What is Childlike Faith?

A number of years ago I had a Sunday School teacher who was talking about saving faith. He said that Christianity was an adult religion and the faith that was required was an adult faith. In other words, Christian faith is an informed faith. It is faith that is informed with an understanding of sin as offense against God, a lack of saving ability in ourselves, and a turning away from sin and to Christ. These truths, he said, really cannot be grasped by children. The implication is probably as obvious to you as it is to me. I trusted in Christ as a child, Stacey too. Were our professions not genuine? Did we just understand too little?To be honest, though it was definitely thought provoking it really did not stress me at the time. I am not currently a child and the fruit-bearing aspects of faith have had many years to bear witness to my profession. But the problem comes now that I am a dad. Let me tell you a bit about one of my kids. We adopted our daughter when she was just 6 months old. It was pretty rough going for a while. We did not feel much connection, she was pretty cold to us and even seemed to enjoy inflicting pain on others. For quite a while if you had asked if we had any prayer requests, this child would be our number one.

About a year ago things changed.We started to notice a shift in our daughter’s attitude. She began to be more tender towards us. To the point that now when I am sitting on the couch she will come up and snuggle next to me. At first I thought it was just an attachment thing, that she was bonding to us. But it was more than just affection. She also has become much more tender to her sin, often times asking if she can pray and ask God for forgiveness when she is caught in a sin. She also tends to look out for her brothers and sisters more and share with them. And, possibly the most shocking, though we have never encouraged it, she has started calling herself a Christian. She certainly is not perfect, but she seems like a different child, a new creation.

I do not think that we should base our theology on our experience. If I believed that the Bible taught that children could not be Christians, my experience with my daughter should not cause me to believe differently. However, I do think that at times our experience should force us to go back to the Scripture and seek to ensure that our understanding is biblical. As I have been considering our experience with our daughter, there are a few passages of Scripture that have been particularly eye-opening:

  • Matthew 11:25 “At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.'”

I have always found it interesting that Jesus prayed out-loud. In at least one situation he explained that the reason he prayed out-loud was so that others would believe that God sent him (John 11:42). In Matthew 11:25, Jesus prayed out-loud and thanked his Father because He hid the truths of the Gospel from the “wise and understanding” and instead he “revealed them to little children.” I do not think he was talking about literal children, but to the weak and simple of the world (like fishermen) as opposed to those that considered themselves wise (like the Pharisees). But he specifically in this passage he specifically contradicts what our Sunday School teacher taught us. Jesus thanks God for giving his wisdom to the weak, the childlike. This thought is only bolstered by:

  • Matthew 18:1-4 “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'”
  • Matthew 19:14 “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.'”

According to Christ in order to enter his kingdom we must first become like children, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such. Rather than Christianity being an adult religion, it seems it is a children’s religion. The faith that God requires is not a faith that can only be understood by a college graduate, but simple faith. Faith that is exhibited by children. What does that mean? I have to admit at this point I am not confident as to the fullness of what Christ meant by this. But as I have observed my children I think I understand it in part. My children are characterized by trust. I can tell my children anything and they will believe what I say. The doctor we take our kids to will make bird sounds while touching their noses and say “Why, you have a birdie in your nose.” I thought I would give it a try the other day and made a bird noise when I touched Kyra’s nose. She grinned and whispered “The doctor put him in there.” Kids just believe what you tell them. They do not do Internet research or ask around, they just believe. I think this is the kind of faith that God is calling us to, which was mirrored by Abraham as an example. In face of a number of commands and promises from God that seemed crazy and impossible, “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).

So, is our daughter a Christian? I don’t know. I kind of think so, it seems so, I want it to be so. But I think I will probably wait for more fruit before I call her to assurance of faith. I am confident, however, that the faith that Lord is calling us to is a childlike faith. One that hears what God says and just believes. I am glad to be a father and see what this should look like in my own life through my kids. And I pray that like children they will wholeheartedly believe what God says even when they become adults.


Author: David M. Hare

Dave is a husband, father of four Africans, and is currently helping the Kwakum people do Oral Bible Storying and Bible translation in Cameroon, Africa.

1 thought on “What is Childlike Faith?

  1. You note that the "wise and understanding" of Mt. 11:25 allude to Jewish leaders like the Pharisees. In 11:16 these "bullies" are compared to children who taunt the other children, including "children" like John the Baptist and Jesus (11:17-19). These harsh "children" complain that Jesus shows mercy on tax collectors and sinners.

    Indeed these "children" are actually the ruling fathers, the learned rabbis, who lay heavy burdens on the people ("children") and won't lift a finger to help (Mt. 23:4); they dominate the kingdom of Israel.

    So Jesus' contrast in 11:25f. is especially between Jesus' (the son's) Father, the Lord of heaven and earth, and these "wise and understanding" rabbis/fathers. Only the little "children," like his disciples, to whom he reveals the one true Father, will learn from him and take up his merciful, kind yoke. (In 10:42 Jesus refers to "one of these little ones" because he is a disciple, who is sent out like sheep among wolves, and in need of hospitality for room and board, as in 10:9ff.)

    When these disciples argue in Mt. 18 about who is greatest, they have in mind those who will be(come) the "wise and understanding," who will rule over the others (in the kingdom of Israel). But unless they give up this goal, they will not even enter Jesus' kingdom, since his new kingdom is for the humble, who like little children, submit to the one Father of this kingdom, the one in the heavens. (In 19:13-14, the disciples are rebuking the people who bring children to Jesus, like "bullies" who taunt, and Jesus again reminds them that they will not even be part of his kingdom unless they are like such children, humbly under the hand of the ruling merciful Son.) So Jesus is again contrasting the model of "greatness" of the ruling fathers (of the kingdoms of earth), with the humility of the "children" of the heavenly Father, who do not rule over others, but become part of a kingdom where there is only one Father and all the others are all "children," brothers and sisters (Mt. 23:8-12). Being humble means being a servant, showing mercy and kindness, like the Son (Jesus).

    Thus I don't think Jesus is talking about believing what others say, since children in general believe what all fathers say; and that is usually not what the Father is saying. I think your mention of waiting to see more fruit points to the more important issue: true children of the heavenly Father are those who hear and believe and do what that one Father–and the one royal Son–say.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *