On the broadcast today, pastor Jim Elliff tells Dennis Rainey why parents are the best candidates for tutoring their children in the faith.
On the broadcast today, pastor Jim Elliff tells Dennis Rainey why parents are the best candidates for tutoring their children in the faith.
Jim: When we talk about assurance, we want to move away from a look at the sincerity of a prayer that they pray or a decision that they made or a feeling that they felt during a 15- or 30-minute period of time. That's not the way we tell if we're Christian. We look to see is this that we call life really demonstrating itself? Is there spiritual life in me?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 13th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll talk today about the subject of assurance and what to do if a child has doubts about his salvation?
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. We have been taking a good, hard look both last week and again this week at how children come to faith in Christ – at the things that we can see going on in a child's life and the things we can't see going on, the things God is doing behind the scenes and trying to help parents understand that whole process and help them know what to look for and what to expect when a child begins to wrestle with these kinds of spiritual issues.
Dennis: That's right. If God changes people's lives through the Gospel, and if the family is the place that is the best environment to present that Gospel to help a human being hear the reality of who God is, of the child's sinfulness, and of God's provision through Jesus Christ and what God expects of a man or a woman who wants to come into a relationship with Him then we, as parents, need to be equipped to be able to do that.
And yet if you look at parents today, we're handed a baby, and we don't know necessarily how to discipline them, how to go about setting up schedules, how to go about with the basic functions of life, let alone the most serious decision ever that a person makes, and that's what will they do with the person of Jesus Christ? What will they do with the God/Man who died for all of our sins?
Bob: We've been fortunate to have Jim Elliff with us to discuss this issue and to bring some clarity to it.
Dennis: Jim is the founder and president of Christian Communicators Worldwide. He has been a pastor in numerous states throughout the United States and worked, I guess, internationally, Jim, with pastors around the world?
Dennis: You, indeed, yourself are a fourth-generation pastor.
Jim: Well, I'm a third, but there are fourth in our family, there sure are.
Dennis: Oh, there's four in your family. Okay, well, that makes you a Christian, then, right?
Jim: I don't think so.
Dennis: That's been the message that we've talked about, really, over these broadcasts, is that salvation and conversion is something that we, as parents, need to do a better job of understanding and, Jim, you really believe that a child's salvation is evidenced in three ways – that of conviction; secondly, revelation; and, third, regeneration.
Explain to our listeners just briefly what you mean by all three of those.
Jim: Well, we mean that God is at work if He is bringing a child to Himself, and He convicts that child of his sin and of his need for Christ deep down in the conscience of the child.
And then He reveals Himself to the child because, after all, salvation is knowing Christ. And then in the third place, He gives that child His own life, He makes him alive. And when that child is made alive, you see this fruit of repentance and faith, and you see obedience, and you see perseverance come out of that regeneration – the giving of life to a dead soul.
Dennis: You know, over the past few days, we have taken an area that's a very delicate area, it involves faith and therefore it's a bedrock issue for our children and we, as parents, want to help our children believe. You've talked about parents needing to pray and trust God with this.
You also believe that parents really need to do a good job listening to their children.
Jim: I certainly do. Children have a lot to say if we'll let them say it. I think you know that. And there's a wonderful illustration of this in a book I picked up some years ago by Susan Schaeffer McCauley, the daughter of Francis Schaeffer, the historian and Christian philosopher, who lived many years in Switzerland.
And she wrote the book, entitled it, "How to be Your Own Selfish Pig." It's a great book, actually.
But, at any rate, she tells of her life when she was a young girl. She says, "I started the process of thinking through my beliefs almost accidentally. When I was 11 years old, growing up in Switzerland, what touched it off was a squabble with my two sisters, Debbie and Priscilla. We had nearly finished weeding the family vegetable garden and were hot and tired and crabby, and as I grew more and more obnoxious on my side of our argument, one of my sisters piped up and said that I wasn't being a very good Christian example to the villagers passing by.
Without thinking, I said the most shocking thing that came into my head – pretty shocking, at least when your father is a minister. 'Well, I'm not a Christian, anyway.' I yelled. 'I don't believe any of it.'" Have you ever heard a kid say that?
Jim: "I was received with the dramatic reaction I wanted – shocked silence. She said, as we picked up our hose and walked down the mountain path toward our home, I suddenly felt a tingle of fear creep up my spine. Did I really believe in God? At the supper table, Priscilla announced, 'Susan says she isn't a Christian.'" Have you ever heard it like that?
"By then I didn't feel like denying her words, even though I could see that my mother looked sad. I was said, too," she said, "for I felt as if I had lost God and His love. I wasn't sure that there even was a God, but I was determined, and I couldn't believe in fairy tales. I had to grow up.
That night, when I was ready for bed," she said, "alone and quiet in my room, my father came in. 'Let's talk, Susan,' he said seriously. 'Tell me why you said you're no longer a Christian.' I confessed that I'd first said the words because I was mad, 'But as soon as I said it, I was scared,' I explained. 'I can't call myself a Christian. All this time I've only believed it because you and Mother told me about it. Now I'll have to wait and see if it's true or not. Maybe the other religions are true, or maybe there isn't even a God at all.'
There was a moment of silence. I still remember the quiet, friendly companionship in the atmosphere when my dad finally answered me. 'Susan,' he said. 'Those are good questions. I'm glad you've asked them.' 'What a relief. That dizzy, lonely feeling left me,' she said. It was okay to ask questions, and it was important for me to find out for myself if what I believed was true. As we talked that night, I decided to do just that,' she said."
And there's an illustration of listening and so often we give the quick comment, don't we, and just paralyze our children into silence.
Dennis: And you really believe, as we listened, we better be careful to give assurance of salvation to a child where it perhaps could be misplaced.
Jim: Well, let me talk about that, because it's an important aspect of this whole thing. I think maybe it's better put like this, if you don't mind my changing the phraseology. Not really giving them assurance but showing them the basis of true assurance; showing them what they could look for to know if they're really a Christian or not.
Bob: Explain what you mean.
Jim: Well, if it's true, and it certainly is in the Bible, that there are many ways of knowing we are Christian given to us in the Scriptures, then we can point that child to what the Bible has to say and help them see that on that basis they could have a growing and hopefully a complete assurance that they are God's child.
For instance, in the book of 1 John, it says, "These things are written so that you might know you have believed." Well, what things? All those things that were written in the book of 1 John to help us see if we're really a Christian or not – our love for the brethren, our hatred of sin, the life of the Spirit within us.
We look to those things to get a basis of our assurance. We don't just look to whether we prayed a prayer or had an experience.
Dennis: Well, Jim, don't you point a child back to their faith in Christ as the basis for their salvation?
Jim: Well, let me answer that by saying 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 not whether, if we believe, we have 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.
Dennis: Well, Jim, I can hear a mom kind of scratching her head at this point and going, "What do you mean by false faith? Are there kinds of faith that are not going to result in salvation?"
Jim: Well, in fact, there are in the Bible, and I've tried to take a close look at that over the years. For instance, that faith that's talked about in James, chapter 2, "a faith without works," he says, "can that faith save him?" well, it's a type of a faith, but it's not a faith that saves, is it? Or in John, chapter 2, comes to my mind – Jesus had performed miracles, and the Bible says in John 2, I think it's verse 23 and following that "many people believed in Him because of the miracles, which He had done. But He, for His part, did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew what was in their hearts."
Actually, it's the same word in the original language. They believed in Him, but He did not believe or put His trust in them. Why? Because He knew that they were the same people they were before. They had had some kind of faith experience of a sort, but it wasn't really saving faith because it wasn't a repenting faith.
So it's possible to have types of faith that are deceptive and false, but there is such a thing as a true faith. It's a gift-of-God kind of faith.
Dennis: You know, as you were talking there, Jim, I thought about another kind of faith – the faith of the demons. It says even the demons believe and shudder, and yet they're not true believers in Christ. They only know certain things about God. They haven't got a personal relationship with Him, and He has not revealed Himself to them.
Jim: That's exactly right. There's an interesting passage in the Book of Romans that says something very helpful here. In chapter 15 of the Book of Romans, it says "whatever things were written before were written for our learning that we, through perseverance and comfort of the Scripture, might have hope."
Well, hope means the confidence that the future is going to work out all right. How am I going to have hope? He says through two means – one is the comfort of the Scripture. We can look at that verse in John 6:47 – "He who believes have everlasting life," and I can get some comfort from that and assurance and help from that. That's one place we look.
The other side is to look at perseverance. That's the work of God as well because he goes on to say, "Now, God who gives perseverance and comfort," in the next verse, so He gives it, but we look at the evidence of God at work in our lives to know if that faith that we claim to have is a real saving faith.
Dennis: How have you done that with your children, Jim?
