Do you find yourself doubting your child's faith? Today, renowned author and speaker, Dennis Rainey, talks with pastor Jim Elliff about watching for the signs of true conversion. Hear how the Holy Spirit works to bring a child to Christ.
Do you find yourself doubting your child's faith? Today, renowned author and speaker, Dennis Rainey, talks with pastor Jim Elliff about watching for the signs of true conversion. Hear how the Holy Spirit works to bring a child to Christ.
Bob: You've heard the old expression, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." The truth is, you can lead a child to Christ, but you can't make him a Christian. Here's Jim Elliff.
Jim: I learned some years ago that God makes Christians. That was quite a revelation to me. God is the one who makes Christians. But we, as parents, have a responsibility to observe what God is doing, and then to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in His work. And bringing that home to the conscience of the child is what we're after.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 9th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Can a child or can anyone, for that matter, come to faith without conviction of sin?
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. We've been doing some digging this week. We've been looking at what is involved in a child coming to faith in Christ. That's the most important issue we face as parents.
Dennis: You know, in forming a Christian home, a Christian family, it begins with a right relationship with God, and what we have tried to do in this series with Jim Elliff is really do a good job of equipping moms and dads, first of all, to know Christ themselves but also to introduce their children to Christ and how to go about that and how do you help a young person come into a relationship with Christ that's meaningful, that's real, and really watch them grow in their relationship with God.
We're coming out of the book of 2 Timothy, chapter 3, verse 14 and 15, where Paul is writing to Timothy who evidently, Bob, was reared by a grandmother and mom who really pointed him to God. Paul writes, "You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of." And we're going to focus in on that "becoming convinced of" today.
But Paul goes on and says, "Knowing from whom you have learned them, and that, from childhood, you have known the sacred writings, which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus."
You know, that's what all of us want, as parents. We want our children to come into a real relationship with Christ where they have that knowledge that they are gods, they are His children, and that they're going to spend eternity with Him.
Bob: Well, Jim Elliff is back with us for a fifth day on the broadcast. Jim is the president and founder of Christian Communicators Worldwide and, for a number of years, he has spoken both throughout this country and internationally on areas related to revival and repentance. He has been a pastor, he has also spoken extensively on the subject that we're talking about this week, which is understanding what God is doing in the life of our children as He draws our children to Himself.
Dennis: Jim, I want to welcome you back to FamilyLife Today, but as I do that, you know, we've been spending a good deal of time just kind of, as Bob said, dissecting the subject of introducing our kids to Christ.
Why don't you help, for those listeners who perhaps have just tuned in today for the first time or may be listening, perhaps, afresh to our broadcast – help them kind of understand where we are around this whole issue of introducing our kids to Christ.
Jim: Well, thank you, Dennis and Bob, and it's great to be here. You know, I learned some years ago that God makes Christians. That was quite a revelation to me. God is the one who makes Christians. But we, as parents, have a responsibility to observe what God is doing, and then to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in His work. And God has given us some good handles on that, and we'll be talking about those, I guess, as we go through here.
But yesterday we began to talk about a very important thing to observe, and that was the conviction of the Holy Spirit. God convicts of sin and of righteousness and of judgment.
Dennis: You're speaking there, of course, of a child who is becoming aware of his sinfulness, of his need for salvation, his need for forgiveness, his need of a relationship of God?
Jim: That's right. I've defined conviction as the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing the child to awareness of his sin and of his necessity for Jesus Christ. And bringing that home to the conscience of the child is what we're after, not just some superficial knowledge.
Dennis: So you're not necessarily interested in just the child making a "decision."
Jim: No, not at all. Just because there's been some decision made doesn't mean that the child is really a Christian, and we can't afford to let that decision stop all talk now about whether that child really knows Christ or not.
Dennis: And what we're going to talk about on the broadcast today is joining with God as He reveals Himself to a child, and this is really kind of a sacred area to get involved with that child to say, "Are you sure you're a Christian?"
Bob: And, Jim, there are some parents who, in even thinking about asking that question, would fear that they are casting doubt in the mind of the child. They have believed, from the Scriptures, that once a person has been made new by Christ, that person's salvation is secure, and they're afraid, by asking the child that question, they are leading the child to doubt his or her own salvation, and that may lead them to a lifetime of anxiety and wondering, "Can I ever know if I'm saved?"
