Four Truths for Parents of Unbelieving Children

Ministering at The Village is one of the most joyous things I’ve ever done. I love getting to walk with people through different seasons in their lives. It is a privilege to rejoice with them in the good times and weep with them in the bad times. Due to our location, the most common demographic of people I’m around are couples with children. I don’t have kids yet, so they don’t ask me about how to get their newborns to sleep through the night or whether they should home-school. But they do frequently ask one particular theological question, and it’s one that is worth exploring.

Topics: Family Discipleship | Motherhood | Fatherhood

Ministering at The Village is one of the most joyous things I’ve ever done. I love getting to walk with people through different seasons in their lives. It is a privilege to rejoice with them in the good times and weep with them in the bad times. Due to our location, the most common demographic of people I’m around are couples with children. I don’t have kids yet, so they don’t ask me about how to get their newborns to sleep through the night or whether they should home-school. But they do frequently ask one particular theological question, and it’s one that is worth exploring.

As parents watch their children get older, fear often creeps in regarding the child’s salvation. This fear may arise because their 7-year-old develops a flair for lying, their middle schooler suddenly starts acting out, or their high schooler experiments with alcohol. The parent begins to worry and wonder: Is my child saved? Will my child ever be saved?

Other questions soon follow: Didn’t I take them to church? Didn’t I teach them right from wrong? What happens if they are not elect? Did I fail as a parent? Why are my kids rebellious if I raised them in a good home? Doesn’t God love my kids?

If you can identify with these fears over a wayward child, I want to offer a few pastoral insights into why this may be happening and give four tips on how to think through this issue:

1. God wants you to know that salvation is from the Lord.

Salvation is not the result of good or bad parenting. God will save whom He wills. Sometimes He saves from great, godly families and sometimes He saves from broken, worldly families. Regardless of the family, we are all born completely depraved, and it is just as miraculous for God to save children from “good” families as it is for Him to save children from “bad” families. There is no need to beat yourself up with thoughts of, “If I had just done (blank), then my child would be a believer.” All parenting involves failure, and there are always things that could have been done better or situations that should have been dealt with differently. That said, you could do everything right and still end up with rebellious children. Repent when repentance is needed but don’t put the burden of being your child’s savior on your shoulders.

2. God wants you to know that you can’t guarantee your child’s salvation, but you can trust salvation to Him.

This is a tough truth, and I almost didn’t put it in this post because it is so hard to hear. Many people reject this truth by citing Proverbs 22:6, which says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The book of Proverbs belongs to a genre of literature that uses pithy statements to illuminate a general truth. But proverbs are not promises to be claimed as universally true in every case. It is generally true that families who teach their kids about Jesus raise kids who become believers. However, it is not universally true. The proverbs provide general wisdom, not universal promises.

3. God wants you to persevere in prayer for your child’s salvation.

Keep praying for your child! God might save your child in a week, a month, a year, in 10 years or on their deathbed. We just don’t know. But never lose hope. Likely, your child will outlive you, meaning they may even come to salvation after you have passed away. Your own salvation is a great mystery and evidence of the infinite mercy of God. Let that realization keep you steadfastly hoping for your child’s salvation. Plead with God for the salvation of your child’s soul as long as you have breath. Never stop interceding, and never believe all hope is lost.

4. God wants to break you of “kid idolatry” so you anchor your hope in Him.

There is no fear like fear for your children. For most people, spouses and children are the most important things in the world. Perhaps this is why Jesus specifically mentions how we must love Him more than our families if we are to be His disciples (Luke 14:26). God might not only be pursuing your children but you, as well. God will have no other gods before Him, and by allowing your children to be rebellious, He may be teaching you to let go of the one thing you love more than Him. He may be teaching you to anchor your hope and your joy in Christ alone. If your greatest hope is in your kids, your emotions will be a constant roller coaster. When the kids are doing well, you’ll be happy. When they are walking in sin, you will be miserable. God wants you to trust that He always does what is good so that you have a firm place to anchor your soul. This form of trust leaves you free to pray for and hope for your children from a place of faith instead of a place of fear.

Never feel that all is lost. Continue loving and interceding for your kids. But recognize that God might be pursuing you, as well as your children. Pray that He may save your child and pray that, as you relinquish control of your child’s salvation, you might grow to love and trust our great Savior more deeply.

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