Child-like faith and growth in grace
“Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.” (Matthew 19:13-15, ESV)
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Jesus Christ, in Luke 18:17, ESV)
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (Second Peter 3:18, ESV)
Jesus tells us that unless we become like children, we shall not enter into the kingdom of God. Jesus welcomed the little children, and He scolded His disciples for thinking that somehow such children were less important to Jesus and His kingdom than grown ups. “Let the little children come to me!,” He insisted. But elsewhere in Scripture we are often urged as believers to grow up in our faith, to put aside childish ways and to progress beyond spiritual immaturity into a stable, mature faith. On the one hand, we are told that we must become like children if we would enter the kingdom of God. On the other hand, we are told in Scripture that our risen and ascended Christ has supplied His church with faithful shepherds (pastors) and teachers in order that we in the church might attain to “…mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:13-14, ESV) Is this an example of a “contradiction” in the Bible? Do we have to decide between becoming like children (to enter the kingdom of God) or growing out of spiritual childhood into mature spiritual adulthood?
While this might seem like an alleged “contradiction” to the superficial Bible reader or to the cynical, anti-Christian Bible skeptic in search of ammunition for his arsenal of so-called “Bible contradictions,” a careful (shall I say, “mature”) reading of Scripture shows no genuine contradiction whatsoever. The Bible is God’s Word, and because it is God’s Word there are no real contradictions within its pages when it is faithfully interpreted (though there may seem on the surface to be apparent or alleged contradictions or paradoxes). God is a self-consistent Being, a God of unchanging Truth who would never lie or contradict Himself; thus His Word-revelation would never contain any genuine contradiction or falsity or deception or error. In this particular case, while Jesus does indeed tell us the sobering truth that we must become “like” children (i.e., being “child-like“) when it comes to receiving the kingdom of God (i.e., the gift of salvation), He most certainly does not by His words endorse or approve of Christians being spiritually childish in their faith; nor can His saying about “Let the little children come to Me” be legitimately used to give comfort to professing Christians content to be spiritual couch potatos or content with a childish, immature, kindergarten understanding of the Faith.
What is it about children that Jesus commends? Why is it that Jesus can say of little children that “to such belongs the kingdom of heaven”? Well, for one thing, little children (especially infants) are totally helpless and entirely dependent upon others for even their most basic needs. What a picture of us in our fallen, sinful condition! Apart from a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, we are totally and completely helpless and utterly dependent upon God’s mercy and God’s mercy alone! The infant depends completely upon its parents for protection, nourishment, love and nurture. The only thing it can do is cry out for help when it is hungry, or cold, or in pain, or frightened, or what have you. Likewise, the only thing we can “do” as sinners standing before the infinitely holy God is to cry out to Christ for mercy. But in our stubborn and fallen pride, our natural tendency is to imagine that we can at least do something or contribute in some way to our salvation. In our sinful pride, we reason, “Surely salvation can’t be purely and entirely of God’s grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, apart from any works on my part whatsoever! Surely, I’ve got to do something to ‘help’ God in the salvation process.” Such stubborn, self-righteous pride is the complete opposite of the child-like humility and trust necessary for receiving God’s free grace which is freely offered to all in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit must regenerate us, enlighten our minds, and humble our stubborn wills through the gospel to see that we are helpless, hopeless sinners incapable of even lifting a finger to save ourselves, and in doing so He makes us like little children who cry out for mommy or daddy when they need help.
The Lord Jesus Christ wants us to be child-like in our faith — recognizing our total dependence upon His obedience and sacrifice for salvation and trusting in Him implicitly, as a young child would trust a loving parent or caring adult. One of the paradoxes of God’s kingdom is that it is only as we continue along the path of child-like faith in Christ that we will find ourselves actually growing up (over time) into a mature, stable, rock-solid faith. But while Christ wants us to be child-like in our faith, He does not want us to be childish or immature in our faith. By the grace of God, let us trust Christ and His gospel promises with that kind of child-like, dependent, humble faith such as little children show towards loving parents and caring adults. But at the same time, let us also strive (again, by the grace of God) to press on in the faith, as we endeavor to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.