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Helping Your Kids Understand The Need To Make A Personal Choice For Salvation

            Do you remember the day that you accepted Jesus as your personal Savior?  


            Do you remember where you were and what prompted you to take this step?


            Were you alone or did someone pray with you?  


            The answers to these questions tell the story of your own unique, personal experience of salvation.   They won’t be the same as mine or anyone else’s.   They shouldn’t be.   It was an intimate time between you and your Heavenly Father.     The beginning of your spiritual journey.   Like the first chapter in a book, it laid the groundwork for all of the pages that were to come.  


            Now let me ask you a question---What would happen if you asked your children these exact same questions?   Would they be able to provide an answer? 


            Could they remember the day that they accepted Jesus as their personal Savior?


            Can they recall where they were and tell you what prompted them to take this step?


            Do they remember the name or face of the first person to welcome them into the kingdom of God?   


            You see, one of the first needs that Christian Moms and Dad must recognize when raising church kids or second generation Christians is that every person---adult or child, churched or unchurched, needs to have their own personal experience with Jesus Christ.    Being born into a Christian family and raised in a Christian church does not grant anyone an exemption fromthe Scripture, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23)   


            Salvation cannot be inherited.   Each person must make their own decision to confess their sins, and ask Jesus to be their personal Savior and be the Lord of their life.    As a Christian parent, it is your responsibility to give your child ample teaching and opportunities to make their own personal decision for Christ.   You can’t simply assume that they are a Christian because you are a Christian.  


            Although this concept may seem elementary to some people, I’ve seen this truth slip through the cracks far too often.   The results are always the same:  kids who didn’t have their own personal experience and relationship with Christ but only live vicariously through Mom and Dad’s experience eventually grow up, leave the church, and abandon the faith altogether.  


            I remember, years ago, reading an essay written by a classmate of mine when we were both attending Christian school.   Like me, this young man was raised in the church.   He went through all of the Sunday School programs, participated in children’s ministry, and sat through countless Sunday morning and Sunday night services.   As I said before, we were both attending Christian school.   Still, his response to the essay question, “Where do you see yourself in the future?” astounded me.  


            It started off describing the very successful job he would have, his amazing family, and the fact that he’d live far away from the small town where we grew up.   Honestly, I don’t remember all of those details; however, the line that I do remember was, “I will probably go to church because I know it’s important to my Mom.” 


            Notice he didn’t say, “I’ll live my life for Jesus” or even, “I’ll go to church because it’s important to me”.    No, sadly, even after years of being raised by a very godly woman who did have her own personal relationship with Jesus Christ, this young man had never had his own personal experience with Jesus Christ.  


            I wish I could give you a happy ending to this story like “He went to a youth camp and gave his life to Jesus”, but I can’t.   As far as I know, he grew up and continued walking away from God and the church.   The last I heard, he had a very nice life---but not the life of a Christian.   Like many church kids, my friend knew that Christianity and religion were an important part of his Mom’s life, but he never made it an important part of his life.  He never made his own personal commitment to follow Jesus Christ wholeheartedly and develop a personal relationship with him.   Ultimately, he left his religion behind when he left his parent’s home.  


            At this point you may be thinking, “That is the last thing I want to happen to my child.   What can I do to keep this from happening?”


            Well, although there are several ingredients that are necessary in helping your child develop their own personal relationship with Jesus (which we will talk about over the course of the next few months as we continue this series) in this article we’re going to start with the most basic essential elements.   Let’s call it the foundation on which your child’s spiritual home will be built. 


            The first essential element in your child’s spiritual development is that they must have their own unique salvation experience.   This can happen at any age.   The only requirement is that your child, of his/her own free will, decides that they want to ask Jesus to be their personal Savior.  


            For some church kids this happens during a church service or a children’s event like Vacation Bible School.   For others, it happens during your time of family devotions, or even during the course of a normal day. 


