The Gospel Coalition published an article yesterday that I wrote for them trying to answer this challenging question. As you can imagine, it has created quite a buzz. Here is a portion of the article:
As parents, we all wrestle with how to answer this question, and I’ve found there are usually two extremes that need to be avoided. The first is made worse by a lack of discernment shown in many churches when they routinely extend altar calls to 4- or 5-year-olds, ask them to raise their hands if they love Jesus, and then baptize them as converted followers of Christ.
The second is often a reaction against the carelessness of the first. This extreme prevents both parents and also pastors from being willing to affirm a child’s conversion until they are adults, independent of their parent’s authority and care. While reluctance on both counts is somewhat warranted, I believe a middle ground must be approached in order to discern clear biblical evidence that a child, teenager, or young adult has become a new creature in Christ.
Admitting the obvious—that we are not God and cannot see the heart—I maintain certain evidence can help us discern the legitimacy of child or teenager’s profession of faith. In the spirit of Jonathan Edwards’s five signs of true conversion, here are five evidences I often use as a template when dealing with this difficult issue.
1. Growing affection and need for Jesus and the gospel.
2. Heightened understanding of the truths of Scripture.
3. Increased kindness and selflessness toward siblings.
4. Greater awareness of and distaste for sin.
5. Noticeable desire to obey parents.
In my experience as a parent and pastor, I’ve realized age isn’t the most important gauge in determining true conversion. Instead, it’s generally wise to look for these evidences in an age-appropriate manner. For example, a 16-year-old will articulate his understanding of the gospel differently—and more fully—than a 10-year-old. The same may be said of a child’s desire to obey their parents or display a selfless spirit toward their siblings. As children age, these things will begin to look different, and our expectations should follow suit…
Read the full article here and join the discussion.