People frequently ask if I expected my children to become believers. I usually reply that the gospel is powerful and attractive. It uniquely meets the needs of fallen humanity. Therefore, I expected that God's Word would be the power of God to salvation for my children. But that expectation was based on the power of the gospel and its suitability to human need, not on a correct formula for producing children who believe.**
Monday, January 2, 2012
You and Your Household Will Be Saved
While we wait for our child to be born any day now (seriously, kid, would you get a move on?), I'm finding particular encouragement for parenting through the "household" accounts in Acts (10:44-48; 11:12-18; 16:15, 30-34; 18:8), 1 Corinthians (1:14-16; 16:15), and 2 Timothy (1:16).
"And [Cornelius] told us how he had seen an angel stand in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message through which you will be saved, you and all your household." (Acts 11:13-14)
"Then [the jailer] brought [Paul and Silas] out and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' And they said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'" (Acts 16:30-31)
It's amazing how many households, that is, families, all came to faith in Christ in one fell swoop. The New Testament records at least five examples of this happening: the households of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-48; 11:12-18), Lydia (Acts 16:15), the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:30-34), Crispus (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:14), Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15), and perhaps Gaius (1 Cor. 1:14). In fact, in every NT narrative where a Gentile convert's household was present, the entire family was baptized (presumably they all trusted Christ or assented to discipleship).* (Perhaps I'll write more later about the relevance of household baptisms for present-day practice.)
What's even more stunning is that twice someone is given the explicit assurance that through the gospel message their whole family would be saved (see Acts 11:14 and 16:31 above). There is no way around these passages: the men were personally told that through belief in the gospel their households too would be saved. Not could be saved if perhaps they believed. "You will be saved, you and your household." Of course these people weren't saved apart from faith in any automatic fashion by belonging to the family of a godly person. But I'm encouraged by what Cornelius and the jailer do: They hear the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ and the assurance that the gospel would be powerful and effective for their loved ones, and then they bring the bearer of that message (Peter, or Paul and Silas) into their homes to share the good news of Christ with their families there. And lo and behold, their families believed too.
Being part of a Presbyterian congregation, it could be easy to think that my children's faith is guaranteed simply by being "covenant children" who are "holy" and set apart by virtue of their believing family heads (Rom. 11:16-24; 1 Cor. 7:14). I know that simply by virtue of physical descent from me, my children have no free ticket into heaven; the Jews proved that amply well (see Matt. 3:7-12). They too must personally repent of their sin and their self-righteousness and trust in Christ alone for life. And unlike Cornelius or the jailer, I have no explicit word from God that my children will be saved. It would be a stretch (though not entirely unwarranted, perhaps) to take those texts and make an infallible doctrine of household salvation.
But on top of the fact that even today whole families still come to know Jesus as Savior, we have one more sure thing that gives us hope: the gospel of Jesus Christ. Tedd Tripp writes,
If we make the gospel--that is, Jesus himself--central to our family life, then we can have humble confidence in God's mercy that through the shepherding of parental and congregational discipline and instruction (Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 6:1-4; 1 Thess. 2:7-12) our children also will become godly disciples who love Jesus.
*I don't remember where I first discovered this. I think it was in an essay by Gregg Strawbridge.
**Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child's Heart (Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, 1995), xxi.