An Understanding of Conviction, Revelation and Regeneration
About the Guest
How can you tell if your child is a Christian? Today on the broadcast, Christian Communicators Worldwide founder, Jim Elliff, reveals the three words that will help parents know if their child is really walking in the faith--conviction, revelation and regeneration.
How can you tell if your child is a Christian? Today on the broadcast, Christian Communicators Worldwide founder, Jim Elliff, reveals the three words that will help parents know if their child is really walking in the faith–conviction, revelation and regeneration.
An Understanding of Conviction, Revelation and Regeneration
Jim: It is true that if one believes in Jesus Christ, they have eternal life – John 6:47 – "He who believes has eternal life."
The question is, have we really believed and has that child really believed in the proper way. There are false kinds of faith that will lead a child down a wrong path and end him up in hell.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, March 8th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Can you identify what true belief looks like in your child's life? Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition of our broadcast. Dennis, I remember, years ago I was living out in California at the time, coming home from work one day, and Mary Ann said, "Guess what happened today?" And I said "What?" She said we were out taking a walk, I think Amy was almost four at the time, Katy was a newborn, and Katy was in the stroller, and Amy was walking alongside Mary Ann and, at some point in the walk, Amy said to Mary Ann, "I'd like to invite Jesus to come live in my heart."
And it kind of took Mary Ann by surprise, but they stopped there, and they prayed together, and they asked Jesus to come and live in Amy's heart. And I remember, as Mary Ann was telling me the story, I thought to myself, "Can a child who is almost four years old really understand what she means when she prays and commits her life to Christ?" And even if she can, did Amy really do that when she prayed a prayer with her mom this morning?
And those are the kinds of issues we have been wrestling with all this week on the broadcast.
Dennis: Yeah, and Jim Elliff joins us for a fourth day here on FamilyLife Today. Jim, welcome back.
Jim: Thank you.
Dennis: Jim, you have a ministry that really surrounds the world. You write, you speak, you counsel folks, you minister to pastors, and you have a unique burden in this area. You really believe parents need to carry the responsibility for introducing their kids to Christ.
Let me just pose the question that Bob just started with – what about Amy at three-and-a-half years of age? Did she become a Christian?
Jim: Frankly, I think it is possible for anybody to become a Christian, but detecting whether that child is a Christian is another matter altogether. And in the history of Christendom, as we have mentioned before, it was not really the custom to immediately express in a public way that this child would have become a true believer in Christ except in very unusual occasions.
Dennis: So you're saying this is a modern-day phenomena then?
Jim: I think it's much more modern, I really do. I think – I don't know all of history, of course, but my study yields that kind of information, which I have expressed. Normally they would wait often into early adulthood or teenage years when they were faced with a choice between their peers and Christ; where they had to stand – of course, in times of martyrdom these things became more clear, or in times of great revival, perhaps there might be a surge of younger people.
But the normative thing was for their public profession of faith to be much later when it was tested. After all, it is a valid profession of faith that we're looking for.
Bob: Well, how would you counsel a mom or a dad who called you and said, "My three-and-a-half-year-old wanted to pray to receive Christ this afternoon." I led them in that prayer. What now?
Jim: I would say you ought to be very encouraging and thank God that your child is dealing with that sort of issue and thinking seriously. But then speak to them about knowing for sure. How does one know for sure? After all, the issue is not whether that child prayed a prayer. There are lots of people who have prayed a prayer and are not really God's children.
But the issue is whether that child has life from God, and if that child has life from God, it will be evidenced as the days go on in such a way that one could tell.
Dennis: I hear you saying a couple of things there. First of all, almost in the words of Christ, "Hinder not the children who want to come to Christ."
Jim: That's right.
Dennis: And don't discourage a child who is spiritually being receptive to God, responding to God, drawing near to God, that use that as an opportunity to interact with that child.
A second thing I hear you saying is to take those opportunities as a process of childhood to introduce your child to Christ. Over and over and over again, not that they become a Christian over and over and over again, but that you are using these opportunities to reinforce what the Gospel is and how a child can come to know Jesus Christ as personal Savior.
Jim, I want you to help us, as parents – well, put on our radar units and help us become spiritually astute in knowing what to look for in our kids as they begin to respond to God? What should we, first of all, look for in our children's lives?
Jim: Well, that's the right kind of question, because we haven't ever made a Christian ourselves. Only God makes Christians. So we have to observe the work of God, and we cooperate with the Holy Spirit.
If I could just say in the beginning, one of the things that we are not necessarily saying that is an indication of a true conversion is that children ask questions. For instance, if you were a Buddhist or some other religious group, it would be normal for a child of a certain age to ask questions. If somebody says, "My child is asking questions, I think they must be near conversion," I say, "Well, congratulations, your child is at least of average intelligence," because that is just a normal thing to do. It's not necessarily an indication of God at work through His Holy Spirit.