            I remember one of my friends telling me about the day her son accepted Jesus as his Savior.   He was about 5-6 years old when his family decided to take the day off and go hiking.    When they reached the top of the mountain, her son turned to my friend and her husband and said that he wanted to accept Jesus as his Savior.   Together, as a family, they led him in a simple sinner’s prayer, confessing his sins, asking forgiveness, and asking Jesus to be the Lord of his life.   On a day that no one expected, the Holy Spirit was working in that little boy’s heart and drawing him to Himself.   Something he had heard combined with the conviction of the Holy Spirit caused him to make his own personal salvation decision.


            However, I want you to notice that his parent’s didn’t brush this off as something “cute” or act like he was too young to make a decision for Christ.   They took the occasion very seriously and accepted their responsibility to lead him in a sinner’s prayer just as if he were an adult who’d just heard the Gospel Message for the first time.   Then they made a big deal out of his decision and celebrated with him, recognizing that this was the day that their little boy became a Christian.    They knew that before HE made this decision, he wasn’t a Christian simply because they were.   This was the day that HE became a member of the kingdom of God, and along with all the angels in Heaven they celebrated their child’s salvation.     


                        Every church kid needs to experience this---their own personal relationship with Christ.   Yes, the age and the circumstances will be different for everyone, but no church kid becomes a born-again Christian until they choose to accept Jesus as their own personal Savior.   As a parent, you need to accept this fact and be diligently praying for your children’s salvation.


            In addition to interceding for their salvation, you need to accept the responsibility to teach your children the salvation message using words and concepts that they can understand.   Remember:  it’s not the church’s job to teach your children things that Jesus loves them, that when we do bad things it is sin and it hurts Jesus’ heart, that Jesus died to forgive us of our sins, and the basic fact that each of us needs to ask Jesus to forgive our sins and be our Savior.  


            As you teach your child these concepts in words that they will understand, the Holy Spirit will take the seeds of teaching that you have planted and cause them to grow inside of your child.   As you continue to partner with Him, praying and teaching your child about God’s love and salvation, He will do His part and help your son or daughter to understand in their heart and mind the spiritual truths of salvation.  


            Then, when your child comes to you or answers an altar call and says, “I want to make my own personal commitment to Jesus Christ”, it’s your job to be prepared to lead them through that step, to celebrate it as a monumental day in their life, and to help begin growing in their walk with God.  


            Perhaps one way you could do this is by marking the date on the calendar and celebrating their “spiritual birthday” with them each year.   Honestly, what anniversary could be more important or have more reason to celebrate than the anniversary of the day your child became a born again Christian?   What a great way to remind them of this special moment and their commitment throughout their lives!


            Another way to positively reinforce your child’s decision is to have them tell other people about the decision they’ve made---to essentially share their testimony.  


            Think about it---whenever someone makes a first-time commitment to Christ, don’t we always encourage them to tell someone about it and share their faith?   Doesn’t it make sense then that we should encourage our kids to do the same?   If your child is growing up in the church, then there should be lots of people that they can tell who would be thrilled to hear the news!   So have them tell their relatives, their Sunday School teacher, the other members of the church.   Not only will they be spreading the Gospel, but the more times they tell the story, the more times it is reinforced in their minds that this was a huge, life-changing event. 


            Encouraging their child to be baptized in water is another way that parents can support their child’s decision to accept Christ as their personal Savior.   Although many question when a child is old enough to fully appreciate this experience, I believe that any child who is old enough to accept Jesus as their Savior and articulate what they have done is ready to be water baptized.  


            After all, water baptism is simply a way of publically declaring that you are a Christian and you are dedicating yourself to a new way of life.   There is no reason that a child who has made this commitment should be prohibited from declaring it publically and experiencing this ordinance of the church.   Instead, after a child has answered the call to salvation they should be taught about water baptism right away and directed to take this next step in their spiritual walk.


            At this point you may be asking, “Can’t it wait until they are older?”


            My answer would have to be, “What are you waiting for?”  


