Summary: Children need to know God's Truth; they can't simply take on their parent's beliefs, but need to understand and receive the truth of God on their own. Parents have a responsibility to guide children in the way they're to go.
Being a parent is an enormous responsibility. I can’t think of anything in life that’s more challenging. I’ve been to war, and I’ve had kids; war was easier.
Proverbs 22:6 tells parents to “Train up children in the way they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from it.” This is a principle, a probability, not a promise. There is no guarantee our children will become believers. They may, in fact, reject our faith and values altogether.
It is vital that we impart our beliefs to our children, that we urge them to love God and desire to grow spiritually. Otherwise they will be like ships without a rudder. A son who rejected his parent’s values later complained that his life was meaningless. His mother said, “If you reject God and His word, life does indeed lack purpose. But you can get back on track.”
A Jewish father complained to the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism, that his son had forgotten God. “What, Rabbi, shall I do?” The Baal Shem Tov replied, “Love him more than ever.”
If we want our kids to know God we need to start early. Our homes should be filled with religious music, age-appropriate books of Bible stories, videos and games designed to communicate our faith. And I can’t stress enough having daily family devotions; right after dinner is often a good time for this. You can read from a devotional book and have a brief prayer. And Sunday School is a non-negotiable. Parents tell me their kids don’t feel like going; yet that excuse doesn’t work Monday morning. Train up children in the way they should go…and go there yourself.
When it comes to matters of eternal importance, parents are a child’s principle teachers. However, they also need to listen to their kids, to find out what it is they understand about God. Children who can’t explain the Gospel message and how it applies to them may not be Christian. Children don’t absorb faith by osmosis. Children who grow into the faith usually have been nurtured by parents who teach and live it. Children form impressions of what God is like from parents--God’s representatives--who’ve been given to them.
I get baptism requests from parents who don’t attend church and don’t intend to. I wonder if they regard baptism as “fire insurance”, a rite-of-passage, or an excuse for a party. If that’s all it is, only 2 things are being accomplished: they’re wasting their time, and their child gets wet. If parents have no intention of nurturing that child’s faith and utilizing the resources of the church, the ritual is meaningless. If you are not instructing your children in the faith, you are, in truth, harming them—morally and spiritually. You’re leaving them open to all the negative influences of the world.
When I was stationed in Germany with the 3rd Armored Division, my Brigade asked to use my chapel for an awards ceremony. A soldier came early and asked me, “Chaplain, what exactly goes on in here? I’ve never been in a church before.” I could only wonder why his parents didn’t bring him to God’s house.
So what do our children need to know to become Christians? And how do we know they’re able to grasp the Gospel message? When they’re old enough to understand who God is, what sin is, and why Jesus died, they may be old enough to receive Him as their Savior. They need to understand that sin is choosing to do wrong; that Jesus is God’s Son, who loves us; that the Bible is God’s truth. They need to see that they don’t have to earn God’s love, because Jesus died to take their punishment…and when they trust Jesus, they become His children forever. Children need to know that trusting Jesus is a new-life journey.
Children need to know what they believe and why. When five-year olds are asked why it’s right to tell the truth, they may respond, “Because my mom and dad say so.” But a 15-year old is not about to give such an answer. Children will reject values that aren’t theirs. It’s been said that “beliefs are things we hold; convictions are things that hold us.”
A number of years ago, the Army decided to promote seven core values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless-service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. They made up a dog-tag device so these values would be close to soldier’s hearts. It seemed like a good idea, but we found that many soldiers simply didn’t buy it…because those weren’t their values. As a former military ethics instructor, I can tell you it was a hard-sell.
Children learn about God--they become disciples--by being disciplined…Bryan Chapell (professor at Covenant Theological Seminary) tells about a night when, as a teenager, he stayed out late, way past his curfew. He’d been having fun with his friends, and wasn’t thinking of the time. When he realized how late it was, he was reluctant to go home. He figured, in his words, “An arms-crossed, toe-tapping, voice-raised, punishment-dispensing set of parents would be at the door.” He wasn’t eager to face that confrontation. When he finally arrived home, he got an unexpected welcome. His parents hugged him and told him how happy they were that he was safe. They’d been praying for him, and any talk of repercussions would wait for later. Bryan admits he missed a few curfews after that incident, but never by so much. More importantly, after that late-night outing, never again did Bryan fear going home. The lesson Bryan’s parents taught is that God may be angry at our rebellion, but He is never angry at our return.