The Israelites were told to teach their children what God has done for them, and how they should respond in loving trust and grateful obedience. Every Israelite knew that God loved him because God loved Israel and he was a part of Israel. In the case of male children, they were made members of Israel by circumcision. Nevertheless, they knew they would not inherit the promises if they did not persevere in faith. We see this same pattern in the teaching of Jesus, when he told the disciples:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (John 15:1–9)
Jesus gives his disciples a similar motivation to that which he gaves to Old Testament Israel through Moses: Jesus loves us. Jesus saved us. We must be loyal to him. Jesus gave himself for his bride, the church (Eph. 5:25). Just like the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, Christ’s victory over Satan and death through his crucifixion and resurrection is an objective historical fact. It is the object of faith for all Christians and the surety of the promises Christ has made for the future.
We are told to teach our children what God has done for them and how they should respond in loving trust and grateful obedience. Every Christian should know that God loves him because God loves his bride, the church, and the Christian is a part of the church.
We have all been made members of the church through baptism. Nevertheless, we know we will not inherit the promises if we do not persevere in faith. A Christian philosophy of raising children should be based on our objective standing in Christ’s kingdom, conferred on us and our children through baptism.
According to Deuteronomy 6:20–25, when our children ask us about why we do certain things or don’t do certain things, we should tell them about what Jesus has done for us: how he died for us and rose again and sent his Spirit to give his church union and communion with himself. How he providentially arranged for us to be made members of his church through baptism, and how he weekly renews his covenant with us—meets with us, forgives our sins, and feeds us with himself. How we must respond to his great love and wonderful promises by believing them with a trusting heart, and by responding in grateful obedience all our lives.
The only way we can expect any child to have a firm faith is by giving him a firm foundation on which that faith may rest. If we make our children think that God’s favor in Christ is something that they need to attain, then we will greatly confuse them. Instead, we must teach them that they have been engrafted into Christ (Rom. 11:17) by his great mercy to them. We must raise them to respond to God’s love and mercy in Christ through a life of faith and obedience, so that they remain in him and he in them (John 15:4).
Let us not cause our children to stumble by keeping them outside the church. Let us rather welcome them into the church by baptism and build them up in the faith that they may inherit eternal life.
This post was adapted from Why Baptize Babies: An Explanation of the Theology and Practice of the Reformed Churches by Mark Horne (Athanasius Press, 2007). The book is part of the Answers in an Hour series.