            As I said in last month’s article, looking back on my own years as a “church brat”, I can see a direct correlation between a parent’s attitude toward a child’s spiritual walk and the choices the children made about whether to stay in the church or walk away.   One of the biggest stumbling blocks to a child’s spiritual development can often be the parent’s attitude of “Kids are too young to really understand spiritual matters.  Let’s wait until they are older before we push them into any decisions.” 


            The truth is that over and over again, whenever I have seen parents take this attitude, what eventually happens is the child’s heart that was tender toward the Holy Spirit when they were young, grows more calloused and hardened while they wait to grow older.   By the time the parent feels the child is ‘old enough’ to understand concepts like salvation, baptism in water, or the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the child is no longer interested.   Then the parent is fighting an up-hill battle to regain the spiritual interest that same parent squelched with the child was younger.  


            On the other hand, the parent who feeds a child’s spiritual hunger as soon as it develops, who allows their child to grow spiritually under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will find that the plant of their child’s spiritual life will take a firm root while their child’s heart is young and tender.   As they continue to feed and support their child’s spiritual growth, the child’s relationship with God will continue to thrive and grow becoming stronger and stronger.   By the time that child reaches the turbulent teen years, their roots will be so deep in Jesus Christ that even through their faith may be challenged and shaken, it will be very difficult to completely uproot it.  


            Perhaps this is why Jesus instructed His disciples to “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  Luke 8:16.     He knew that children have a capacity to understand spiritual things that is far greater than we can comprehend or even understand.   Just as He did when He walked along the earth, He welcomes children to fully participate in His kingdom and encourages us as parents and adults not to hinder them but rather welcome them, encourage them, and give them the support they need. 


            So let’s get practical---in summary, what can you as a parent do to encourage your child to make their own personal commitment to Christ?


1.  Pray.  


            Earnestly intercede for the souls of your children from the day they are conceived until the day they accept Jesus as their personal Savior.   Accept that they are as desperately in need of salvation as any adult, and pray accordingly.


2.  Teach your children the basic truths of salvation.


            During your time of family devotions, talk about the fact that we all sin and we all need to ask Jesus to forgive us of our sins and be our Savior.   Just like you teach your kids their ABC’s, teach them the ABC’s of Salvation: 


Accept you are a Sinner

Believe Jesus can forgive you

Confess your sins and your need for a Savior to Him.


3.   Provide opportunities


            Provide opportunities for your child to hear the Gospel Message, to answer an altar call, or to pray the sinner’s prayer.  If you’re child comes to you and wants to accept Jesus as their Savior, stop everything and make this the priority.  Remember:  Your greatest responsibility is evangelizing your own children.


4.   Celebrate Your Child’s Salvation


            Make sure your child knows that this is a momentous occasion---a life changing event.   Don’t let the moment pass by unrecognized.  Remember, Heaven has a party every time a sinner repents, how can you do less?


5.   Testify.


            Encourage your child to freely share the story of their salvation experience with others.   If neither you nor your child can identify a specific time when they said the sinner’s prayer and accepted Jesus as their personal Savior, then you need to readdress the issue.   Every person needs to have their own testimony; both for their own benefit and so they have something to share with others.


6.  Finally, the next step after salvation is water baptism.


            It’s your responsibility to provide your child with teaching about water baptism and encourage them to embrace the opportunity.   When the day for their baptism arrives, again make it a celebration.   This is a big day in their lives---treat it accordingly.


7.  Encourage your child to grow spiritually. 


            Begin teaching them about daily prayer and Bible reading, and do all you can to help them grow strong in their commitment.


            Remember, salvation is only the first step on the road to discipleship.   Next month, we’ll move on to that topic.   However, it’s important that we don’t put the cart before the horse.   We can’t expect our kids to grow up to be followers of Christ if they’ve never had their own personal salvation experience with Christ.  


            How can you know if they’ve ever had their own experience with Christ?  Why not start with some basic questions:  


            Do you remember the day that you accepted Jesus as your personal Savior?  


            Do you remember where you were and what prompted you to take this step?


            Were you alone or did someone pray with you?  


            Use these questions to gauge where your child is on their spiritual journey and go from there.  

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