Observing Salvation in Your Child: What Does it Look Like?
About the Guest
How do you know when your child is saved? Today on the broadcast, pastor Jim Elliff, founder of Christian Commuciators Worldwide, explains what it means to be born again and points out the fruits that stem from a genuine faith.
Jim ElliffJim Elliff is founder and president of Christian Communicators Worldwide. For nearly twenty years prior to the beginning of CCW, 1966–1985, he worked as teaching pastor or in pastoral staff positions in a variety of churches in Florida, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma, as well as itinerating.
How do you know when your child is saved?
Observing Salvation in Your Child: What Does it Look Like?
Jim: We're all sinners, and we will sin until the day that we die. But there is a substantive change, and we are aggravated by our sin, and we long for holiness. In fact, one way you could put it is this – we long for the holiness, which we cannot fully have until we get to heaven.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, March 12th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What should you think, as a parent, if your child has prayed to receive Christ but you don't see a whole lot of holiness?
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. We spent a lot of time last week looking at the issue of children coming to faith in Christ; children making a profession of faith and asking Jesus to come live in their heart. As parents, how can we lead our children to a place where they can make a valid spiritual decision? And when a four-year-old or a five-year-old wants to pray to ask Jesus to come live in his heart, what should we assume about that as parents?
Those are the kinds of issues we were dealing with last week, and we really didn't get a chance to finish all that we wanted to talk about. It was a provocative conversation, Dennis.
Dennis: That's right, and I went to Dallas Seminary, and one day Dr. Hendricks walked into class, and he said, "Today, gentlemen, I'm going to dust your minds with itching powder."
Dennis: And we left there scratching our heads.
Trust me, and for some of our listeners, they felt like last week we dusted their minds and hopefully their souls with itching powder.
With us, for a sixth day here on the broadcast, is Jim Elliff. Jim, I want to welcome you back to FamilyLife Today. You've been a pastor in all kinds of states, and this issue we're talking about here of introducing our kids to Christ looks like a real simple issue. I mean, you come to it, you think, "Well, a child just needs to place their childlike faith in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins." Is it that simple?
Jim: Well, in one sense, it is a simple approach to the Lord, that's true, but in the fact that so many of these people who are professing faith in Christ are not showing evidence of really being Christians, as they go on in their lives. Then we realize we've got to look at this thing a lot more closely, and that's what we're trying to do, I think.
Dennis: That's exactly right, and the itching powder you've dusted us with has caused us to go back and take a look at, really, the steps that you talk about in childhood conversion, and the first step you talked about was that of conviction.
Jim: Yes, I would say maybe a better way to put it, Dennis, might be this is what we're observing God do in the heart of our children. First of all, He convicts them of sin and righteousness and of judgment – actually even convicts them of going to hell, as much as we are afraid to talk about that in our day.
Secondly, the Lord reveals Himself to the child. If knowing Christ is what eternal life is all about, according to John 17:3 and many other places, then the Lord must reveal Himself to the child. He is a person, and He can make Himself know or withhold Himself, that's His business, isn't it?
If you were to come up to me and tell me all about yourself, but I never changed in my facial structure and just looked right over your shoulder at something else and never revealed anything of myself to you, we wouldn't know each other. It takes a revelation of ourselves to each other.
You know, in a mysterious way but a way that is very real to every true Christian, the Lord makes Himself known for who He is. Not just trues on the pages of a book, but we know Him in person up and close.
Dennis: This area we're going to talk about today – regeneration. Now, it's really built upon these first two you've talked about – conviction and revelation.
Jim: That's right. The third thing we're looking for is regeneration. And if I could just define it, regeneration is the giving of life to a dead soul. We began way back several broadcasts ago talking about the deadness of the soul of a child, they are born in Adam, born without hope, born without life. The Bible says no man seeks God. They have an inability in themselves to turn to God and to repent and believe.
It takes God giving them life to get it going. In fact, let me just make a statement here. The Bible would teach, I believe, when we speak technically about this whole matter, that, really, this giving of life, which is regeneration, precedes their repentance and faith. Because they're dead, God must make them alive in order to repent and believe. Now, that's a technicality. Sometimes those two thoughts are grouped together in the Scripture, but it's an important technicality, because of our understanding of the depravity of man.
God must make them alive. He causes them to be born again, the Scripture says.
