or whatever prayed a little prayer and invited Jesus Christ to come into his or her heart. It’s certainly fine to have that desire in the life of a child, there’s nothing wrong with a child making that request of God or praying that prayer at the prompting of a Sunday-school teacher or of a Christian-school teacher, or of a parent, that is in itself no indication of salvation. A prayer does not indicate salvation. A prayer is basically a human act and not necessarily consistent with the working of God. There are people who have prayed that prayer at various times in their life and are not converted for one reason or another. You cannot then know your child is saved simply because they prayed a prayer, invited Christ into their life. You cannot know because they have reported to you that that’s what they decided to do, that they decided at some point along the way, might have been under the influence of your own discussion with them, or they might have heard something in Sunday school, or even in church, and they have decided they wanted to be Christian, they’ve decided they wanted Christ as their Savior, that does not necessarily indicate salvation.
You can’t look at any event, at any specific prayer, at any specific formula, at any particular confession that they might make that in fact they have asked Jesus into their life or they’ve made a decision for Christ. That is not an indicator of salvation. You cannot look at any such event to know your child is saved. And I think that is important to say because so many parents having heard their child pray such a prayer or make such a decision in early childhood then wonder how it is that the child reaching junior high, or high school or college years completely turns their back on the Lord or treats God with indifference or is disinterested in the church and roams off into the world and etc., etc. And they wonder how in fact that could happen if they were saved at some point in time past. But you cannot look at an event as an indicator of salvation. The only thing you can look at is evidences of the working of God in the life.
What evidences? First of all, let’s use the word “conviction.” When someone is saved there is a work of the Holy Spirit in conviction. In John 16 Jesus said I’m going to send the Holy Spirit and He is going to convict. He’s going to convict of sin and righteousness and judgment. That is the Holy Spirit is going to convict a heart of the nature of sin, that sin is wrong, it’s evil, it dissatisfies God, it is rebellion against God, etc. And then of righteousness, that is that one is unable to meet the standard of righteousness, and then of judgment, and therefore judgment is the consequence.
When God is in the process of bringing someone to salvation, there will be conviction of sin. So what you look for in your child is evidences of that conviction apart from the fear of your punishment, apart from the fear of your displeasure and disfavor and the loss of privileges or whatever you might use to manipulate their behavior, you’re looking for honest, personal conviction. In a word, you’re looking for a penitent heart. You’re looking for a child who feels badly about sin not because of what might happen when you find out but because they know it dishonors God. That’s what you’re looking for. That’s evidence of God working in the heart…not a momentary prayer, not a momentary decision or series of decisions, but rather evidence of the working of the Spirit of God in conviction which produces penitence, a certain sorrow over one’s own sin.
When you begin to see that in your child, you can know that the work of the Spirit of God is going on. And that could happen, I think, in a young child. People ask me all the time, “At what age can someone be saved?” I’m not prepared to say that, I don’t think there is any age, but I think at certainly at the age of seven or eight or nine or ten it is possible for a child to come to Christ. You’re not going to fully know that until they reach an age of independence, say around 12 or 13, where they can make their own choices and behave with a little more freedom and respond to their peer pressure around them, then you’re going to know the real working of God has been done by the responses that they make when you’re not literally the only controlling element in their life. But early on they can be saved and you need to be looking for evidences of that working in their heart which will come to full flower in their, perhaps around 12 or 13. That’s why we wait till then to baptize people because at that point you can begin to see these evidences independent of total parental control. But the first thing you look for is the conviction of sin, that’s a work of the Holy Spirit, that produces penitence, sadness over sin because it dishonors God.
The second thing you look for, we’ll call it revelation. Not just conviction but revelation…they understand the gospel. Nobody can be saved if he does not understand the gospel. A few days ago with one of my grandchildren I started at the very beginning with the character of God and I just personally took quite a length of time, the two of us were together, to go through the whole story of redemption, just asking questions. And as I went through it was very apparent that this little child had a complete grasp of God’s redemptive plan, that man was sinful, that he was helplessly sinful, that the Bible defines him as sinful, that his own experience confirms that, that he is in need of forgiveness, that God provides forgiveness because Jesus Christ took his place and bore the punishment of God. I went through all of that and that is a critical element because now you know the Spirit of God is working to quicken the mind of the child to grasp the truth. And at any point along the way, the question can be asked…do you understand that truth? Yes. Do you believe that truth? And you can add to penitence belief. The child begins to not only understand it but believe it. There’s a grasp in the heart of this revelation as true, and I mean true in a personal sense. So you’re looking at the child and you’re looking for penitence and you’re looking for belief, real belief in the truth of salvation doctrine as indicated in the Scriptures. Because what’s happening then is the glorious gospel, 2 Corinthians 4:6, God is allowing the glorious gospel to shine unto them and they’re beginning to embrace it.
Thirdly would be the word “sanctification.” What you’re looking at here is obedience. Sanctification means separation. You begin to see the child pursuing obedience. In other words, it’s not just that they’re afraid of you, it’s that they actually want to do what’s right because they want to honor God, they want to please God. Something begins to rise in their heart that indicates they want to please God. You can begin to see that in a child fairly early, I think around seven, or eight, or nine years old, a child can really begin to feel the promptings in the heart of longing to do what honors God. That’s evidence that they’ve been separated from the hankerings of sin which dominate them, which you as a parent control by your discipline. If any man be in Christ, he is…what?…he’s a new creature, old things pass away and all things are new. And new things come and part of that newness is a longing to be obedient. If they really love God they’ll keep His commandments, the Bible says.
So, what you’re looking at in your children is not…you don’t look for an event, you look for the evidences of God’s saving work going on in their lives…penitence, belief, obedience. And a fourth one, and this is something you know as well, we could say conviction, revelation, sanctification, association.
If God is working in their heart unto salvation, they will desire to associate with the right people. They will…if you’re looking at your child and saying, “Well I remember when my child prayed a little prayer, I remember when I prayed and my child invited Christ into my life,” but your child gravitates toward the kids who dishonor Christ, your child gravitates toward the kids who are disobedient or toward junior high age, your high-school age child gravitates toward the wrong crowd, that is indication enough that they may well not be a Christian because Christians gravitate toward those who want to honor God. If you love God, 1 John 5 says, you love those who love God. You’re drawn to those kinds of people.
So, that’s what you’re looking for. You can’t…as a parent you can’t satisfy the question…is my child a Christian?…by looking at any event, or any moment or any prayer. What you’re looking for is the working of God. And by the work of God in conviction He produces penitence. And by the work of God in revelation He produces belief. And by the work of God in sanctification He produces obedience. And by the work of God in association He produces fellowship…fellowship. There’s a desire to be with other believers. And if you see those things in your child then you know that the Spirit of God is at work. And at some point along the way that…that is…that is moving in the direction of salvation in that little heart. At what point there is an age of accountability and they real…and a genuine regeneration and justification and full salvation of that life God knows…God knows. But these will be the indications that the Spirit of God is at work in the life of your child. As you look at your young child, those are the kinds of things you’re looking for.
And I would encourage you too that these things don’t happen in a vacuum. You as a parent need to be working along with the Spirit of God in these areas, talking to your children about the issue of sin, about the issue of conviction, talking to your children about the facts of the gospel, make sure they understand the issues of substitutionary death and atonement, forgiveness, dealing with the issues of obedience and sanctification, the issues of fellowship, being with the right people and loving God’s people. You need to be the tool that God uses to pass that information on which the Holy Spirit in His power quickens into transformation in the life of the child. I don’t…I don’t think it’s a very safe thing to assume that because at some point along the way your child prayed a prayer your work is done, it is not. You need to be very patient and very consistent, praying that God will work these works and watch to see if in fact these are the things that are going on in the life of your child. And if there’s any doubt about these things, then you need to crank up the intensity of your prayers and perhaps the clarity and consistency of your example, as well as your loving instruction to the child. And be to some degree patient in realizing this, if your child is not a Christian you can’t expect them to act like one. So there has to be a certain compassion even in your discipline in that process until they come to faith in Jesus Christ. Those are the things you look for and when God is at work in a child those are the things you will see.
By: John MacArthur