Friday, January 27, 2017

How do I know when my kid is ready to be baptized?

How do I know when my kid is ready to be baptized?

This question has been asked of me rather frequently over the years. Most Christian parents raise their children to have Christian values. Christian parents may ponder within themselves whether their children are "ready" to become Christians. I propose that parents are better positioned to recognize when their children are "ready" than are the children themselves.

I have five children and four of them have become Christians by confessing Christ and being baptized by immersion for the forgiveness of sins (see my articles on The necessity of baptism and Acts 2:38). I am certain that this experience does not make me an expert by any stretch of the imagination; but I can at least speak from experience. I present in this article my thoughts on the question of how to recognize when your children are "ready." Here are some indicators.

Does he ever show that he feels guilty about something he has done? If you have more than one child and they are roughly close to the same age, they will interact and sometimes behave harshly towards each other. If you have only one child, you may have to look for other evidence. Watch for evidence that the young person has done something that inflicts damage (hopefully emotional rather than physical) on another person and then feels guilt about it without being rebuked for it. Everybody feels guilty when they are rightly rebuked and sometimes the rebuke feels sufficiently like punishment to make up for the damage done to another person. But what if there is no rebuke? Does the young person still show evidence of feeling guilty? I am talking about the kind of guilt than cannot be paid back. This is a good time to talk with him and ask him how he feels. What is he willing to do to make right what damage he has caused? If he is willing to try to soften the pain caused to the other person, it is a really good sign that his own conscience feels pain. He is able to feel the right kind of guilt that only Jesus can cleanse. He should be encouraged to apologize and to do something nice for the other person. If the offended party is a sibling, maybe he will volunteer to do the other's chores for a day or week, or he may help to tidy his/her room. You should suggest something. It will only be a token deed; but it will show genuine remorse. It shows his desire for a clear conscience for what he has done (Hebrews 13:18; 1 Peter 3:16, 21). It's better than a simple "I'm sorry. Now do your duty and forgive me" response. Recall that it was a sense of guilt that moved the people on the day of Pentecost to ask for baptism.
Acts 2:36-38
“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Has she acted in genuine repentance? What we are watching for is evidence of a real effort to change a bad habit or to take steps to avoid acting again in some harmful way. One act that is a really good sign of repentance is apologizing to someone for acting harmfully towards him without anybody else (like you) suggesting she apologize. If the apology includes a statement like "I do that a lot and I am going to try to stop" or "I wish I had not done that and I will try to not do it again" she has verbalized genuine repentance. Now, if she takes steps to avoid the behavior, you really do have witnessed repentance.

Repentance sounds like some pretty advanced thinking, and indeed it is. It is recognizing that the feelings of someone else matter as much or more than my own. I have seen it in my own children when they just try to treat one another more nicely. They say "please" and "thank you" more. They do little courtesies like letting them go first in line. Just little stuff. It gives you the heads-up that in their minds they are doing the right thing not just because that's what they were taught but also because it is the right thing to do.

When you see the above behaviors, it is a good time to point out to them what they have just done. They may feel bad but they have also taken some very good steps that they should be encouraged to keep on taking. "Do you know what that is called?" you may say. "That's called 'regret.' That's what Jesus came to help people with." You may, if appropriate, say something like, "As bad as you feel about what you have done, it looks to me like you want to quit doing it. That's called 'repentance.' Being willing to repent is a good thing. When you repent of your sins, it means you want to try to quit sinning. Let's read Romans 6 together."

Since she may have not thought about it, you should wrap up your short conversation with a statement like, "Since you feel responsible for the things you have done, you ought to consider giving your life to Jesus and being baptized for the forgiveness of sins." An appropriate verse that applies to clearing a conscience messed up by feelings of guilt and sin is 1 Peter 3:20.

Does he ever do something nice yet unconditionally? I mention this pseudo-litmus test because it is a good sign but not necessarily of real readiness. Children (and many adults) do nice things for others because they want to get something. If your child does something nice for someone else but does it in secret, that means the act was unconditional. That means he is selflessly thinking about what is good for someone else. It is a symptom of emotional development in a very good direction. Here's a personal example. When our children lost their baby teeth, we did the over-night gift thing. We didn't give them money; but we gave them little gifts. One evening when my son went to bed after having lost a baby tooth, us parents began to plan for a gift he would enjoy in the morning. His older sister approached with some of her money and said she wanted to help to get her younger brother something for his tooth. That offering was a sign that she was thinking of people outside herself that she can do nice things for. I was encouraged. Doing something for someone in a way that prevents repayment is Christian behavior.
Matthew 6:3-4
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Luke 14:12-14
He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
There is a saying (author unknown), "A good deed is its own reward." Maurice Maeterlinck said it this way: "An act of goodness is of itself an act of happiness. No reward coming after the event can compare with the sweet reward that went with it."

Watch your children for evidence of an unfulfilled need to deal with their own bad behavior. When you see it, it is a good indicator that they are ready to appreciate the sacrifice for sin given by Christ. Your child may be ready to make Jesus her Lord.

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