(Understandably, Elijah was somewhat upset that he would be left out of communion. Sure, I could have just let him take communion; that sure would have been made us both feel better. But, as I explained to him, I am responsible for leading him in this area of discipleship. If I let him do this but he is not ready in God's eyes, then God would hold both him and me accountable for our actions. Also, I hope that by letting him struggle with this issue, that I can use it to drive him towards the Gospel.)
Before we ask, "Is my child ready to be baptized?" we must be clear on what baptism is. It is clear from scripture that baptism is an ordinance that Christ gave the church, as a one-time act of obedience that is an outward testimony of a person's belief in Christ. So, baptism is directly connected to a person's relationship with Christ. Therefore, even a bigger question than "Is my child ready to be baptized?" is "Is my child a true believer in and follower of Jesus Christ?"
While only the Lord can truly know the spiritual condition of someone's heart, in practical terms we can look for three things to help us discern where our children are:
- Understanding of the truth of the Gospel. The candidate for baptism must know and be able to articulate truth about Jesus, sin, salvation, baptism, etc.
- Trust in Christ. This trust is best demonstrated by how the person responds to and makes decisions based on truth. Works do not determine salvation, but they are an indication of faith (James 2:14-17). It's not that anyone who has been redeemed will live perfectly, but someone who has had a true heart conversion should be living out a pattern of obedience.
- A conscience that cries out for cleansing. For example, in Acts 2:27-38, we see where the people's hearts were pierced by the Gospel, and Peter told them to repent and be baptized.
For young children, their relationship with God is primarily through their parents, and especially how they obey their parents (quickly, completely, and happily). Be cautious -- it is often hard to distinguish between normal maturation and true heart change.
Also, if the topic of baptism comes up with your child, the first question should be "Why do you want to be baptized?" If he or she cannot give a clear, Biblical, Gospel-centered answer, that would be a red flag for sure.
Read more tomorrow as I will try to give more direction for how all this applies to parents and leaders of young children. For now, I'll say that, in general, while children can have a certain amount of faith that is real, most young children are not usually pursuing Christ on their own and are not eager for spiritual growth.
Has any of your children been baptized as a believer, or asked about it? I had the awesome experience of baptizing Hannah in November 2008, and as I wrote above, we're in the process of leading Elijah in this area.
Read the next post in the series, Is My Child Ready for Baptism? Probably Not.