There are three words, though, and they're theological words, and I hope our listeners don't mind, but I think it's very important to mention these words. There are three words that I think do help us understand the work of the Holy Spirit. The first is the word "conviction," the second is the word "revelation," and the third is the word "regeneration." Those three words, I think, could help us considerably.
Dennis: Well, let's take this first one, then, conviction of sin. In order to really allow a child to be convicted of sin, that means they've got to understand that they have a bad heart. Now, that's not going to fly with a lot of parents, because that means you've got to convince a child that he's got a bad heart?
Jim: Well, it's one of the great mistakes we've made these days in not telling our children the truth. I don't think we have the freedom to not tell the truth, and the Bible says that heart of a person without Christ is a sinful heart, and the actions of that heart will reap an eternal hell, and we need to help our children see that.
I think one of the best ways, though, Dennis and Bob, to help our children get ahold of this idea is to really use the commands of Scripture to do it. The commands of Scripture have a purpose – not only to guide the Christian in what to do, but it helps the non-believer recognize that he or she is a sinner.
After all, sin is a lawlessness, according to 1 John, chapter 3. You might remember the Apostle Paul. He said, "I once thought myself alive," and I'm paraphrasing there, "but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." He saw himself – he was a Pharisee. He thought he was living blameless life in terms of the law of God, but when the Holy Spirit convicted him, then the commandment came with a new force, and it brought real deep conviction.
Bob: So one of the things we ought to be look for in a child who has made a profession is that child sensing himself or herself a sorrow, a repentant heart, as they face their own sins?
Jim: Yes. Sorrow is a good word, and it's a word the Bible uses. There is a sorrow of the world, and there's a sorrow of God, and one leads to salvation; the other leads to death. And you remember Judas was sorry, wasn't he?
Jim: But he had the sorrow of the world. He was probably more sorry than a lot of people.
Jim: It led all the way to physical death.
Dennis: I think what I want parents to hear at this point is that they need to allow the Holy Spirit freedom to convict their children that they need a Savior; that they're not good, they're bad, they're sinful, they're sick, and they need redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Jim: Yes, how can we help a child come to the Savior unless he knows he needs the Savior. This is God's process, and it's beautiful and effective, and we should cooperate with the Holy Spirit in it.
Bob: So how is that different, then, than conviction of righteousness?
Jim: Well, the second matter, which Jesus spoke of, was righteousness because He said, "I go to my Father, and you see Me no more," and that's a difficult phrase to understand, but I think what He's saying here is this – not only is He convicting of sin in our life, unbelief being the fountainhead of all that sin – "because you do not believe in me," He said, "but of righteousness," meaning that Christ is the only righteousness. There is no other righteousness that is acceptable before the Father but Jesus Christ, and He is the only way to the Father.
It's just as conceivable that a child have dependence upon their good works as it is for an adult who is religious to have a dependency upon his or her good works. In fact, maybe moreso if we have esteemed them in a wrong way; if we have just made them think that they have such a good heart, they might think that they have earned a way on their own merits to be acceptable to God. And this would be an error. Christ is the only righteousness.
Dennis: Tell me what that would look like in one of the Elliff children? They are getting convicted of their sin, they are being convicted of righteousness by the Holy Spirit.
Jim: I think that child will see that there is no other escape but Christ. He is the only escape. I saw some literature one time, it was young people's literature in a particular denomination. It had a church and then some stars around the outside edge, and it had all the various religions – Buddhism and Islam, and it had Christianity among the others.
And the title was "Many Ways to God." There aren't many ways to God. There is only one way to God, and when that child begins to feel that intensely and say, "My only hope is Jesus," then they are much closer to true conversion.
Bob: It would seem to me, Jim, that a child who is not convicted of righteousness might develop a proud or a haughty spirit.
Jim: That's right, that's right – a Phariseeical spirit, I am doing well myself.
Dennis: And this is hard to pick up sometimes even within a Christian family, because you can be spouting off the verses, going to church, doing all the religious things, and still have a heart that's far from God.
Jim: It is really true. That's the reason parents need to be neurosurgeons of the soul.
Dennis: Well, what's the third thing the Holy Spirit does?
Jim: Well, this one will surprise you, but the Scripture says that they need to be convicted of judgment because the ruler of this world is judged. That, of course, is Satan, and he is judge and all under his realm are judged. That is every unbeliever. Judgment – we don't speak often enough about hell, the consequences of sin, and I think it is extremely important for us to talk to our own children about a real hell.
