By God’s grace, we have seen one of our daughters come to faith in Jesus and will be baptizing her in a few weeks. For the first nine years of her life, the major question in how we raised her has been how we can help her see her need for Jesus. Now, the question is changing into how we can help her grow in her walk with Christ. While she is in a church full of people who love her and who are teaching her faithfully, we recognize that the primary burden for her discipleship in these early years falls on us.
Last year I wrote a post to help parents assess whether their child may have come to faith in Christ. In this post, I want to address what we need to do when we are convinced that they have.
Remind Your Child of His New Identity
One of the greatest mistakes that we make with new Christians is that we stop talking to them about grace and start telling them all of the things that they need to do. The New Testament does not seem to operate this way. The New Testament is filled with commands for believers to obey, but they are often anchored in the way that God has dealt with us in Christ and on the basis of who we are in Christ.
For example, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) Here Paul tells Christians how they are to treat each other but notice that he roots this command in the truth that God has forgiven us in Christ. Furthermore, before Paul started telling the Ephesian Christians what they were to do, he spent over half of the first chapter enumerating the spiritual blessings that they have because of the work of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
In order to help your child understand how to follow Christ, you need to show her the beautiful reality of her new identity in Christ. This means that you need to teach her about truths like justification, adoption, reconciliation, union with Christ, and regeneration. These are not esoteric discussions, but concrete truths about who she now is through faith in God’s Son. Knowing that she is a Spirit-filled, justified, and forgiven child of the living God will help her to begin living a life that brings glory to Jesus.
Teach Your Child How to Read Scripture
Our temptation is to tell new Christians that they need to read the Bible without giving them guidance for how to do so. We do this because after years of following Jesus we forget how overwhelming the Bible can be when you first start reading it.
We need to teach our children how to read and think about Scripture themselves. There are two ways to go about this and we should devote ourselves to both of them. The first is that we keep reading the Bible to our children on a regular basis. Make sure to take some time at the end and explain what you read to them. Also, give them the opportunity to ask any questions that they may have. When answering questions, show them how you arrived at your answer so they can start making these discoveries on their own.
Also, start helping him to read the Bible personally. Give him a Bible reading plan or guide him to read a particular book of the Bible. Encourage him to write down both his observations from what he read and also any questions that he may have. Take the time to sit down and help him think through the answers to his questions. Again, giving him this kind of focused time will help set him up for a lifetime of reading and understanding God’s word.
Teach Your Child How to Pray
If your child has trusted in Christ, he is now a son of the living God and knows him personally. He needs to learn how to pray. He should do this so he can present his own requests before the Lord, confess his sins, and cast his anxieties on him.
As with reading the Bible, there are several ways that we can teach our children how to pray. One of them is for them to hear us pray on a regular basis. When you do this, your prayers should be formed by what you read with your family in Scripture and you should pray specific prayers for your children. As he hears what you pray on a day in day out basis, it will help him learn how to pray as well.
You can also turn him loose to start praying on his own. Remind him of things he should pray for and encourage him to start praying in the morning, at night, and during the day. From time to time, ask how it is going. Help him work through his doubts and uncertainties about prayer. Help him remember that God hears him when he prays because he loves him.
Teach Your Child the Importance of the Local Church
If your family has been involved in a local church, your child probably did not come to Christ through your influence only. Other faithful Christians have loved her, taught the Bible to her, and prayed for her. Since the local church played such an important role in her conversion, it is important for her to understand the crucial role the local church will play in her continued growth.
For example, your Christian child now gets the privilege of living out the one another passages. She can encourage other Christians and be encouraged by them. She can pray for other believers and look for ways to serve them. When another believer wrongs or offends her, help her understand how to forgive so she can walk in fellowship with the other person again.
In addition, your child needs to know the importance of giving herself to gathered worship each week. She should grow in understanding of the role that hearing God’s word, singing God’s praises, praying with God’s people, and receiving communion will play her continuing sanctification. Model for her how a family prioritizes gathered worship by not scheduling other activities on Sunday mornings and by starting to prepare for worship on Saturday night.
Don’t Use “You’re a Christian” as a Manipulative Tool
Though your child has faith in Christ, there will still be plenty of ways in which he disobeys you. Depending on the level of disobedience and how short your patience is running that day, you will grow increasingly desperate to find a way to make him obey. Shouting “I thought that you had become a Christian” is not an acceptable way to do this.
In one sense, we should expect a new level of obedience from our child who has trusted in Jesus. If he has a new heart and the Holy Spirit, there will be changes in his behavior. But, just as we often disobey Jesus in many ways, he will still disobey Jesus by disobeying his parents.
The key for us is to not teach him a guilt-based way of growing in Christ. If we pull out the Jesus card only when he disobeys, he will start focusing on sin-avoidance and not on growing in Christ. We need to talk about Jesus when there has been disobedience, but the focus needs to be on the new life he calls us to and on the forgiveness that he offers. In this way, you will point their child to the need to grow, but you will be doing so in a way that is in keeping with the truth of the Gospel. What we are after in the growth of our children is sanctification, not the mere modification of their behavior.
“How Do I Know if My Child Has Become a Christian?“
For Further Reading:
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney