Many feel that young children cannot handle difficult Biblical doctrines like the doctrines of hell, eternal damnation, predestination, and election. They choose to emphasize the "more pleasant" elements of the faith, such as storing up treasures in heaven, ministering angels, and letting one's light shine. They do not want to present a "negative" view of God because they are afraid that would discourage children from choosing to follow Jesus.
However, when children do not learn early that they possess an inherited trait that puts them at enmity with God, they blissfully "float" through childhood without being aware of the spiritual dangers they face. For Christ's work to have cogent meaning for them, it is imperative that they learn in their tenderhearted years what a tremendous price was paid by Jesus for sin and that apart from Him they have no hope of rescue. Our Savior had so much confidence that children were able to receive His teachings that He presented children as examples that adults should follow as they entered the Kingdom (Mark 10:15).
The shielding of children from these strong, sobering doctrines and the reluctance of adults in children's lives to "tell it like it is" points to a greater problem, namely a serious minimizing of the power and influence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. Because twenty-first-century Christendom is replete with antinomianism, easy-believism, and syncretism, many Christian parents don't expect to see the transformation of the Holy Spirit in the lives of their children. Could it be that they don't expect to see it in the lives of adults either?
The Root Cause
This is because the Biblical definitions of sin and grace have been so polluted and dumbed-down that they do not come close to Biblical doctrines. As Rushdoony points out in his Systematic Theology,
How we view sin's effect upon us will also mark or color our view of the effects of grace and the Holy Spirit. If sin acts on the borders or peripheries of our lives, then too so will grace and the Holy Spirit. All the while, our hearts are then reserved to ourselves.1
If the Spirit has come, there is life, and if there is no life, it is evidence that the Spirit has not come. There is no such thing as partial regeneration. A person is or is not born again. I believe that much of the confusion regarding this topic comes from a misinterpretation of Jesus' words "you must be born again" (John 3:7).
How one understands the usage of "must" is crucial. Does "must" mean "should," the way we say, "You must obey the speed limit"? Or does "must" mean "an essential requisite," the way we say, "Your heart must be beating for you to be alive"? If we understand "must" to be "should," we place the emphasis in salvation on man's work and initiation, rather than on God's work and initiation. When Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again, He was not prompting or prodding Nicodemus to do anything. Jesus was not attempting to move Nicodemus into action; He was establishing the Spirit's prerogative in giving new life to those He chooses.
When we explain the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (to our children or others), it is important that we not diminish or play down the totality of the resultant transformation. Rushdoony's explanation brings this to light:
Salvation is total: we are transferred from death to life, from sin to righteousness, by the justification of God through Jesus Christ. Christ our sacrifice takes upon Himself our death penalty, and God declares that our sins are remitted, and our legal standing before Him is as righteous men. We are saved. This does not mean our problems are over. A man snatched from a burning house and certain death has only his life; all else is gone. He must now work to establish the capital or substance of his saved life. So too the redeemed man must now put on holiness, work in obedience to God's word, to grow in terms of the new life which is his and become a rich man in grace, faith, and obedience to his Savior.2
A redeemed person is a changed individual. This fact should not be minimized. The change is not manifested in one's profession of faith, but in one's evidence of faith. When Jesus said that we will know our brothers and sisters in the faith by their fruit (Matt. 7:16), He was not being esoteric. He meant that we would know them by how they kept His law as manifested by the fruit of the Spirit-love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. These attributes are not pietistic pretentions, but rather a full-blown commitment to every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Good fruit is exemplified in keeping the law of God; antinomianism (lawlessness) is the evidence of bad fruit. As Rushdoony points out,
[T]he summons to manifest the fruits of the Spirit is not a call to a vague and antinomian spirituality, nor to mysticism, but a summing up of the whole of God's requirements of us in His law-word. The Spirit nowhere renounces His word.3
By Way of Illustration
Years ago, I met Michael, an eight-year-old boy who was at Stanford Children's Hospital receiving chemotherapy treatments for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. His situation was compounded by the fact that he had received a heart transplant seven years earlier. By the time I met him, because of chemo, he was bald, with no eyebrows or eyelashes, and donned a mask anytime he was out in public. Michael took up to sixty meds a day to balance the competing issues of potential rejection of his donated heart while doctors attempted to build up his immune system to battle the cancer. Sometimes he had some extreme reactions to his difficult circumstances, compounded by drug interactions, such as chasing his mother with a knife or ramming his foot into the glove compartment of the car and smashing it. Because of his delicate medical situation, normal forms of discipline were not at his parents' disposal.