Dennis: There are a lot of parents, Jim, who are afraid to talk about hell because they are afraid of emotionally damaging their children.
Jim: That's right. I know they're afraid of that. Let me just say something related to that. I think it's important for us to remove all of those things, images in children's minds that cause nightmares and emotional problems. Most children do have some time where they're experiencing some emotional traumas about things that they've seen. But if we would remove all of those sorts of things and focus on the one thing God says truly should be feared, and that is an eternity in hell, I think we'd be doing our kids the right way.
Somebody says, "Well, Jim, aren't you going to create some nightmare in your children?" I say it's worth it. Now, I'm not a child abuser, but I believe it is worth some nights of nightmares, if that's what it took, and my children aren't experiencing that, but it would be worth it instead of experiencing the eternal nightmare of hell.
Dennis: You know, as you were talking, I was thinking that some parents wouldn't think hardly anything of allowing their children to watch maybe a television program that was one that had some fear involved where they were afraid and trembled at that thought. But if you talk about teaching your kids to tremble about the truth …
Dennis: To tremble at the thought of hell, well, all of a sudden, flags and alarms go off, and people say "Halt," and "Stop." Well, I think that's a ploy of the enemy.
Jim: It is.
Dennis: I go back to my childhood, and a part of my conversion as a child was an intense imaging of what hell was like.
Jim: Yes, that's right.
Dennis: And in those days when the Gospel was preached, hell was pictured vividly for me, and I remember going to sleep as a child, I was afraid. I was terrified.
Now, what that did for me as a young child was it created within me an intense need for a Savior, because the reality was I realized apart from having God's provision for my sin, and I could probably never have explained all the nuances of justification by faith, but I'm going to tell you something, I experienced it. As a child, I experienced it, because that picture of hell ended up creating a need within me for a Savior.
Jim: It's been my practice to talk to people about Christ for a number of years in various settings, of course, and I used not to talk about hell so much. But one day I realized I can't be more sophisticated than Jesus about this. And I decided to speak the truth about hell in the most vivid terms as Jesus did, and it is producing wonderful results.
It is an instrument of God to bring people to their need of Christ. Now, only Christ saves, but it brings them there as God intended.
Dennis: That's right, and what a parent needs to realize is this is a tool that God gives us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He convicts our children of their need of a Savior and how they can come into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jim: Dennis, could I read something for us here that is so enlightening about the whole idea of conviction. Charles Spurgeon is a household name to a lot of evangelicals. He was a pastor, the prince of preachers in London over 100 years ago.
Dennis: Maybe even better than Swindoll.
Jim: I'm going to let you make the decision about that, but here is what he said. He said, "For five years, as a child, there was nothing before my eyes but my guilt." Now, he was converted when he was about, I think, 16 or 15, so here we're talking about an 11-year-old child, he began to feel his conviction.
"Wherever I went, the law had a demand upon my thoughts, upon my words, upon my rising, upon my resting. What I did and what I did not do all came under the cognizance of the law. I seemed as if I was a sinner and nothing else but a sinner. Was there ever a bond slave who had more bitterness of soul than I? Five years a captive in the dungeons of the low until my youth seemed as if it would turn into premature old age.
When God, the Holy Spirit, first quickened me, little did I know of the precious blood, which has put my sins away and drowned them in the depths forever." Now, he knew all about it in his mind, but he didn't know it in his experience through the Holy Spirit. "But I did know this – that I could not remain as I was; that I could not rest happy unless I became something better, something purer than I was. And, oh, how my spirit cried to God with groanings. I say, without exaggeration, groanings that could not be uttered."
Now, listen to what he says, "I tried a long time to improve myself, but I never did make much of it. I found I had a devil within me when I began, and I had 10 devils when I left off. Instead of becoming better, I became worse."
Can I say something here about that? That's the nature of the law, and as the commandments of God, which is so much a part of what we teach children, become real to children – the more you know them the more guilty you are. So that's what was happening to him.
Then he said, "I labored to believe." It's a strange way of putting it, yet it was so. "When I wish to believe, I found I could not." Now, I find a lot of that terminology in times past. Listen to this – "It seemed to me that the way to heaven by Christ's righteousness was as difficult as by my own, and that I could as soon get to heaven by Sinai" – that is, by the law – "as by Calvary. I could do nothing. I could neither repent nor believe. I fainted with despair feeling as if I must be lost despite the Gospel and be forever driven from Jehovah's presence even though Christ had died."
Now, it's a long quote, but let me say a little bit more because this is so significant. He said, "I used to hear a minister whose preaching was, as far as I could make it out, 'Do this and do that and do the other, and you will be saved.' According to his theory, to pray was a very easy thing, to make yourself a new heart was a thing of a few instance and could be done at almost anytime, and I really thought that I could turn to Christ when I pleased. But when the Lord gave my soul its first shakings and conviction, I soon knew better."