Jim: Well, I've helped them see what obedience is. One of the things we do with our children is to help them know what God is like. And as we talk about what God is like, and what God expects in the Word of God, then they have some criteria by which they can judge and evaluate if God is at work in them.
And they may deal with those things hundreds of times. They may go to bed at night and often pray to the Lord about repentance and faith. What I'm looking for – I can encourage that, by the way – but what I am looking for is has your life really changed? Do you have life from God? And if you do, it will be evidenced.
Bob: So if your child comes home from a children's meeting, and has prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, signed a card, and says to you, "Dad, let me tell you what I just did. I became a Christian today. I prayed a prayer to receive Christ as my Lord and Savior." What do you do?
Jim: Well, I'm positive, I'm encouraging, how do I know but that he might have come to Christ today. So I say something like this to him – "I'm thrilled that you appear to be repenting and trusting in Christ" and, by the way, I prefer those terms rather than to inviting Jesus into the life, which I don't really find in the Scripture. Let's go back to the Bible terms – repenting and trusting in Christ.
"I'm thrilled that you are repenting and trusting in Christ. More than anything, we want to know if God has really changed your heart. The way we'll know is if you continue repenting of sin and trusting in Christ, and if you act like a true Christian. That is, you have a new heart that loves to obey God, and sometimes we don't know that until we're in a place where it really costs us to be a Christian. We'll just see what God does."
But as far as I can tell in the Scripture, we're never told to discern whether we're a Christian not by doing back to a decision. We look at our lives right now.
Jim: We look at fruit, we look to see, "Is this that we call life really demonstrating itself? Is there spiritual life in me?"
Bob: You know, we have some grandparents who listen to the broadcast, and they watch their adult children today, and they think back to childhood when there seemed to be – and not just an awakened child – but there seemed to be a converted child. And yet today, their son or their daughter does not show an interest in spiritual things.
How would you counsel that grandparent? What can they do and what should they think about their child?
Jim: Well, that's a great question and, unfortunately, describes a situation that happens very, very often. Well, the Bible again speaks of this issue of perseverance. Remember Demos? He walked with the greatest apostle of all times, the Apostle Paul. The first time his name is mentioned, he is called a "fellow worker" of the Apostle Paul.
The next time he is mentioned, it's just his name. Now, I don't want to read more into this than I should, but the last time that his name is mentioned, Paul regretfully says, "Demus has left me, having loved this present world." What an epitaph to have on your tombstone, right?
You see, again, the kind of faith that is the gift-of-God faith is a persevering faith. It lasts through to the end. Not without some blips on the screen, believe me, plenty of those. They produce sorrow and agony, our sin is never an enjoyable thing for the Christian because of the Holy Spirit within him, but there is this persevering nature to his or her faith.
And when we try to examine that grandchild or that child, for that matter, or our own lives, we have to ask the question, "Do I have the gift-of-God faith that goes all the way through?"
If not, I think we need to sometimes very carefully talk with that person if we love them. It won't always work. Sometimes they are very hardened, but we need to talk with them if we can and try to get them to consider the possibility that even though God knows if they're Christian or not, the evidence of their life is not comforting. They ought to examine, "Can a person live like this and be a true Christian?" Because God's not mocked. Whatever a man sows, that's what he reaps.
Dennis: You know, it occurs to me as we're talking about this, there are a number of grandparents like Bob mentioned, are parents who have prodigals, and they are watching their child perhaps self-destruct as an adult. They're feeling helpless, hopeless, they feel like a failure because they attempted to raise them in a Christian home around the Scriptures, pointing them to Christ. Maybe that particular person, that young adult, placed their faith in Christ or gave evidence at a time of placing their faith in Christ and now, as an adult, they are denying the existence of God or, practically speaking, they are living such a mediocre life that their lives deny God.
What would you say to that parent? Is there comfort for that parent that that child knows Christ? Or are you saying here, Jim, that it looks like they're not a Christian, and you need to confront that situation.
Jim: Well, I'd be careful about false comfort, I sure would. I think that it is better to know the truth and to pray right and to speak right in front of that child, that erring child, than it is to have some kind of euphemism or false hope.
The hope only comes in God. God is the one who gives birth to people, brings them into the kingdom. He does use the things that we have laid before them. He might still use them in the future.
How many stories have you heard about people remembering the things they learned in childhood, and that sparking something there in their heart and God working in them from that basis? So there is that kind of hope.
But I think when a person is told that they have cancer, that's not a very good sounding phrase, is it? "You have cancer." But it's an accurate thing, and it's better for us to know the accurate thing. Then we can deal with it and do perhaps a better thing with it.