Jim: Yes, I understand the dilemma, and I do think we need to work like brain surgeons, with that kind of agility, in dealing with our children. But it is possible that that child himself or herself has doubt as well. Have you ever thought that it might be the Holy Spirit who wants the child to doubt and not the enemy? And that the enemy wants the child to be sure and have a false profession, die, and go to hell.
Dennis: Yeah, I think you may be onto something there, because it could be that false assurance could be one of the devil's greatest trump cards to play in a person's life – that a person would think they were Christian because they've been raised in a Christian home, because they made a profession of faith at a young age, but, really, have never grown in their own understanding of Christ, their knowledge of Him, and have no fruit in their lives to show that they are a Christian.
Jim: That's right. And, you know, this leads us to the second observation that we need to make concerning our children, and that is we need to watch and see if the Lord Himself is revealing Himself to the child. Not just conviction of sin or even that depth of conviction of judgment for their sin – that they know they're going to hell.
You know something? There are many people who fear hell who do not love God, and it takes God revealing Himself to the child and changing the heart of that child to make them love God.
Bob: I had an opportunity one time to ask Dr. John McArthur the question of how he would lead someone in the assurance of his salvation, and he responded by saying, "I would ask them three questions. The first question is 'Do you love God?'" He said, "The second question is 'Do you hate sin?'" And the third question is, "Are you willing to do whatever God asks?" He said, "Now, if you give a no answer to any of those three, just one of the three, then it's evidence that you're not really a Christian.
His thesis was there are a lot of people who love God and hate sin but are not willing to obey Christ, and that's evidence that they're not genuinely converted.
Dennis: And, Jim, some of them have been very religious men who have had very prominent places in the "church."
Jim: That's right. You know, Jonathan Edwards, I think I've mentioned this name before – he made a statement once. He said "The fear of God without love," which is the real mark of a Christian we've just spoken of – that changed heart – "the fear of God without love is the fear of devils." In other words, it's the fear that just the demons have.
You see, they know God's there, and they tremble before Him, and they, in fact, obey Him. Every time you see Jesus encountering a demon in the Scripture, they always do what He says. That's interesting, isn't it?
Martin Luther was like that. Do you remember in the early 1500s when Martin Luther was a monk in an Augustinian monastery, and he was killing himself to serve God. He feared God. He hated hell, and he didn't want to go there. He just about killed himself with fastings and prayer vigils and living an austere life.
And one time he made the statement – "Love God? I hate him." Now, there was a man who understood his own soul. He realized what God said about him was true. He knew that God was there, he knew he must obey Him, he must follow Him, but he really didn't love Him from his heart until God revealed Himself to him.
Dennis: And then he was converted.
Jim: And then he was converted and became one of the most remarkable lovers of God you've ever known.
Dennis: And you're saying, for our children, that what we need to do, as parents, is be a part of the process of helping them recognize God's revelation of His Son, Jesus Christ, in their lives. How do we do that?
Jim: Well, could I take you to a story in the Old Testament?
Jim: In 1 Samuel 3, you remember the young boy Samuel was brought by his mother to the tabernacle in Shiloh to Eli. Now, Eli wasn't a godly man, really, but he was put under his supervision, and he ministered before the Lord, the Bible says. Well, one night the Bible says the Lord called Samuel, and Samuel got up, and he ran to Eli, and he said, "Here I am. You called me." But Eli said, "I didn't call you. Go back and lie down."
A second time God called, and he ran to Eli again and said, "Here I am, you called me." "I didn't call you." Now, you know, I have young children. I know what Eli really said right then, by the way. He said, "You get up one more time, son, and it's all over for you."
Bob: That's right – "get your last drink and get back in bed."
Jim: But then there's an interesting verse in the passage, and here is what it says – it says in verse 7, "Now, Samuel did not yet know the Lord. The Word of the Lord was not yet revealed to him." And then Samuel was called again, and this time Eli perceived something. He perceived that it was the Lord calling the boy. That's the place of the parent.
And he instructed young Samuel on how to respond to the revelation of the Lord. But isn't it interesting that he could minister before the Lord and not know the Lord. But it took the revelation of the Lord for him to know Him.
Dennis: So you're saying, then, that we should look for the revelation of God in our children's lives? What will that look like?
Jim: Well, I think that to know the Lord is to want to know Him more. You know, again, Jonathan Edwards, if you don't mind me quoting my patron saint …
… but Jonathan Edwards' own conversion experience was interesting in this respect – when he was a young man, he encountered the Lord. He was a religious man, but he wasn't yet a real believer. And when the Lord revealed Himself to him, He wasn't then the judge and this majestic and awesome Ruler as much as He was his Savior and his Redeemer and his Lover. He said the Lord "became altogether lovely to me."