Bob: Now, could there be a delay? Could there be days between God making somebody alive, and that person responding in faith?
Jim: Well, you're talking about something I'd like to toss back to the theologians, and I'm not sure I know.
Dennis: I've got a statement better than that – I'd like to toss it to God.
Jim: That's right, and I think we'll have some things to talk to Him about when we get to heaven.
Dennis: Because I think that question, Bob, is a good one. I think, as God works in a human heart, many of us try to make it instantaneous where that life and conversion all occur at the same point, and I think for some people it may occur over a period of time where God is stirring in their soul, bringing about that life, and causing them to come to repentance and ultimately to faith in Christ. Do you think, Jim?
Jim: That's right. It's possible that the true spirit conviction, when it begins, may be the work of the Holy Spirit internalized, inside the person.
Bob: And yet, at the same time, a person being regenerated, that happens in an instant in time, doesn't it?
Jim: Absolutely, and that regeneration will show itself out, really, in three ways that I've been able to find in the Scripture. First of all, in what we call conversion itself, that's the repentance on the negative side in faith – repentance in faith – conversion. We can talk about that in a minute.
Then, also, true heart obedience. And then, in the third place, what we call perseverance, they carry on.
Dennis: Well, let's back up to the first one that you mentioned. You're talking about a child who repents and believes upon Christ. Now, those listeners who have been with us for this entire series know that you've caused perhaps a few of them to really question whether their children have come to faith in Christ, because it's more than praying a prayer, it's more than reading from a book, it's more than walking the aisle, and so they're asking right now, "Okay, Jim, what is it? What does it look like – faith and repentance?"
Jim: Well, really, repentance is a heart turning away from sin, which results in the hands and the feet and the eyes and the mouth turning away from sin. It results in the behavior changing, but it's a real deep change of mind. It's so profound that it affects the behavior of the person.
So the person is brought to that place by that conviction we talked about to hate his sin and now to love the Lord.
And then faith is putting one's trust or one's total hope in Jesus Christ alone for their only salvation. And, you know, when a person repents of sin and puts their trust in Christ, they're not just a one-time repenter and a one-time believer. They then have a lifestyle of repentance and faith. They're a lifelong repenter, and they're a lifelong believer. You see that work of the Holy Spirit within the child resulting in ongoing repentance and ongoing trusting in the Lord.
Dennis: And, Jim, even though you believe that childhood conversion is not normative, you do believe that this kind of conversion experience, right, that we're talking about here, can occur in a small child's life?
Jim: I believe that God can grant life, and that child can repent and believe. When I said "not normative" I meant the public expression of that in the history of the church was not normative at an early date because they wanted to see if this child was really a Christian or not.
Dennis: So in other words, they would want to examine that child's faith and kind of test it to see if that conversion really was a real conversion over a period of time?
Jim: That's exactly right.
Dennis: And maybe in the evangelical church today, we're much too quick to call a child praying a prayer a conversion when we, perhaps, need to take a lesson out of history and simply look backwards a bit and say, "Maybe we ought to test this child's faith as well?"
Jim: That's right, yes. If we're too quick to do this, we might really continue to add to those unregenerate church members who are on our rolls of the churches.
Bob: You've talked about this whole idea of repentance and faith. The next thing to be looking for is obedience. Are you talking about obedience to God or obedience to Mom and Dad?
Dennis: I hope, Bob.
Jim: But, you know, we need to understand this a little better than we do. We are talking about an obedience that begins in the heart deep down. Out of that knowing Christ, out of that loving Christ, it's something that begins on the inside and works itself out to the external.
You see, the whole constitution of a person who has been regenerated changes. They do right because it is right not just because it's expedient. And though he can sin, he's certainly going to have his greatest aggravations because of that sin.
Dennis: Now here is where a parent steps in and goes, "This is a real difficult thing for me. My child has made a profession of faith. They've made a commitment, it seems real, they show in interest in church, they show interest in reading the Bible, but there are these habitual areas in my child's life that keep cropping up. Is my child born again or are you saying they're not born again?"
Jim: Well, I think the Lord knows, number one, and He knows the fact. But how are we going to know and how is that child going to know? He's going to know by the fruit of his life.
