The Bible seems to make a big deal out of something called “child-like faith.” But is this merely some sort of childish faith–or is there something more to it?
My wife and I are currently raising two little boys–a 5-month-old and a 19th-month-old. They don’t know much yet, and my oldest can only say a handful of words, but he lets me throw him around and horseplay with him all the time with no fear that I will hurt him.
Perhaps when Jesus makes mention of child-like faith in the Word of God, this is what He is referring to. As if it is some sort of cognitive “reflex” that, with time and instruction, goes away.
I would be well inclined to believe that if it weren’t for the fact that Bible actually places a strong emphasis on wisdom, knowledge, and intellect. Furthermore, the Bible is unique in the way it uses evidential language for the specific purpose of making claims that are believable and verifiable for those who have the initiative to look.
To be specific, let’s consider these two seemingly contrary verses of Scripture:
Matthew 18:3 – “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Peter 1:16 – “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
In the Matthew passage, we have this idea that we must be converted and become as little children. The obvious implication here seems to be that we ought to “lower” ourselves. After all, the Christlike life is one that seeks (and does best) to imitate Jesus Christ himself. While faith is not explicitly mentioned in this passage, I think the lowly demeanor of a child (which certainly includes his propensity to believe the extraordinary) is definitely in view.
To contrast, in the 2 Peter passage, we have this assurance given that when the Apostles shared the Gospel, there was no ill-intentioned fable which was fabricated in order to entice, control, or fool anyone. Passages like this and others (such as the 1 Corinthians 15 account and other pleas to eyewitness testimony) seem to stress the fact that one not need to have a blind or unreasonable faith, but rather that you can trust what the Apostles taught (and by virtue of that, wrote in the Gospels) because they saw Him with their very eyes and walked with Him.
Now, at this point, it is certainly tempting to ask the question, “Which one is it!” Must I have “blind faith” as a child, or should I use my intellect and reason my way to a belief in Christ?
The problem is that this is a false dilemma.
In other words, there is no conflict between faith and reason, especially when they are understood in their proper context.
Blind Faith or Trust?
Probably the most tiresome misrepresentation of Christian belief is that of “blind faith”–as Mark Twain describes it, “believing what you know ain’t so.”
There are those who will undoubtedly take passages such as Matthew 18 in order to fit their anti-Christian rhetoric and completely ignore evidential passages such as 2 Peter 1, but this reasoning still betrays a fundamental understanding of Bible faith.
As indicated by the heading of this section, “faith” in the Bible means the exact same thing as the word “trust.” As I have written elsewhere, “Christianity is not “blind faith”; it is trust based on Truth.”
It is the truth and reasonableness in light of what we know about our present reality that compels and commands us to believe.
Now, this may certainly not be true of the child. As a 4-year-old boy when I accepted Christ, I had no thoughtful concept of “trust based on Truth”, but I did have a basic one. Just as I expected my father to tell me the truth, and so I trusted Him, so did I expect the same of my Heavenly Father, and therefore I trusted Him.
I can already hear the criticisms: “Didn’t you believe in Santa Claus? Little children believe everything they’re told!”
Oh, sure! I was all about Santa Claus. But Santa did not bring the Holy Spirit into the relationship–Christ did.
It is no secret that children are gullible and have a much easier capacity to believe a half-truth or even a falsehood. But, Scripture gives NO indication of that sort of meaning when it discusses “becoming like a child.”
In context, what we see is that the disciples found themselves in the midst of a “power struggle” of sorts–trying to determine amongst themselves which would have a higher place in the kingdom of God. Jesus responds by pleading and admonishing them and explaining that “whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 16:25).
Furthermore, if it is indeed our duty as Christians to become more Christlike, we must make ourselves “of no reputation” and take upon “the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7) like Jesus did.
So, while gullibility may be a reality concerning the faith of a child, what we find is an exhortation to trust our Father like a child. Only in the cruelest and most senseless of worlds is that not a reasonable expectation.