In other words, when we say the Lord reveals Christ to the child, we are saying that He reveals Himself in His Saviorhood, if I could use that word. He reveals Himself as his Redeemer and Friend.
And when that happens, there is something so irresistible and attractive about Jesus Christ that that child falling in love with the one that he now meets, continues to foster that relationship, longing for more and more of the reality of knowing Christ.
Bob: You mentioned that one of the things a parent can do is the same thing that Samuel did – we can be a guide or a navigator for our children, to point them to Christ when they are beginning to ask questions. But there is more than just navigating when they ask questions, isn't there?
Jim: Yes, there's more than that, certainly. In fact, just asking questions is not necessarily a sign that your child is even getting close to being a Christian. It's just normal intelligence, I think, to ask questions about what the parents have espoused as their religious beliefs.
Dennis: You would not equate that, then, with a spiritual stirring?
Jim: Not necessarily. It might reflect itself in that, but I wouldn't go so far to say that every child who asks questions is really being dealt with by God in this very personal and specific way of God revealing Himself.
Dennis: At this point, a parent's going, "Man, now, this is getting pretty complex here. This is getting pretty tough, because I am now left with raising a child who is going to be curious, but I can't assume that's God working in his heart?
Jim: Did you know, Dennis, I would love to be able to say that we can manipulate the revelation of God, but I've found that we can't. This is one place where, I suppose, of all the things we can do, the best thing is just to trust the Lord and to pray to the Lord. Salvation is in the hands of the Lord. He is the one who gives birth to this child, and we must look to Him.
Bob: And now you've hit on something that is one of those tangible things that parents can do and often forsake, and that is praying for the souls of their children.
Jim: That's exactly right, and we should make that the regular practice. And then, in addition, Bob, I think presenting the Scriptures to our children, because this is the means by which God reveals Himself. That's the reason that Puritans that we talked about in the first session we had together, loved to surround that child with the Word of God, because they knew that that was the means by which God would reveal Himself to the child.
Bob: And, Dennis, you've said oftentimes on the broadcast that we try to, in our sophistication, come up with very clever ways to introduce our kids to Christ, and in the process we leave behind praying for our children and reading the Scriptures to our children.
Dennis: Yeah, and it's the Bible that does reveal who God is and what God expects of man, and we need to get the kids in the Book – somehow be reading the Book, talking about the Book, and you go all the way back to Deuteronomy, chapter 6, which was living out the Bible as a way of life, as a father and a mother, talking about it as we go by The Way, interacting with our kids as a way of life, bring the Scriptures down on their level but not bringing God down on their level – keeping Him who He is, the holy and majestic One, who must have a Savior, a payment for our sins, our children's sins, as well as our own.
Jim: That's right. And, you know, it's kind of a dilemma for us, isn't it, to put our hands behind our back and think that God must make a Christian, but these important means that God has given us are the vehicle by which God brings that child, the revelation of Himself.
That term we found in 1 Samuel, chapter 3, "God called him," is a term that's used often in the Bible. In fact, one of the descriptions of a Christian is a "called" one. That speaks of the initiative of God, doesn't it? The initiative of God – He calls us to Himself.
You know, one time in the Book of 1 Corinthians, Paul said to the Jews, "My message is a stumbling block. To the Greeks, it's foolishness, but to the called, it's the power of God into salvation."
So God does call children. I'm so thankful. He calls many, a myriad of people, heaven is filled with people that God has called. But we must make a distinction – there is a difference between the external call of the parent or the preacher, wherever they hear the Word of God, and that internal call of the Holy Spirit. We are saying in the external call, God uses that as a means to call the child internally by His Holy Spirit.
Dennis: I'm going to back to our illustration of a kid asking questions – might a parent begin to think if the child is interested in spiritual matters and continues that interest, that that is a stirring of the spirit, though, Jim, because, again, I'm putting myself in the place of a parent who – you know, they're walking with God themselves. They're trying to discern the work of the Holy Spirit in their own lives. This is not an exact science that we're talking about here.
Jim: It is not an exact science.
Dennis: It's the God of the universe working in people's lives, and what I'm trying to do here is, again, bring some hope to the parent who goes, "Wait a second, Jim Elliff, Dennis Rainey, Bob Lepine, I have not been to seminary. I'm just struggling, teaching a second-grade Sunday school class that my kid's in, and you're making this awfully complicated here.
There are those points where you can discern the Holy Spirit's working.