Richard Baxter, about 350 years ago, when he talked about the verse, "Without holiness no man will see the Lord," he said, "To be saved without holiness is to see without eyes and to live without life." In other words, holiness is so much a part of what it means to be saved. We are saved from sins. Jesus came to this world to save His people from their sins.
So we have this fruit of obedience, this fruit of holiness. When I was in Florida, I planted some orange trees. They grew some pathetic looking oranges, but they weren't grapefruits, and I could tell the difference.
So we're not talking about perfection, and this is why we want to look at that obedience over a period of time and help the child see by looking at that they can gain a good objective assurance that they really have been changed.
Bob: Sometimes a child may get discouraged in the fact that they continually disobey and have to be disciplined, and one of the things that I've encouraged, even a disobedient child with, is the fact that the pattern of their life is moving in the positive direction. They're not perfect, but they're getting better.
And as we see that, we know the Lord is at work. In fact, I remind them I'm not perfect, but I'm getting better.
Jim: That's right.
Dennis: Well, as you were saying that, Bob, I was thinking, "It's not only children who get discouraged that they have to be disciplined." Barbara and I were having this conversation last night. She just was expressing some discouragement that she still has certain areas of her life that she battles, and she's struggling against, and I am, too, you know? And you wish you were free of this battle against sin and the battle against the flesh and the world.
Jim: And that wish, that desire you just expressed, is an indication of this work of the Holy Spirit in you. It's not perfection, please. In fact, one way you could put it is this – we long for the holiness, which we cannot fully have until we get to heaven.
And so all the way between here and heaven, you know, if you don't love holy people, love God's Holy Book, love holiness in your living, then heaven would be hell to you. Heaven is about holiness, and God has prepared us now by making us obedient, regenerating us on the way to that heaven so that we long for that which we cannot fully have 'til we get there, if that makes sense.
Dennis: It does. Let's move on to the third area you talk about in regeneration – the first area being repentance and faith, the second area is obedience, this third is perseverance. Now, what do you man by that, Jim – perseverance?
Jim: Well, I just simply mean that the faith that we have been given of God by this regeneration is a continuing faith, and it keeps on producing good works. It keeps on producing that holiness right on through to the end.
In the Bible, Jesus, for instance, told a story about the seed that was put in various soils, and one of those soils produced a plant that sprang up temporarily. When the sun came out, it withered up, and it was gone.
And then the soil that was the right soil, the well-prepared soil, we could say "prepared by conviction," I think, tilled up by conviction. When the seed was dropped into that soil, it bore fruit, and it continued to bear fruit. Luke 8 tells us it continued with perseverance to bear fruit.
That faith and then that good works, which come out of that faith, continue right through to the end.
Dennis: This perseverance that you're talking about, Jim, as I observe this in my child, I'm going to watch him or her perhaps go through periods of dryness spiritually, where they look apathetic toward things of God, but they'll come back to the faith. They'll continue to go back to their spiritual roots and will obey Christ and will maintain a teachable heart, right?
Jim: That's it. They are repenters at heart and believers, at heart.
Dennis: I want to take you to a child, and let's say what happens, Mom or Dad go into the bedroom with the child, and maybe the child is eight, nine years of age, and you go in to pray with them at night. And maybe you've read a book, you've interacted with them, and you're sitting on the edge of their bed, and they look back at you, and they say, "Dad and Mom, how do I know I'm a Christian? How can I be really certain about my relationship with God?"
Now, maybe it's not asked that clearly, as we are articulating here as an adult, but maybe it's a sensitivity-to-God question.
Bob: You know what I think sometimes happens is a child ask it about his sibling – "Mom, Dad, how can I be sure little brother is really a Christian?"
Dennis: Yeah, that could be a tipoff.
Bob: And they may be asking it more about themselves than about little brother.
Jim: Well, we need to be free to let that kind of talk happen, and it ought to be nurtured in the family because doubts do come, and I think that I would answer the child just the way I answered my child about that question.
I said to my child one night, "You know, son, if we took a seed of a certain kind of flower, and we looked at that seed carefully, we might say, 'Well, you know, that's a chrysanthemum seed.'" Do chrysanthemums have seeds, by the way?
Dennis: Yes, they do, they do.
Jim: Can you call them mums, because I can't pronounce that word?
Dennis: You can call them mums.
Jim: All right, that's the seed of a mum.
Dennis: That's organically correct, by the way.
