Originally, this was written from an elder, probably the Apostle John, to his spiritual children: those who have believed the gospel of Christ he preached. Yet I have seen more than one family that has this posted on the wall of their home. Every Christian parent feels the truth of this passage. I know I do. My greatest prayer for my children–more than that they would be healthy, wise, successful, well-behaved, or self-disciplined–is that they would come to a knowledge of the truth. I long for all of my children to become believers in Christ and walk with him daily.
I am not without anxiety on this matter. I know that not every kid born into a Christian family comes to Christ. I have four children, all 10 and under. Will they all be born again? Will they come to know Christ or reject him? I know that I am not alone on this one. Many parents reading this worry about their children who have yet to express faith. Other parents have grown children who never expressed faith in Christ, have rejected the faith, or are living out an ungodly life incongruent with a previously expressed faith.
Is there reason for hope? I believe so. What can we do?
Train your child
There is a surprisingly small amount of direction God communicates to us concerning the actual task of parenting. You can distill the New Testament direct teaching on the task of raising children to three core expectations (see Eph 6:4; Col 3:21):
- Instruct them in the knowledge of the Lord
- Discipline/correct them
- Do not exasperate/discourage them
Of course, you can draw more principles from the Old and New Testament, but in the household code passages of the New Testament, this is the command we are given.
You have precious little time to train your children while they are in your home. Make sure they leave having a knowledge of God, even if they don’t embrace him. When they are young, tell them the stories of Scripture especially. Let them hear of God’s wonders and faithfulness. As they get older, focus on the truths that explain and clarify our world. Show how the Bible gives the best explanation for life and living. Weigh it against the competing narratives of the world. Don’t just expose them to Christianity; personally call them to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
Much more could be said here. Every family does this differently. One option I encourage you to try is to have a day for family devotion. We call it ‘family day.’ We don’t allow anyone on screens, we do something fun as a family, and we read and discuss a passage of Scripture. It is messy, awkward, and doesn’t always work. But the struggle, I believe, is worth it. However, it may just be that you are just intentional to bring God in the discussion naturally at dinner time, in the car, or before bed. However you do it, make sure it is known that God is the center of your home life, discussions, and decision-making. Trust that whatever training you have done or are doing will stay with your children and bear fruit (Prov 22:6), even after they leave your home.
Go to church. Pray. Develop a morning or evening personal devotion in the Scriptures. Pursue personal holiness. Let your marriage reflect the love between Christ and his Bride. Serve others and take your kids with you. Go on mission trips together. Repent and ask your children for forgiveness when you sin against them. Talk about God in regular conversation. Love your neighbor. Develop close relationships with other believers and model Christian fellowship. Eat dinner together and talk about what God is doing in your life at the table. Pray with your kids. Give God thanks for the normal things you enjoy. Let your use of time and money demonstrate your God-centered priorities.
As the saying goes, more is caught than taught.
Pray in Faith
Pray for the salvation of your children. I assume you are already doing that, but if not, start and be diligent in it. There are two specific ways I’d like to direct you in this. First, invite others to pray with you for your children’s salvation. At our monthly elders meeting, before we talk of congregation care or ministry concerns, we spend time checking in about our own faith and health. We often spend the opening half hour or so praying for one another’s family, particularly our children. It is such an incredible blessing knowing other believers are praying for our children. Maybe start by enlisting your believing parents or siblings to pray with you.
Second, pray for your children’s salvation with your children. Don’t let it be a secret to your children that you earnestly desire for them to come to faith in Christ. When you pray for them before bed or at other times, include a prayer for their salvation. Let them hear it from your mouth. Do this with sensitivity. If they have professed faith, treat them as a believer and don’t cause them to doubt their salvation with your prayers. Neither try to guilt them or manipulate via your prayers if they are wrestling with faith. If they have doubts and questions, ask your child about them, and then take those concerns to God in prayer with them.
Have faith that salvation belongs to the Lord
I once heard that most people who come to faith in Christ do so before they graduate from high school. I’m not sure of the numbers on that, but it rings true. No one chooses their parents; that decision belongs to the Lord. Knowing this, consider that in his wisdom and grace he gave your sons and daughters to you. He gave these young ones the blessing of Christian parents who can guide them into truth. God has given your children the opportunity to grow up hearing the gospel preached, to be raised with the stories of the Bible read to them, with faith and love demonstrated. It didn’t have to be that way. So take heart if you have young ones in your home or children who left your roof years ago. Though you are an imperfect parent and a sinner saved by grace, God granted your children to have believing parents. This doesn’t save them, but it is the common means God uses to bring children into his kingdom. God’s choice evangelists are moms and dads.
Take heart. Pray. Trust the God of your salvation.