Dennis: Yeah, it occurs to me that denial doesn't get us any closer to the truth; that if we act like they're Christian and deny the fact that they are perhaps ignoring the existence of God in their lives – the Scriptures, they are disobedient to them – we really do them a disservice by perhaps not doing the courageous thing, which is step into their lives.
And undoubtedly, as we've done these broadcasts, Bob, we have had not merely parents of children who have reflected upon their children who need to come to Christ but undoubtedly wives who have thought about a husband, a husband has thought about a wife who doesn't know Christ, perhaps a grandparent or an adult who has a son or a daughter who is a prodigal, who looks like they do not know Christ.
And, you know, now is the day to preach the Gospel. Now is the day to go and to talk to them about the finished work of Christ on the cross and the empty tomb. We need to go to them in love and not be ashamed of the Gospel. Romans, chapter 1, verse 16 through 18 talks about us not being ashamed of the Gospel, "for it's the power of God unto salvation to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. And we need to preach it.
These are days when we need to be talking about God's forgiveness in Christ. That really is what the church needs to come back to.
Bob: And I think we need to make sure, as we preach it, that we really understand it. I read a quote recently from John Stott, the British theologian, who said that he fears that in our day we have fumbled the Gospel, and that's really the reason we've been talking about this subject both last week and this week because we want to make sure that the Gospel is, first, clearly understood and then clearly articulated to our children and to others.
I would think if parents think, you know, "I'm not sure that I really understand what the Gospel is all about," I think they'll find some help in Ray Comfort's book called "How to Bring Your Children to Christ and Keep Them There." He deals with the subject of the biblical Gospel in that book. Again, I think it's something that we need to be reminded of in the church today.
In addition, you and Barbara have written a book, Dennis, called "Building a Spiritually Strong Family" that helps us understand how our family can be centered in the Gospel and can grow spiritually as a family. We have both of these resources in our FamilyLife Resource Center and any of our listeners who would like to go to our website, FamilyLife.com and click the red button that says "Go" on the screen, that will take you to an area of the site where you can get more information not only about these resources but about other resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife that deal with the subject of the Gospel or how we can share the Gospel message with our children.
Again, our website is FamilyLife.com. Click the "Go" button in the middle of the screen. Or if it's easier to call 1-800-FLTODAY and talk with somebody about these resources, you can do that. The number, again, is 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY and someone on our team will answer any questions you have or make arrangements to have specific resources sent out to you.
One of the other resources you will see on our website, when you go there, is Resurrection Eggs. Many of our listeners are familiar with this evangelistic tool that we've made available for more than a decade now. It's a way to help children remember the Easter story, to learn it, and to remember it, and it's been very popular.
This year we are hoping to get sets of Resurrection Eggs into the hands of people who don't know the Gospel story. And so we're asking you to help us in that effort by doing two things. First, we're asking you to make a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today. When you make a donation of any amount, here is what we'll do. We will send a set of Resurrection Eggs to our friends at Here's Life Inner City, and they will distribute those eggs to children and families who live in the inner city who need to hear the message of the Gospel.
And, at the same time, we'll send you a set of Resurrection Eggs that you can either use with your family or you can pass them along to someone you know, a relative, a neighbor, a friend, someone who needs to hear the message of the Gospel. So you become a part of the distribution network for these Resurrection Eggs, and you help us get the Gospel message out this year at Easter time.
You can donate to FamilyLife Today by go online at FamilyLife.com, click the button that says "Donate," over on the left side of the screen, and as you fill out the donation form, you'll see a keycode box. If you'd like to help us get these Resurrection Eggs out this year at Easter, just type the word "eggs" in the keycode box, and we'll know that you want to be a part of this effort, and we'll also know to send you a set of Resurrection Eggs.
Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. You can make a donation over the phone, and we'll be sure to get a set of Resurrection Eggs out to you as well as a set to Here's Life Inner City on your behalf. So let me say thanks in advance for joining with us in this effort, and we appreciate your financial support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Well, tomorrow we're going to talk about – in some ways, it's a different subject, in some ways it's a very similar subject – we're going to talk about adoption with Natalie Gillespie and Sara Dormon, and when you stop and think about it, when you bring a child into your home, you're helping to expose that child to the Gospel and, oftentimes, it's a child who wouldn't hear the Gospel otherwise.
So as we talk about adoption tomorrow, we really have the same thought in mind as we continue the conversation. 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 tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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