Jim: Yes, if the Bible says that the essence of eternal life is to know Him, which the Bible does say very clearly …
Dennis: John 17:3.
Jim: John 17:3 – could I just quote that verse?
Jim: Jesus, looking up to heaven, He's praying to the Father, and then He says this – "This is eternal life." Now, anytime you see a definition, your antennas ought to go up. But this definition is going to be given by the author of eternal life. He said, "This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God and the Son whom Thou has sent." Knowing Christ is the heart of true religion, and God must reveal Himself to us.
You know, if that doesn't happen, you'll just have another religious professor of faith, and we see them all the time. Let me just illustrate how this works. I don't know how many people out there who are listening to us have relatives that claim to be religious. Perhaps they go to a church every Sunday. But some of you have tried to talk to your relatives about Jesus Christ. You've wondered if they've really known Christ.
You know what happens? The first time they listen politely. The next time they kind of get uncomfortable. The third time they say, "We're not going to talk about religion in our home."
Dennis: "This is a personal matter."
Jim: Yes, "This is a personal" – but wait a minute. This person goes to church every Sunday. See, the truth is, they don't love God. This irresistible, attractive Jesus Christ has never been revealed to them. They are religious without knowing Him, and I don't care to have my child just be religious. I want my child to know Him, if that's what eternal life really is.
Bob: We have a link on our website to your website, as well. We want to get helpful tools into the hands of parents as they work through this process. In fact, on our website, they'll see information about a book by Ray Comfort called "How to Bring Your Children to Christ and Keep Them There." There is also information about, Dennis, your book, "Growing a Spiritually Strong Family," and any of our listeners who are interested in getting both of these books, we will send along at no additional cost the CD audio of the conversation we've been having on this subject with Jim Elliff.
Again, all the details are on our website at FamilyLife.com. You can go there for more information and click that red button that says "Go," in the middle of the screen. That will take you right to the area of the site where you need to be if you'd like to order these resources or just get more information about them.
You can also call 1-800-FLTODAY for more information or to place an order. It's 1-800-358-6329. Someone on our team will answer the phone when you call, and we'll let you know how you can get these resources sent to you.
And then we want to ask you to join with us in a special effort here during the month of March. When we think about sharing the message of the Gospel with children, we think about a resource that we've been able to put in the hands of hundreds of thousands of parents over the last decade. It's a resource call Resurrection Eggs, and this tool helps parents clearly share the story of Easter with their children in a way that's memorable, in a way that helps them understand what really happened in the life of Jesus during His last days on earth, and in a way that helps them understand the implications of that; helps them understand the Gospel and why that's important for their lives.
And we've heard from parents who have said God has graciously used this tool as a way for their children to make a profession of faith, to begin to make steps toward a relationship with Christ and, in some cases, to actually lead them to Christ.
This year, we'd like to get this tool in the hands of a lot of people who don't listen to FamilyLife Today or who don't even know that such a tool exists, and we're asking for your help. If you will make a donation this month of any amount, two things will happen. First, we will send a set of Resurrection Eggs to our friends at Here's Life Inner City, and they will get those Resurrection Eggs in the hands of a child or of a family that they're working with in the inner city.
And, second, we'll send you a set of Resurrection Eggs so that you can give them away to someone you know who may not know Christ or someone who needs to have a better understanding of the message of the Gospel – maybe a friend, a loved one, someone at work, someone in your neighborhood. So you become a part of our distribution network for the Resurrection Eggs this year during the Easter season.
So can we ask you to go to our website, FamilyLife.com, make a donation online. When you're filling out the donation form, you'll see a keycode box. Type the word "eggs" in that box, and that way we'll know to send you a set of Resurrection Eggs and to get a set out to our friends at Here's Life Inner City.
Or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation of any amount and, again, just mention that you'd like to be a part of helping to get the Resurrection Eggs into people's hands this year at Easter, and we'll be happy to partner with you in that, and we want to say thanks, as well, for your financial support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We really appreciate your partnership with us.
Well, we hope you have a great week. I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend in church, and I hope you can be back with us on Monday, because we want to pick things up where we left off. We weren't able to really finish this subject this week, so Jim Elliff's going to be back with us on Monday.
We're going to talk about the subject of holiness, and how that's related to salvation, and what if a child has prayed a prayer but you don't see a lot of holiness in their life, either in terms of moral choices or spending time with the Lord – the things we would look for as fruit of a genuine conversion. We'll talk about that on Monday. 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. Have a great weekend, and we'll see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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