Reformed Christians take comfort from Acts 2:39: “the promise is for you and for your children.” God’s promises are multi-generational. Paul’s assurance that children even of just one believing parent are “holy” (1 Cor. 7:14) reinforces our confidence, as does his statement: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).
We find the root of this comfort in God’s covenant with Abraham: “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant” (Gen. 17:7).
Yet simply being born of believers doesn’t guarantee salvation (Rom. 2:12–29). A child must also be raised faithfully in the covenant (Gen. 18:19; Deut. 6:6–9; Ps. 78:1–7), and he must believe (John 3:18). Only those “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” are children of God (John 1:10–13).
But if there is no blanket promise of salvation to the children of believers, is there no advantage to being born to Christian parents?
Yes! There is great advantage. Like the Jews, they are entrusted with the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2). That is a tremendous advantage, for “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23–25).
What other children hear the Word in the home, grow up in the church where they hear the preaching and teaching of the Word week in and week out, and where their friends and teachers encourage them to believe and obey? Where they learn the great hymns of the faith and soon have them in memory?
Yet the promise of salvation is to all who believe, and only to them. Far from unconditionally guaranteeing their salvation, the promises of Scripture to believers for their children establish Christian parents’ responsibility to evangelize our children.
God tells us to command our children to keep the way of the Lord (Gen. 18:19), which includes faith in Jesus Christ. We are to command our children to trust in Jesus for their salvation. We are to teach them the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” and its implication, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” (Eph. 6:1). “Child, God tells you to obey me. I tell you, repent of your sins and trust in Christ.”
In short, we must evangelize our children. We must tell them the gospel at every opportunity, before and after they ever profess faith.
That means teaching them that through law comes the knowledge of sin and therefore no flesh will be justified by works of the law but by faith apart from any such works (Rom. 3:19–28). It means repeating to them over and over again, before and after they are admitted to the Lord’s Table: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”
Not only must we evangelize our children, but we also can evangelize them, and our labor will not be in vain. The normal connection between a parent’s faithfully teaching law and gospel to his child and his child’s believing is implicit in one of the qualifications of an elder — he must have “children who believe” (Titus 1:6).
But how can we evangelize our children? Here are three concrete, practical things you can do to ensure that your children regularly encounter the gospel in a context that will encourage them to believe it.
First, and foremost in their younger years, involve them frequently, preferably daily, in family worship. Don’t be intimidated. Keep it simple: read a Bible portion, pray, and sing a hymn or chorus or children’s Bible song.
Second, inculcate the habit of personal devotions. Again, keep it simple. Simply reading a chapter of the Bible and praying are all they need to do. If they want to keep a journal, prayer list, or write notes, that’s fine, but if pushing for it intimidates them, don’t.
Third, have your children, every Lord’s Day, in the worship of God, under the preaching of the Word, in the fellowship of the saints, partaking regularly of the Lord’s Supper from their earliest ability to confess their faith to the elders. While personal and family devotions are important, the Bible emphasizes corporate worship.
But the fundamental thing is this: The more they see that we, though we know ourselves sinners, “[believe] to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and [act] differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth,” and principally that they see we “[accept, receive, and rest] upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life,” as the Westminster Confession of Faith describes the acts of saving faith (14.2), the more likely our children will follow in our footsteps (John 5:19).
You can evangelize your children through family worship, teaching them personal devotions, and faithful participation in corporate worship. And take heart. The promise — believe and you will be saved — is to you and to your children!