“Mom, I want to be baptized.”
What should you do if you hear these words from your elementary school-aged child? I think the initial response would be great joy that our child has been thinking about the things of Christ, and the Lord has saved her. What a blessing to have that easy rest of knowing that your child was saved at a young age! How much easier the teen years would be if parents could know this is the spiritual condition of their child, and that the Lord will deal with their sin accordingly. How wonderful it will be to watch that child leave home for college, work, or marriage with a smile and a wave, because we know that they go with God, and He can take better care of them than we ever could. Yes, our child being regenerate and saved at an early age would indeed be a great blessing.
But what if “Mom, I want to be baptized” means something else? What if it means, “All my friends are getting baptized and now I want to, too?” What if it means, “I prayed a prayer and asked Jesus into my heart, and the next logical step is baptism?” What if it means, “I want to fit in with my friends, and they have all been baptized.” Well, in these cases, we need to stop and ask some questions. There are three that are especially important, if we are to discern (as well as we can as mere humans) whether our child is truly regenerate and ready for baptism.
- Have I seen signs of regeneration in my child?
Jesus said a good tree doesn’t bear bad fruit, and a bad tree doesn’t bear good fruit. What kind of fruit is my child producing? Is she generally obedient, helpful, and soft-hearted toward the things of God? Does she express an interest in His Word, and does she ask good questions about the meaning and application of the Scripture she reads? Is she generally attentive and interested in the sermons at church? What is her speech like? Does she tend to tear others down (especially her siblings), or build them up? Is she generally submissive to you and to others in authority over her, or does she tend to grumble and complain about chores and other responsibilities?
You’ll notice I used the word “generally” a lot in these questions, because no one should expect their child to behave perfectly all the time just because they are saved. No believer of any age behaves perfectly, and our children shouldn’t be expected to do so just to prove themselves saved. What I am talking about is a general, overall trend of growth toward more godliness and less selfishness in the heart and outward behavior of a child.
- Does my child understand the Gospel, and does she have a credible testimony?
If you have invested the time and energy required to teach your child the truth of the Gospel, then she should be able to articulate it, at least to some degree. Does she understand the role of repentance in salvation, and does she demonstrate repentance when her sin is brought to her attention? Does she experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit when she sins?
What is her testimony? Is it simply stating a narrative that once she wasn’t saved, then one day she accepted Jesus and now she is? If that’s the case, you definitely need more time to teach and instruct her about true salvation. Does she have at least a rudimentary understanding of the sovereignty of God in regeneration? Does she know that it is His grace alone, not her works that saved her? Many children tend to have a legalistic view of salvation and believe that their good works, obedience, good grades, etc. are necessary for their salvation. If you get any hint that they are relying on anything that they did or will do for their salvation, put the brakes on the baptism plans and teach them about God’s grace and their need.
- What’s in it for me?
Once these questions have been asked and answered, it’s time for parents to look at their own hearts. If I am uncertain about my child’s spiritual condition, what would be some reasons I might allow the baptism? Am I comparing my child or my parenting to other families? Do I want my child to be baptized because my friends’ children are? (That’s right, parents—we are not above the same comparing and “fitting in” that our children have to deal with.) Do I think that I’ll have more leverage in parenting if I can remind my child of her public profession and her mandate to live it out? Am I afraid I will discourage my child from seeking the things of Christ if I deny her request to be baptized right now?
There are all kinds of reasons why we as parents might be tempted to allow baptism before our child is really ready. We want to believe that they are saved, because we so desperately want them to be saved! But we must look beyond our own need for assurance about their eternity, and instead, as in other important decisions, focus on the glory of God.
If you have investigated the genuineness of your child’s profession of faith and are still uncertain, there are a few things you can do:
Ask a trusted friend, mentor, or relative to spend some time with your child.
This doesn’t have to be anything formal, like a Bible study, or an intimidating inquisition that will make your child uncomfortable. Ideally, your child will already have relationships with adults besides you in her life. Perhaps a family friend, aunt or uncle, older cousin or Sunday School teacher could fill this role. Regardless of who it is, this friend needs to be someone your child trusts and respects. Ask them to visit with your child a few times, and talk about the things of God. A mature believer who loves your child and who prayerfully prepares for these meetings, may be able to help you determine if she is really ready for baptism.
While we’re on the subject, if your child does not have an adult mentor or discipler other than yourself, I strongly recommend that you begin to actively seek a same-gender believer to take your child under her wing. Intergenerational friendships are vital to the church, because they weave the mature believers together with those who are just learning about Christ. As my pastor said in last Sunday’s sermon, the church is one generation away from closing its doors. If we do not disciple the next generation, we leave them to the influence of the world and their own sinful natures. Reader, if you do not have a young person you are mentoring, I urge you to actively seek out opportunities to do so now.
Tell her yes, but not now.
If you are not sure of your child’s conversion, let her know that you are excited for her, and can’t wait to see what God will do in her life as she continues to trust and obey Him. Let her know that you believe her when she says she loves the Lord, and assure her that there’s no hurry for baptism. Work with her on preparing her testimony. In the process, you may find areas where she is unsure or in error about doctrine. These are golden teaching opportunities!
Though I mention prayer last, it is certainly not the least of all the things you need to do when your child says she wants to be baptized. You have prayed for your child her whole life, so why would this be any different? Pray that the Lord would reveal to you the truth about your child’s spiritual condition, and that He would show her (and you) those areas where she needs to learn and grow. Pray that other mature believers would come alongside you and your child as you work through these things. Let your pastor know of your child’s wishes, and ask him to pray for her and for you. He is charged with your care, and will likely be happy to pray, and even talk with your child if you’d like him to.
Baptism is a big step, especially for a young child, and you want to proceed with caution. The hours you spend in preparation are about much more than preparing for an event. You are preparing her for a lifetime of loving, serving, and honoring God. Enjoy this time. Treasure it for the wonderful opportunity it is, and trust the Lord for His timing. He is faithful!