My daughter Simone professed faith in Jesus today. She's only three. Is that possible?
(For an adorable video, click here).
Simone didn't "come forward" after church, or raise her hand at a gospel invitation (Every head down and every eye closed!) What happened is that she walked into my bedroom unprompted on an unremarkable Monday--completely unexpectedly--and announced to me that she "was ready to be a Christian now" (her words).
But I think there is more to the story.
For weeks at our dinner time devotions, we have been talking about what it means to be a Christian. We've been studying the stories in the Gospel of Matthew along with our church reading track. Simone knew full well both her mommy and daddy are Christians. She knew her brother and sister are too.
She also knows that sin (we don't call it 'mistakes' in our family) is rebellion against the Law of God. She had been told that becoming a Christian required repentance and faith (two sides of the same coin: repentance is turning away from sin and faith is turning to Christ).
To be honest, I had been avoiding repeat-after-me-style "Sinner's Prayers" with Simone because I wanted to avoid the error of her growing up believing she had to get saved every other weekend. Instead, I have been praying for a legitimate movement of the Holy Spirit to work in her preschool-sized heart. So, we focused our family Bible times on simple concepts: the Law (including the fifth commandment!), the Cross (Jesus took away our sins there), and faith (trusting in Jesus as our King).
Finally today, it all clicked. I think. I hope. I'm pretty sure.
Of course she could have made her announcement just to please her parents, as some will probably point out. That motivation in and of itself wouldn't be entirely wrong, though. Pleasing our parents (honoring them in the language of the second table of the Law) is of course central to the life of a three-year old.
The fact that she is only three does gives me some pause. Could she really understand substitutionary atonement? Total depravity? Grace? Probably not in the way that a systematic theologian should. For that matter, as an ordained pastor, I'm still learning too. The Lord Himself will alone determine the authenticity of any of our professions of faith, whether we are 3 or 93.
But all of this makes me both grateful and burdened for the opportunity of raising "covenant children."
Children of the Covenant--that's what we in the Reformed tradition call them--those kids who are raised in Bible-reading, Sabbath keeping, Christ-honoring, Church-serving homes. Do these small persons need to legitimately repent of their sins and express true faith? Yes. Must they be born again to see the Kingdom of God? Certainly. Is it possible that this could even happen at a young age. I don't see any reason why not.
When a child is raised in the covenant from birth, baptized with the sign of water and regarded as a legitimate member of the covenant community--with all the duties and privileges incumbent upon them from an early age--no wonder it sinks in at some point and they "get it." That's the way it is supposed to be. All glory to the Triune God.
Yes, it is astounding when a drug addict turns to Christ, or a gang member repents and turns to faith in Jesus, or a death-row inmate gives a stunning and shocking testimony of God's saving grace.
But one of the best testimonies of all is this one, "I was raised in the faith."
Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida.