Salvation can be (and often is) an extremely confusing subject for a child. I struggled greatly with the issue as a child (and even into my adult years). The main cause of my struggle was a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the essence of salvation. For my part, I remember clearly many of the times that I made a profession of faith. From the time I was 5 years old until the time I was 20 years old I made numerous “salvation decisions”. The first time was when a drama team from a Fundamentalist University came to our church. The drama scared me to death and I went forward at the invitation. The next time was when a musical group from a Fundamentalist College came to our church….same deal. Then there was the “hellfire and brimstone” evangelist. He said that if I wasn’t ”absolutely sure” that I was saved that I needed to come forward and take care of it. So I did. Nearly the entire decade of the 80’s had me at summer camp every year. During my teen years (mid-80’s and forward) the camp experience was at a well-known Christian camp in another state. We always scheduled our camp week to coincide with one of the weeks that the biggest name amongst Fundamentalist Evangelists was there. Every year it was the same story….I’d get ”saved” (and then go home and promptly destroy all my CCM tapes!). My confusion about salvation continued on into my young adult years. I spent three summers working at two different large Christian camps. During each of the first two years I again made professions of faith. I didn’t do that the third year but I found myself praying nearly every day that the Lord would show me that I actually was saved….I was so desperate during this time that the memory of those emotions is still very real to me.
I always came back to “the prayer” I prayed at my most recent salvation experience. I would rehearse it over and again in my memory desperately trying to recollect whether or not I had said the right words in the right order. I had a rather unfortunate view of God at the time. Despite my brokenness, I figured that if I hadn’t got the prayer right then God hadn’t really saved me. This stressed me out – it caused me to lose sleep – it made me view God as some sort of a “trickster”.
I’m now 36 years old. My oldest son is a lot like me in the way he thinks about things. He began struggling with this issue of salvation when he was barely 4 years old….that was 7 years ago. I’ve struggled during that time to be so careful with how we dealt with the subject whenever it would come up. Never pushy – never leading him to pray some “words” – just watching him struggle with it and helping him through as I was able. He came to me last night with more questions. It was fairly easy to see that his long struggle with this issue was coming to a head – his tears and the anxiety on his face bore all that out. I asked him to do what I always have. I told him to read John 3 slowly and carefully using either his ESV Bible or my NIV (so he could understand more clearly). He spent a great deal of time reading through the chapter and then came back to me still crying and trembling. I asked him to tell me about the chapter which he did in a beautiful way. We then began talking about what salvation is and is not. I had Trey do most of the talking – explaining it to me in his own words.
As I quoted and paraphrased some other passages of Scripture in John, Romans, and 1 John, I would ask him again to explain the passages to me. In the end he acknowledged that he needed Christ as his Savior. So, he prayed….inaudibly. When he was done, I didn’t ask him what he prayed simply because he has always struggled with the issue of “saying the right words”. Instead I spent some time with him showing how he could know from Scripture that God had saved him. I shared with him that salvation is not about some formulaic prayer, but rather about God’s love and mercy. As I was talking I noticed that he was crying more fervently than before and I asked him why. He said, “because I’m so happy”.
My prayer for him as we ended our conversation (as well as going forward) is that he grows in God and becomes the Christian man that God wants him to be; that God would continue to work in his life and that He would constantly remind him that he is an adopted child of the King; and that his faith in God would grow and would be unshaken by anything that might happen here on this earth.
I think that adults can do a lot of long-term damage to children if these matters aren’t handled carefully. It is so important that people base their salvation on the Person and work of Jesus Christ rather than some “1-2-3” formula. It is important that, rather than trying to “scare the hell” out of someone, we explain the love and relationship that Christ offers freely to all who will believe. My heart goes out to those who never seem able to get this matter of salvation nailed down. As we share the Gospel with others and, by God’s grace, have the opportunity to lead some to Him, we need to take great care in teaching them that their assurance – their confidence – is to be in Christ and Christ alone. Not some prayer; not some stake hammered into the ground behind their house; not anything of their own merit; but in Christ. His goodness, His love, His great mercy. Him, and Him alone.
With the heavenly choir I rejoiced last night as God brought one of His own to Him!