I had a heart-to-heart talk with Michael. I asked if he spent any time praying that God would heal him. He was surprised at my question; he thought it evident that he wanted to be cured. I pointed out from Scripture that he was foolish to ask God for healing at the same time he was actively violating God's commandments. I read from Exodus, "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you" (20:12 NKJV). I told him that God considered the prayers of the disobedient an abomination (Prov. 15:8). Michael's eyes grew wide. He acknowledged his lack of self-control and sin of throwing temper tantrums when he did not get his way. I could see he was convicted of his sin. He got the message that he was demonstrating bad fruit. We did not discuss whether he was a Christian or not; the question I asked was, "Are you acting in accordance with your profession of faith?"
Many would question my approach of speaking to a sick child about God's condemnation. However, not only did Michael receive the correction well, he became a vocal ambassador for Jesus Christ whenever he had a hospital stay, a doctor visit, or when he was about to be put under anesthesia. Michael gained a reputation for interacting and consoling other patients in the hospital, and when he died eight years later, hundreds of people attended the memorial service of this young saint. Michael received the Kingdom just as Jesus said he could, and the working of the Holy Spirit in his life was unmistakable.
We should not demand verbal proofs of our children's commitment to the Lord. We need to teach them the fundamentals of the faith and communicate that their words and actions will reveal their heart's condition. When dealing with defiance and rebellion in children, it is not only important to correct the bad behavior, but we must use the incident as an opportunity to instruct how the breach was a violation of the law of God. I realize that, for some families, entire days might be spent in this correction mode, but done consistently, the training of the child will "kick in," and the infractions will diminish. By teaching the law of God and grounding the children in its application, parents are raising them up in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6). This constant tutoring to Christ is one of the main functions of the law (Gal. 3:24).
The Law and the Spirit
In today's world, it is unfashionable to question someone's faith based on his works, yet the Scripture tells us that faith without works is dead (James 2:20). In addition, the charge of legalism is often levied against those who assert that God's law-word is binding on all men at all times.
St. Paul is emphatically making clear the connection between the Holy Spirit, the law of God, and the spiritual man. Thus, where the Holy Spirit is at work, the law of God is the delight of the spiritual man, and, where men resist or despise the Spirit, they resist and despise the law given by that Spirit.4
Our world is full of people who have never been taught Biblical faith and who have been offered an outwardly appealing counterfeit. We must be sure that we do not cheapen the meaning of grace by coaxing or cajoling people to "accept" something they have no power or ability to conjure up on their own. Rather, our task is to present truth unequivocally and help our listeners understand that although all men are born under condemnation, responding to the message of the gospel is proof of the call of the Holy Spirit.5
Too often, we pass over the powerful words of Scripture and minimize their meanings. Second Corinthians 5:17 makes a bold statement,
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
The tenderhearted child is not only ready to receive the Word, but has a receptivity that should not be bypassed. As parents teach their children about the miracle of being born again, children will develop a longing and desire to have what their parents have described. Of course, if these truths are not presented with conviction, children may consider these truths to be merely fairy tales. Consider the expectation of hearing the promise of Acts 1:8,
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (NKJV)
That power is the power to put on the full armor of God, the power to stand against the wiles of the devil, the power to recognize that when temptations abound, God promises a way out (1 Cor. 10:13). This is the good news of the gospel.
However, the good news does not stop there. We need to embrace our identity as more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37), and we should expect to witness the life-changing effects of salvation. Counterfeit portrayals of conversion (faith and repentance) only serve to slander the Holy Spirit. We then somehow have to reconcile lawless behavior as being consistent with the indwelling of the Third Person of the Trinity. Once this compromise is made in our thinking, believers begin to expect less, and our resultant Kingdom work is crippled.
Don't Settle for Less
Too much emphasis is placed on our experience or human perspective when it comes to our conversion, and we regularly see manifestations of this sorry substitute. Spending inordinate amounts of time rehearsing the circumstances of one's conversion or life prior to faith is very much majoring on the minors.
