Your Child-Like Faith Needs to Grow Up

Justin Johnson

God’s will is to see all men increase in the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4, Phil 1:9). 2 Timothy 2:15 instructs us to study the word of truth to be unashamed workmen.

Yet, too many times people give the excuse not to study because supposedly God wants us to have “faith like a child”.

The problem is that the Bible never says we should have faith like a child. Other churchy phrases about being children include having “child-like faith”, “heart of a child”, or “to think like a child”, none of which are found in the Bible anywhere.

Children as a Pattern

This folk theology fits right into our modern child worshiping culture where grown ups try to embrace their inner child and relive their childhood dreams.

Like-a-child spirituality perpetuates the fictional idea that children are somehow nobler, closer to God, obedient, and that their carefree adventure seeking behavior is more admirable.

If children were more spiritual then perhaps spiritual growth would mean digressing to a child like lifestyle, but the Bible has a different view of young simple minded children. At no time does God instruct us to remain children in the Bible.

Contrary to the imaginative descriptions of “child-like faith” real children are not wise, they cannot understand as adults, and they are not responsible. Real children can also be whiny, greedy, lazy, and rebellious until they mature. Ask a parent. Children’s oft wretched behavior is not an example of spiritual maturity in any way.

So then, why did Jesus present children as a teaching object for his followers going into the kingdom?

Jesus to Israel: Become as Children

“Faith like a child” and other such bogus ideas come from passages where Jesus told his disciples to receive the kingdom as little children or they would not enter in (Luke 18:17). That seems pretty serious.

Jesus used children as the teaching object when the disciples were arguing over who would be the greatest in the kingdom:

“At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” – Matthew 18:1

It was at this time that Jesus called a child over (Mat 18:2) and said:

“Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3-4

The one lesson that they could learn from this child was humility. Children have the lowest position in all of God’s created order! They have authority over no one in their low position.

Consider the hierarchy: first there is God, then there are angels, then there is mankind (Heb 2:6-7). Man is the lowest, but who is the lowest of mankind? The children, of course, they must obey their parents!

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” – Ephesians 6:1

Jesus brought the person in the lowest position and said, “Humiliate yourselves.” The lesson of humbling was taught all throughout Jesus ministry:

“But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.” – Luke 22:26

“The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.” – Mat 10:24

“But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:
And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.” – Mark 10:43-44

Humility for Salvation

Humility was not merely a suggestion for spiritual growth. If those under the covenant did not display humility and obedience towards God they would be least in the kingdom.

“And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” – Mat 23:12

The covenant guaranteed life and riches through humility (Prov 22:4). God would give them grace if they would humble themselves (James 4:6).

It was while he showed the humble, low, and last position of the child that Jesus told his disciples:

“If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.” – Mark 9:35

James, copying Jesus earthly ministry, instructs the believing remnant of Israel going into the kingdom to humble themselves (like a lowly child):

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” – James 4:10

Salvation by Grace not of Humility

“Child like faith” is not only unbiblical and the product of imaginative religionists, it is patterned after the covenant keeping message of Jesus to Israel in the old testament books of Matthew-John.

It was not until later that Christ revealed to Paul salvation by grace to all without a covenant and without required works (humility is a good work) (Eph 2:8-9).

We now know that salvation by grace is not a divine game of limbo seeing how low one can go and still walk the walk. God has knocked us all down and said we cannot earn righteousness at all (Rom 3:10). He has taken away the limbo bar and declared the game over (Rom 4:5).

We either trust the finished work of Christ, or we continue trying to earn our own salvation with humble attitude and religious good works. The latter is hell bound. Trusting Christ’s finished work gives life.

Christ through Paul: “Grow Up, Be Men”

It is not spiritual to have child like faith when God wants us to be mature in our understanding:

“I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.” – 1 Cor 3:1

“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine,…” – Eph 4:13

Folk theology teaches that faith should be simple minded, ignorant, and careless like a child. The Bible teaches that you should grow in knowledge of the Bible and understand like men.

“Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.” – 1 Corinthians 14:20

Listen to our verse by verse study of James part 17 for more about the “humble as a child” teaching for the remnant of Israel.

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Published: April 28, 2012
Last Modified: June 13, 2017
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