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As you are bringing your children up in the covenant, your operating assumption ought to be that your God is their God, and that they are, adjusting for levels of maturity, faithful covenant members. Your attitude should not be that of assuming that “your sweet baby” must be converted despite a sullenness that ascends to the skies, and your attitude should not be one of chronic suspicion either. Rather, you should “trust but verify.” But how do we verify?
“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (1 Jn. 3:14).
Summary of the Text
The apostle John does not assume that we are trying to figure out who was baptized and who not. That is too easy. They remembered when those baptisms occurred—these were first generation Christians after all. The tests for assurance of salvation are given to us so that we could know who had passed from death to life among those who are professing Christians. This has been a problem from the very first—I don’t doubt that it began at Pentecost.
There are two things to mark here. Passing from death to life is one of them, and knowing that you have is the other. The first indicator here is that of love for your fellow Christians. Love is the mark of a real Christian.
When you talk about assurance of salvation, there is always the Christian with a tender conscience, ever eager for reasons to doubt that he is saved. But that is not what we are doing here. The contrast is being loving and hating, not between loving as much you should and not loving as much as you should have. We are not contrasting playing the piano superbly and playing it like a hack musician, but rather playing the piano and playing a trash can lid with a wooden stick. We are not contrasting big red apples and smaller red apples, but rather apples and road apples.
The works of the flesh are manifest (Gal. 5:19ff). Look at the sorts of things that the New Testament lists as being inconsistent with inheriting the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5). You will not find on these lists anything about how many times this week you missed your Bible reading.
A Checklist, Gingerly Held
Here is a checklist which should not be treated as a checklist, if you know what I mean. The center of all assurance means looking to Christ, not yourself. But how can you know you are looking to Him, and not just striking a pose for everybody?
- Loveforthebrothers:Aswesawinourtext(1Jn.3:14),realChristiansloveotherreal Christians. Before salvation, Christians were insufferable; afterwards, they somehow became a delight. For those growing up in the covenant, there should be a real attraction for real Christians.
- Obediencestartstohappen:“Andherebywedoknowthatweknowhim,ifwekeephis commandments” (1 Jn. 2:3). Note that our salvation is not based on obedience, but our assurance should be. For those growing up in the covenant, there should be an orientation to obedience, mediated through obedience to parents.
- What happens when we disobey: “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (Heb. 12:7-8). The previous point is not a perfectionistic one. We all fail and fall. But what happens when we do? For those growing up in the covenant, there is a pattern of putting things right because God spanks you.
- Understanding of spiritual things: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14; cf. 1 Cor. 1:18). There is a certain upside-down-ness to the way God does things. Christians get it. For those growing up in the covenant,
- Holding fast to the truth: “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God” (1 Jn. 4:15). The Christian faith has a clear center of dogma, and Christians hold to it. For those growing up in the covenant, there is a desire to understand so that you can hold to it faithfully.
- The presence of the Holy Spirit: “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit” (1 Jn. 4:13). When the Spirit is given, He causes us to cry out, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:6-7). For those growing up in the covenant, this is the gift that enables you to evaluate this list without a counterproductive form of navel gazing. This is all about relationship.
What is the Direction?
When a child is baptized, one of the things we do as a congregation is promise to assist the parents in the Christian nurture of their child. We do not promise to do this only so long as the parents are totally not defensive about it.
- Although “parent” is not an office in the church, the fact that we are coming together as families means that parents are usually the ones called to speak the words of the gospel to their children as we administer the Supper.
- Your children can be included as soon as they are tracking in the service—and you can tell this by when they start to notice that they are being excluded.
- As your children grow up, you will probably have (early on) some communion flip out stories —when your child has to be taken outside for some discipline in the middle of the observance. We don’t do this with grown-ups, but a lot of communion services would probably be greatly improved if some of the adults got spanks.
- If a child is “old enough to know better,” and the attitude is still rebellious or sullen, or if their demeanor in church is fine, but they are living wildly, then parents (or their friends) should call for pastoral help from the elders.
A godly church should never have discipline on a hair trigger. But if we are going to commune our children, it is because we believe the promises, and we want them to walk with God all the days of their lives.