A man may or may not know the day of his conversion; he cannot know when God regenerated him; but he cannot escape knowing that he is regenerated and converted. It is the same as knowing that we are alive, only now alive in Christ.6
As believers grow in grace (sanctification), their nature is renewed and remade after the image of God. This is a process but not a hidden one. Where holiness-the process of being sanctified-develops, there also develops a desire to be led by God's Spirit according to His Word. Believers are no longer generating sin at their core,7 but are moving in holiness (obedience of faith to the law). Children need to understand that the mark of their allegiance is not only in what they do not do, but also in what they deliberately do.
As converts embrace and exude the righteousness (justice) of God throughout every facet of their being, startling changes take place in their lives and in their efforts. They possess the power of the Holy Spirit within them, no small matter. The miracle of the Third Person of the Trinity making His abode within His people should not be reduced to pietistic and charismatic manifestations. So much of the meaning of Pentecost and our own baptism of the Holy Spirit is lost when we fail to grasp the fuller implications. Rushdoony explains,
Pentecost was thus a coronation, not of believers collectively as a church, but as individuals who are members of Christ. We are told of the glory, "and it sat upon each of them." In the world of Christ's day, where the meaning of the royal flame was well known, the meaning of Pentecost was clear: the glory of God was given, not to the kings and emperors of the world, but to covenant man, redeemed man.8
The meaning thus of the flames of Pentecost is that we put on Jesus Christ as our glorification. The emphasis is not on our experience, but on our relationship and obedience to Jesus Christ, God's manifest glory.9
This is the substance of our faith, that we abide in Christ and He abides in us. We are His friends if we do whatsoever He commands us, and we bear His glory when we keep His commandments or law.10 In this way, we manifest our positional standing according to our royal lineage. This is not too difficult for children who have been taught the implications of faith in Christ. But because we expect so much less, we are not concerned when we see little fruit.
As we appreciate the glorious benefits we have been given, we need to avoid viewing salvation from a man-centered perspective. Rather, we are to see it in terms of God's purpose for the establishment and furtherance of His Kingdom. We are released from our slavery to sin and death and empowered for service to the Lord.11 Much more than dwelling on our inner feelings, repeatedly rehearsing our life circumstances prior to conversion, or dwelling on and cataloguing the blessings we have received, our salvation calls us to service. The Gospel account of Jesus' words to Peter, as recounted in John 21:15-17, shows that Christ was more concerned with His call on Peter's life than discussing the inner feelings and regrets of Peter's denial.
An emotional confession, and comforting words from Christ, would have left Peter and all the betraying band of apostles feeling better. Our Lord prevented this. He gave them a task, because the redeemed and forgiven people of God are not called to concentrate on their feelings and conditions but to serve the Lord with gladness. Peter's calling was the mark of grace and forgiveness. The forgiven do not dwell on the past, nor on their sins: Christ has dealt with their sins, and they stand forgiven and redeemed. Their sins are the dead past, but their calling is the present and future.12
Expecting the Holy Spirit to empower us as we live according to God's Word is the prerequisite for unabashed dominion and Kingdom work. Jesus told us that Spirit-driven faith would allow us to move mountains. God knows that there are some big ones to move in our day! How our children transform the culture we leave them will be determined by their dominion-oriented response to the Holy Spirit. We need not hold back; they can handle it!
Andrea Schwartz is the Chalcedon Foundation's active proponent of Christian education. She has authored two books on homeschooling along with writing a regular blog www.StartYourHomeschool.com. She is spearheading the Chalcedon Teacher Training Institute and continues to mentor, lecture, and teach. She lives in San Jose with her husband and continues to homeschool her youngest daughter. She can be reached by email at [email protected]
Watch for Andrea's read-aloud book for families, Teach Me While My Heart Is Tender, available soon from Chalcedon.
1. R. J. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1994), 304.
2. Ibid., 507
3. Ibid., 371.
4. Ibid., 359.
5. This is the balance that affirms the prerogative of God in election and at the same time does not diminish the culpability of men in their rebellion.
6. Rushdoony, 534.
7. The unbeliever is guilty of anomia, a dedicated rebellion against God's law. The believer, while not fully sanctified this side of heaven, still sins (hamartia), but his sin is more indicative of missing the mark rather than aiming to miss.
8. Rushdoony, 552.
9. Ibid., 555.
11. Ibid., 561.