He described conviction as "a spiritual experience, which is thoroughly flavored with a deep and bitter sense of sin and is of great value to him that hath it." It's a great quote. It tells the truth about it, I think.
Dennis: I really does, Jim, and, you know, I think it's a great reminder today for evangelical Christians to realize the power of the Gospel to redeem. I think sometimes we have made the Gospel such a feel-good Gospel, such a user-friendly Gospel, we've forgotten that the Gospel is the God who we sinned against, reaching out of heaven and redeeming us and calling us to faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Jim: That's right, and there is a wrenching away from the old life, and God uses conviction to tear us away from the things which we once loved.
One friend of mine said this – he gave his testimony at his conversion. He said, "The Savior became as irresistible to me as my sin had been before." That's the work of the Holy Spirit, wrenching him away from sin and to the Savior.
Bob: You know, I came across a quote a while back, and I don't remember who said it, but someone said, "The Bible teaches us that we are to love our neighbors and, hallelujah, He is risen." Both of those are true but only one of those is the Gospel and, really, that's what we've been trying to help parents understand, because the Gospel is a mystery. What God is doing in salvation, while the Scripture makes it simple and clear, there's a lot there that goes beyond our ability to process. It is the work of God in a person's life to change that person into a new creation in Christ, and it's what we hope for for our children, it's what we want to see happen in their lives. We want to be instruments in the hands of God to help lead them to saving faith.
I found a helpful book by Ray Comfort on that subject. It's a book called "How to Bring Your Children to Christ and Keep Them There, Avoiding the Tragedy of False Conversion," and that book, along with the book that you wrote, Dennis, called "Growing a Spiritually Strong Family," I think, are two very helpful books for parents on this subject.
We've got both of these books in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and I want to invite our listeners, go to our website, FamilyLife.com. When you get to the home page, you'll see a red button in the middle of the screen. If you click that button, it will take you right to an area of the site where there is information about these books I've talked about and other resources available from us here at FamilyLife to help us first understand the Gospel ourselves and then be able to clearly explain it to our children.
Again, our website is FamilyLife.com. Click the red button that says "Go," and if you are interested in both of the books that I mentioned, we'll send along at no additional cost the CD audio of our extended conversation with Jim Elliff on this subject, so you can review it again or pass it along to someone who might benefit from hearing it.
The website is FamilyLife.com or our toll-free number is 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY – 1-800-358-6329. Someone on our team will answer any questions you have about these resources or let you know how you can get them sent to you.
You know, when I think about the Gospel and children, I can't help but think of the tool that we put together a number of years ago, Resurrection Eggs. Every year at Easter a lot of our listeners contact us to get a set of these Resurrection Eggs because it's a great way to help young children understand the story of Easter, be able to remember the story of Easter, and to begin to understand the implications of that story and what that means for their lives.
This year we wanted to ask you to become a part of our distribution network for these Resurrection Eggs. We'd like to get them out to some folks who wouldn't normally receive a set of these Resurrection Eggs. So here is what we're asking – if you will make a donation this month to the ministry of FamilyLife Today, a donation of any amount, we will, first of all, send you a set of Resurrection Eggs either for your family or, if you already have a set, we'll send you a set to give away to a neighbor, a friend, a loved one, someone in your family but preferably someone who doesn't know the Gospel.
You know, at Eastertime you can give them an Easter present, and it won't seem all that unusual for you to do that. So we'll send you a set of Resurrection Eggs, and you become a part of the distribution network that way and, at the same time, when you make a donation of any amount, we'll send a set of Resurrection Eggs to the folks at Here's Life Inner City, and they will make sure that set gets in the hands of a child or a family living in the inner city so that they can hear the Gospel message at Easter as well.
So let me encourage you – go to our website, make a donation online. When you do, as you're filling out the form online for your donation, you'll see a keycode box. Just type the word "eggs" in that box, and we'll know that you want to join with us in this effort during the month of March. Again, the website is FamilyLife.com, type the word "eggs" in the keycode box when you get in touch with us, or call 1-800-FLTODAY. Make your donation over the phone and mention that you'd like to take part in helping get Resurrection Eggs out to more people this year, and we'll make sure we get a set off to you.
We want to say thanks for partnering with us in this effort, and thanks for your financial support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Well, tomorrow we're going to pick up our conversation and talk about the mystery of salvation – the parts that we can see and the parts that we can't see and how we can understand what's going on when God truly does change somebody's life as they repent and believe in the Gospel. I hope you can be 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 back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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