Dear Church Family,
This past Sunday, in our sermon series in the book of Genesis, we examined the passage of Scripture wherein Jacob formally adopts his grandchildren, Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:1-22). In this adoption ceremony, Jacob blesses his grandchildren. As we examined this text, we saw how this episode is an example of a foreshadow of the adoptions blessings that Christians receive when they are born again as sons and daughters of God – co-heirs with Christ. It is also an example of the ways in which God blesses through covenant families and the ways in which Christian parents are to pass on blessings to their children. So, this would be a good time to think about how we ought to think about and treat our covenant children.
Does God promise salvation to the children of believers? In other words, should I presume that my children are regenerate – that God will save them because of the promises that He has made to me as their parent? Or, on the flip side, should I presume that they are unregenerate and merely hope for the best? Is there no difference between the children of believers and the children of unbelievers? These are good questions that every thoughtful Christian parent asks, and which I am often asked by Christian parents.
First, a little clarification: God does not promise salvation to the children of believers. God promises salvation to those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ – those who have been justified by faith (Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16). This faith is ordinarily wrought (or worked in) a person through means: hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Ultimately, being ‘born again’ is according to the will of God, not the will of man (John 1:12-13). The Scriptures are very clear that people are born again because God has saved them according to His grace, not because of anything that they have done, or has been done to them (baptism, rearing in a covenant home, etc.). This is also evident from Jesus’ teaching on rebirth in his conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, with respect to the work of the Holy Spirit (esp. vv 7-8).
We must not fall into the dangerous presumption which many of old covenant Israel did. In a conversation with Jesus, the Jews were claiming their birthright as being descended from Abraham. However, Jesus’ teaching to them was that because they did not believe in Him, their father was the devil (John 8:34-37).
The Apostle Paul also addresses this danger of presuming upon the grace of God in his letter to the Romans. In chapter 9 (esp. vv 1-24), Paul’s point is that Old Israel should not presume upon the promises of God just because they are physically descended from Abraham. God will have mercy upon whom He has mercy. Jacob and Esau were both born to Isaac and Rebekah, but God says, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13; Malachi 1:2-3).
In Romans 11, Paul addresses the question, “If not every Israelite is saved, then has God rejected His people?” And the answer is, of course, “No. There is a remnant, according to God’s gracious choice” (Romans 11:5). They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel (Romans 9:6).
So, in the end, a person cannot count on his or her works, lineage, theological acumen, baptism, or upbringing. A person is saved (or born again) according to the gracious choice of God.
But does that mean then that the only option that we are left with in the Scriptures is to presume that the children of believers are little pagans? Not at all.
The children of believers are different and thus should be baptized and taught all that the Lord has commanded: made disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). The Great Commission begins at home. We baptize the children of believers because we want to be faithful to the Great Commission. Additionally, the children of believers – simply by being born to believers – are members of the visible church (non-communing members, but members nonetheless). We baptize the children of believers, placing on them the covenant sign and seal of membership, in recognition of this fact. The children of believers are ‘holy’ (sanctified, set apart) because they are born to one or more believing parents (1 Corinthians 7:14).
However, this should not be taken in the sense that the children of believers are presumed to be (or guaranteed to be) regenerate. Rather, the children of believers are sanctified in that they are set apart and separated from the world. As 1 Peter 3:21 makes clear, water baptism does not save, but having one’s conscience cleansed through the resurrection of Jesus Christ does.
God does view the children of believers differently, and so should we. God’s covenant promises are ordinarily distributed and applied in and through covenant families. However, as Israel had to learn, this is not a guarantee that each and every individual child in a covenant home will be a believer. Nor does it mean that if a covenant child does not believe that this is a result of the faithlessness of the parents. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:7, “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”
The bottom line is that we are called to be used of God as His fellow workers (1 Corinthians 3:9) in the church and in the home. We are called to be faithful, but only God can make our efforts successful.
May Christian parents and our church in general, be faithful in teaching our children the inestimable privileges and responsibilities of being a part of the covenant people of God. And, we pray that God will cause the growth – that all people, beginning with our children will embrace Christ as their Savior and King. In this way, the adoption blessings of the new covenant are passed on from generation to generation, and then to the world!
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch