“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” (Luke 18:16-17, KJV)
What should faith look like? Last week, I took my daughters to the doctor’s office for my youngest girl’s 18-month check-up. Of course, the appointment was right in the middle of naptime, and the baby was none too pleased with the nurse trying to listen to her lungs and check her ears. She cried and cried, and reached out and clung to me for comfort. Afterwards, we stopped at the library to wait for my wife as we had decided to eat at a pizza place. There was one rocking chair that may as well have been Mt. Everest for that little baby; eventually she was able to climb up by herself. The first time she got up there on her own, she immediately looked up at me with a big, toothy smile and stuck her hand out for a high-five.
As I watched her, my mind went immediately to what the Lord Jesus Christ said in Luke 18:17, “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” I began thinking about how exactly we receive the kingdom of God, and of course the answer is by faith. We must have the faith of a little child. What does that look like? I think my baby, unwittingly, gave me a lesson in theology, and I desire to share some of those thoughts with you. A child-like faith has, at least, three components: it is, first, a total dependence upon God; second, it is a constant state of learning, and; third, it is a desire to please God.
Faith: Total Dependence
One of the most easily recognizable aspects of a child-like faith is total dependence upon God. Of course, we recognize that children are dependent upon their parents, especially at a young age. When they are first born, they cannot even open their eyes without somebody to shield them from the light. This dependence extends not only to the physical necessities of life (food, shelter, clothing, etc.), but to emotional and mental necessities. Children need their parents to comfort them, to show them how to control their emotions, and to help them understand difficult concepts in life.
Sometimes, as people still battling with the remaining corruption of sin, this dependence can be frustrating. It seems like every time I get into the zone reading some difficult book, one of my children asks me to cut up an orange for a snack. This is the product of indwelling sin: we far too often place our wants over the needs of others.
Entering the Kingdom of Heaven
Thankfully, our Father in heaven is perfect, and He not only is patient with our dependence, but He in fact requires it. The difference between the Christian life and the natural progression of a child’s life is that the child eventually becomes independent. The child becomes an adult, and no longer needs mom and dad to live in this world. But the Christian is one who recognizes that this dependence upon God is not, strictly speaking, voluntary. We might pretend that we have some independence, but the reality is that “in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The Christian is one who has been regenerated to see that he is reliant upon the Lord God for all things: both physical and spiritual. This is the dependence that is necessary for us to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
In other words, a person cannot be a child of God if he or she harbors any form of independence. The very act of thinking that we are able to do anything for ourselves is an act of idolatry. It is putting self in the place that only God truly occupies. This is why dependence is necessary to enter into the kingdom of God. The sinner must be brought into humble submission to God his Creator. Is this how we view ourselves? Do you view yourself as totally dependent upon God for all things, whether physical or spiritual? One metric by which we can test ourselves is this: how is your prayer life? Prayer is the active and worshipful dependence upon God. When we struggle to pray, it is an indication that we are harboring independence in our hearts.
Faith: A Constant State of Learning
Another aspect of this child-like faith is a constant state of learning. One of the amazing and terrifying realities of having children is that they are always learning from their parents. They learn how to do the fun things, like climbing trees and digging holes and throwing footballs. But they also learn the not-so-fun things. They learn social behaviors and norms, how to treat and talk to other people, and they learn how to communicate with both words and body language.
One pressure that is often put on Christian parents is that they have to be perfect models for their children, as though any Christian were capable of such a thing. Parents are to model the Christian life for their children. Yet, what is the most distinguishing mark between a believer and unbeliever? Two words: repentance and faith. One of the hardest things to do is to apologize to your children and ask them to forgive you. Do you confess your sin to your children when you sin against them? Do you ask them to forgive you? None of us can model perfection; but every Christian parent ought to be a model of repentance and faith.
This constant state of learning of the child ought to be the demeanor of the Christian as well: we ought to constantly be seeking the face of God. This truth is expressed by David in Psalm 27:8, “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD will I seek.” The Lord Jesus said this in His High Priestly Prayer: “And this is life eternal, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (Jn. 17:3). The word translated “they might know” is in the present tense, and indicates a continuous, progressing action. Furthermore, it is in a purpose clause, indicating that this is the end or definition of eternal life: continually progressing in the knowledge of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Beauty of Wonder
Do you have that child-like desire to know God and His Anointed One? Have you become accustomed to the routine of religion? Do you ever find yourself being surprised and excited when you discover something new or something old in a fresh light about God in Scripture?
The most beautiful thing about the child’s constant state of learning is their constant state of wonder. The other day my oldest daughter brought me a piece of concrete that she found while digging in the yard and she was simply mesmerized by it. I had no idea why, but it fascinated her and now she is collecting rocks. Do you have that sense of wonder and awe when you perceive the things of God revealed in His Word? How can we come to Him with any other feeling than wonder and awe if we are thinking rightly about Him and ourselves?
The moment we begin thinking that we have the basics of theology down, or that we are getting the hang of this Christianity thing, is the moment that we must beware of standing lest we fall (1 Cor. 10:12). Are we taking the grace of God as commonplace, like that piece of concrete? Have we grown cold to the beauty and majesty of our Creator who has condescended to make Himself known to us?
Faith: A Desire to Please
The final aspect of this child-like faith that I would like to consider now is a desire to please God, or a desire to have our commendation from Him. One of the great pleasures of being a parent is seeing your child experience that sense of accomplishment that comes from achieving something difficult. It is something that I have to teach my oldest daughter. She is a wonderful sister and always wants to help the baby do things; but I have to teach her that it is important for children to learn how to do things for themselves. When they accomplish those hard things that they have struggled with, they immediately look to mom and dad for praise. They desire the high-five, the “good job,” and the clapping. Positive reinforcement is important for children, and it is especially important coming from the parent.
The type of praise is different for the Christian, but the child of God has that same desire to be pleasing to his Heavenly Father. The reward of the faithful servant is found in Matthew 25:21 was the praise of his lord and being fitted for greater service: “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” Do you not desire to hear those words, Christian?
It is remarkable that the exaltation of the Christian is not to be made much of, but to be fully and finally equipped to be a perfect servant. Have you ever thought about what it means to be glorified? It does not mean that the lesser creatures will sing our praises. It means that God will lift us up (exalt us) from this corrupted state in which we now live and make us perfectly able to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. In other words, our glory is to be able to fulfill our created purpose in perfection and in the beauty of holiness.
Is this your desire? Is your chief desire to be a well-pleasing servant in the sight of God your Redeemer? When my baby figured out how to get into that rocking chair at the library, there were other people present in the library. Yet she did not care what any of them thought. She wanted to know if I had seen it. Are you worried about what others see?
I fear this is something that has grown to consume us in the age of social media and constant, instantaneous communication. We can be so eager to show others how religious we are, and I am as guilty of it as the next person. So often we are quick to post “holy quotes” on Facebook and Twitter. We buy t-shirts and coffee mugs and bumper stickers to display our preferred “brand” of Christianity. Are we so busy demonstrating how faithful we are that we have become like the Pharisees?
Let us be a people that seeks only to be pleasing in the sight of God our Savior! Let us desire only to be well-pleasing to Him. Do you ever pray for that? Are you praying that God would take away all your self-serving and all your desires to please yourself? Do you ever pray that God would give you a heart that desires nothing but what is pleasing to Him? Let us be a people that seek to glorify God at whatever cost to ourselves!