In light of this understanding, it would now be beneficial to get an idea of what this looks like. Why is this “child-like faith” something that is important to Jesus, and how can we, as Christians, gain a better understanding of why “trust based on Truth” is a concept to be favored over blind faith?
To answer this, we’ll look at four spiritual realities that are substantiated by God’s Word.
1. Children are Important to Jesus
Some form of the word “child” is mentioned collectively in Scripture nearly 2,000 times. This, of course, represents many different contexts.
If we read just three verses further into the Matthew 18 narrative, we find one of the most shocking statements made in all the Word of God: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” — Matthew 18:6
That should make us take time to pause.
If you are in a position of influence or education over the life of a child and do not heed this warning, there is no telling what kind of consequences truly await. Children, teenagers, and adults alike have all been stolen away from the faith by some lofty and high-minded professor or some unbeliever who feels they know better than God.
The faith of a child is grandiose, but fragile nevertheless. Even so, the promise of the Holy Spirit is just as real in the life of a child as it is in the life of an adult! The difference is that a small child is not in a constant state of rebellion. Even when he disobeys, he is quick to retreat to a submissive posture and correct his course appropriately.
I believe that, in addition to likening the necessary faith to that of a child’s faith, the Lord Jesus taught this in a very pragmatic sense as well. That is to say that childhood may indeed be the best time for a person to come to faith in Christ. This gives the Holy Spirit even more time to grow and germinate within the soul of the believer and gives the new believer more time to bear fruit for the Lord.
But even as you grow older, God still sees you as a little child. YOU are important to Him! The very God who created the universe wants to be in direct fellowship with YOU.
I believe there are at least three reasons, which will make up the final three spiritual realities, that children have such an easier time believing and trusting in Christ. And, why we should become as a little child ourselves and come to Him for rest.
2. Children aren’t Scarred by the World
Of course, we realize that children are scarred by the effects of sin. We all must deal with that reality. But small children lack the cognitive capacity to thoughtfully consider, say, the problem of evil. Now, as one gets older and begins to work through such objections, he may come to the realization (as I have) that evil is one of the best proofs for the existence of God!
But until that time, a child is more apt to trust in the goodness he wants to see in the world. Little boys, for instance, love the idea of superheroes, Power Rangers, etc. because they are forces for good–in the struggle between good and evil, they want the good guys to win every time.
So, when introduced to the idea of ultimate good and evil, the choice is rather easy!
But this is where the mistake is made in most churches and Christian families.
When steps are not taken to educate our children past a “superhero” belief in the God of the Bible, we should not be surprised when they happily take the dose of “reality” offered by their educators as they grow up!
To make it even worse, we often inject supernatural things into their lives on purpose that we know ahead of time we will be withdrawing such as notions like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and when they find out these things are not real, they begin to question whether God is real either.
The older a child gets, the suppression of the truth (see Romans 1), the fiery darts of the devil (see Ephesians 6), and the willful ignorance (see 2 Peter 3) begin to take hold, making it harder and harder to see past their own proclivities and place their trust in something greater than themselves.
We must take seriously the command to “train up a child in the way he should go” while he is not yet scarred by the world! Keep in mind, I am not talking about indoctrination, but rather inoculation. We have the truth, and the truth is not afraid of questions.
While there’s still time, we need to educate them in the ways of the Lord and in the ways of the world, and show them that indeed, Christianity is the only view of the world that makes sense, since it is the only actual reflection of the way the world actually is.
3. Children Recognize Their Helpless Dependency
I say this a bit tongue in-cheek (though I also really mean it!)–I’m quickly realizing that one of the greatest benefits of having children is realized each year around April 15th!
My tax paperwork allows me to list my children as dependents for the time being for very good reason–they depend on me to provide their needs for them. My son Ryker is quite the adventurous 19-month-old (and willing to take on any challenge!), but nevertheless, he’d have a hard time stocking the shelves at the grocery store.
The older we get, the more independent we become. We finally reach the point of which we don’t even believe we need our parents anymore, and quickly learn (usually through a series of unfortunate events) that our parents aren’t so dumb after all.
