In our zeal to see kids come to Christ, we often push their little feet down the center aisle of our church the moment they whisper something about Jesus. And once they answer a few questions correctly or repeat a few special words with their eyes closed, we proclaim them to be genuine Christians. They are the real deal, now! Hurrah!
But are they the real deal? Is salvation truly just about repeating a prayer, walking an aisle, filling out a card, or telling a counselor, “I love Jesus?” The Messiah says, “No.” “Not everyone who says to me, “‘Lord, Lord,”’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Math. 7:21).
If I asked you to stand up this Sunday and to repeat the following words, “I am the world’s greatest Cubs,” and if I had you wave a Cubs banner the following Sunday after the invitation, would people suddenly think you are a Cubs fan? We might have convinced them that there are now two nuts in the church. But, no one would assume that your new favorite hobby is making Lego models of Wrigley Field. Why? You never talk about the Cubs; you never watch their games; and you never associate with their paraphernalia. Saying a few words and waving a banner because I asked you to doesn’t make you a Cubs fan.
And yet, we often act as if these superficial actions when tied to Jesus are the most genuine of experiences. We think that by rushing a child (who loves the world more than God to pray a prayer and to get baptized) we can secure junior’s first heavenly mansion. Nothing is further from the truth. Salvation consists not just of reluctantly muttering, “Lord, Lord” while nobody is supposedly looking up. Those who truly embrace Jesus, demonstrate their faith by doing the will of his father. Even for children, saving faith is inseparable from repentance that spawns a new life.
And while simple, repentance is extremely hard. To change the direction of our life, boys and girls (and all of us) have to die to self. We have to call our kids to count the cost. They have to understand that their hearts are little idol factories dominated by altars to fame, sports, sex, greed, and pride. Little ones have to repent of these idols and fall in love with a Jesus. Our savior calls them (and us) to willing suffer the loss of friends, jobs, scholarships, homes, and every earthly comfort. Yes, It’s an awesome trade. As Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” But for all its appeal, our kids will still think the gospel call is foolish apart from Jesus. Only through the power of Christ can any of us come to faith. Praise the Lord! He saves!
But if we rush ahead of God, we will leave behind a generation of confused souls who experienced religion without encountering Christ. If our kids are told that salvation consists of nothing more than saying a few magical words while standing in holy water, they will disconnect faith from repentance. They will become just another one of the millions of Americans who claim Jesus as Lord while being addicted to pornography, enthralled with money, and captivated by sports. They will become one of the many to whom Jesus will say, “I never knew you.”