Jim: Okay, great, all right, so – but, you know, I'm not 100 percent sure that's a mum. It may look like some other flower seed as well. Then I plant it in the ground, and a little tendril comes up out of the ground, and I might say, "You know, that looks like a mum coming up there, but I'm not really sure it's a mum yet.
Then some other foliage comes out. It looks more like a mum, but I'm not absolutely sure, am I? And then, all of a sudden, there's a bud. I'm more sure. And then a flower and, son, when we see the flower, then we know, for sure, don't we, that that seed was the real thing."
And I just simply tell my children, and they understand it, and they appreciate it – sometimes it just takes awhile, particularly in a child, to see if what you think you have is the real thing.
Let's go on, let's pray together, let's seek to repent of sin, let's talk about these things, and we'll see the unfolding of the life of God if He really is in you.
Dennis: I'm thinking of my son, Benjamin, who professed faith in Christ one night – well, actually, it was the next day after I was talking to his sister about the second coming of Christ. And Ashley had asked me about the second coming of Christ, and I'd said, "Well, He'll come back, and He'll take the Christians out of the earth." And she said, "Well, what will happen to those who don't know Christ?" And I said, "Well, I've really got to leave that up to God. If they're children, if they're babies, you know, those who haven't had a chance yet to come to terms with their relationship with Christ."
And a little head popped off the top of the bunk above, and it was Benjamin. He said, "Dad, could I talk with you about that tomorrow?" And I said, "Sure, son." And so we met the next day, actually, I talked with him and Benjamin and his mom and I, and he indicated a decision for Christ.
Now, we raised him in a Christian home, and we've been through a lot of conferences and Bible studies and church attendance and all that, and it wasn't until recently that he made the decision to be baptized publicly, and he made a great profession of faith publicly in front of several hundred people at our church, and I had the privilege of baptizing him. It was a great moment.
But the fruit that is happening in his life, even right now as we speak, Jim, is perhaps even more important than the testimony he gave in that baptismal service at our church. Because he's in the middle of a prayer meeting, a revival that's taking place at the campus where he goes to college, and he's calling people to repent, calling people to come to faith in Christ.
Now, that's the flower that you're talking about.
Jim: That's it, that's right.
Dennis: And did it occur back there that evening? Did that regeneration, that stirring of the spirit occur at the top bunk as he was hearing about the second coming of Christ? I don't know. I don't know how it all happened.
Over in John, chapter 3, it talks about the spirit blowing where it may, and it's like the wind. You can't see it, you can only see where it's been and how it's bending the leaves, and that really is how Barbara and I have watched the Lord's work in our own children's lives. Watching Him work and yielding to Him wanting to be a part of that work.
Bob: And, you know, we can't, as parents, manufacture those moments, we can't orchestrate them, you can't make them happen, but you can have an environment in your home where the things of God are talked about regularly. And that's where I think a book like the one Ray Comfort has written called "How to Bring Your Children to Christ and Keep Them There," is a helpful resource for moms and dads because it helps us make sure we've got a grip on the Gospel ourselves and then gives us very practical ways in which we can, as Jim's talked about, we can fan the embers whenever we see them – whenever we see a spark, we can blow on it and just see what God does with it.
If you'd like to get a copy of Ray Comfort's book, "How To Bring Your Children to Christ and Keep Them There," go to our website, FamilyLife.com. You'll see a red button, the now-famous "Go" button that we've talked about on FamilyLife Today. If you're a new listener, go see the "Go" button. And you click that, it will take you right to an area of the site where there's more information about Ray Comfort's book, about a book that you and Barbara have written, Dennis, called "Growing a Spiritually Strong Family."
Other resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife Today on this subject, and if any of our listeners would like to get both of these books that we've talked about, we'll send along at no additional cost the CD audio of our conversation on the subject with Jim Elliff.
Again, our website is FamilyLife.com. Go there and click the "Go" button that you see in the middle of the screen, and that will take you to an area of the site where there is more information on these resources, or if it's more convenient for you to call 1-800-FLTODAY, that's our toll-free number – 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. Someone on our team can answer any questions you might have about any of these resources or make arrangements to have them sent out to you.
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Well, tomorrow we want to talk about a very delicate subject – how can we have assurance that our children have been genuinely saved? Can we have assurance and can a child have assurance of his or her salvation? We'll talk about that tomorrow with Jim Elliff. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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