But this works vertically just the same as it does horizontally. The older we become, the “less” we need God to provide for us. This, in effect, hardens our heart to the gospel. Furthermore, we find it offensive that someone (Jesus) would have the audacity to claim we could not take care of ourselves!
The truth is, objections to the gospel are usually more emotional in nature than intellectual, despite the unbelievers’ denial of this.
Paul admonishes us in Ephesians 6:4, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The teaching and application are that our children are dependent on us to bring them and teach in the right way.
Naturally, children are in a softer state–a state that more readily acknowledges authority in their life.
This is why, as Paul Tripp says, “He (God) makes his invisible authority visible by sending visible authority figures as his representatives. This means that every time you exercise authority in the lives of your children, it must be a beautiful picture of the authority of God.”
This is the natural outworking of the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” Paul spoke of.
So then, because children are in a state of being that is more readily accepting of authority figures, we need to model our authority in such a way that it pictures God’s authority. And of course, naturally, we need to make it very clear to our children that God IS the Ultimate Authority, and that He should always have authority over their lives.
What we should then take from this is this realization that we are not the authority–that God is, and that he knows what’s best. So in that sense, any reference to a “child-like faith” found in the Bible can reasonably include this idea of dependency on God.
For more Biblical insight on this, it would do you well to read Matthew chapter six.
4. Children are Looking for God
In this blog post, well-known parenting guru Dr. Meg Meeker writes, “Here’s the bottom line: when it comes to teaching your children about God and faith, there is no room for political correctness. The stakes are too high. This is your child’s life and well being that we are talking about, and every child has the right to know God.”
She argues that, while our culture is insistent that we allow our children to choose what to believe and who to follow for themselves, this is the incorrect approach. We know that each individual must eventually “come to himself” before he can ever truly come to God (Luke 15:17), but that is not Dr. Meeker’s point.
The point is that if we know God and we also love our children, then our children have the right to be introduced to Him. She has also written here about how God is “good for children.”
As discussed in my previous point, children desperately need to have authority figures in their lives. But to take that even further, I would argue that they must have objective values and authority as well. Our children MUST be taught that something is wrong because it is wrong–not because it merely violates the preference of another individual.
These “objective values” can only be found in the person of God. Though He has given them to each of us in our hearts (Romans 2:15), we will continue to deny their existence (Romans 1:21) until we realize that they are inextricably bound to God Himself and reach out to Him for salvation. Only then can a child (or anyone!) live a life that is truly consistent and coherent with the values that he holds.
Children are always watching. As they develop, they are seeking and yearning for the instruction of their parents. My son watches me play guitar all the time, and though I’m sure it is just fascinating to him, I can’t help but think that in his little heart he is just dying for me to show him how to play.
This is what God asks of us. God asks us to become as little children. Not so that we can regress into a more naive form of ourselves, but so that we would bow to our maker and look to Him for wisdom, guidance, and instruction. As the songwriter says, “Oh what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear! All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!”
The older we grow, we become as fools–drowning helplessly in a pool of the very wisdom we claim to champion (Romans 1:22).
What a lesson many of us could learn from simply looking at the lives of our own children.
In light of this rationale, I believe it would be foolish of us to pretend that the faith mentioned in the Bible is anything less than a well-reasoned, well-established trust with our Heavenly Father.
The blind faith we exercise as children in figures such as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny is merely a shadow of a deeper longing for transcendent goodness–the goodness one can only find in the person of Jesus Christ.
I challenge you today–maybe you’ve been through years of training in your field of study, and think you know better than God. Maybe you’ve experienced so much “life” that you’re convinced there is nothing God could offer you. Maybe you simply don’t care for “foolish” notions such as those of claims to transcendent goodness, truth, and value.
Let me just encourage you to, for a moment, become as a little child. Lay down your high and lofty thoughts, forget about the life you have experienced and begin to dream and wonder about the life you could experience, and consider for a moment that you, the one who treasures goodness and truth, are living the foolish life because you have no basis upon which to hold those things so dear.
Come to Jesus as a child, admit your broken condition and your need for a Savior, and ask Him to take over your heart and your life.
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