As a Christian, I want my children to come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. I've prayed for this before they were born. On the other hand, I don't want to force a fake profession of faith. So when is it too early for a child to be saved? Is it too early for a preschooler to receive salvation?
What Is Salvation?
Terms are important, so let's make sure we're all thinking about the same thing.
When I use the term "salvation," I'm talking about God's work of rescuing us from our own sin and his just wrath. The Bible teaches that everyone sins because everyone is a sinner.
We sin when we break of any of God's laws or when we omit to do every act of righteousness available to us. God is completely righteous, so he must judge sin as a righteous judge. (Just like you'd expect an earthly judge to judge sin.)
The punishment for sinning against someone as weighty and magnificent as God is eternal separation in a place that the Bible calls the "Lake of Fire." The Bible teaches that this is what we all deserve.
You've probably heard of John 3:16. It says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son [Jesus], so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but should have eternal life."
God's plan for salvation is a plan of substitution. He sent his Son, Jesus, to come and live a perfect life. Jesus did this willingly for us. He then took the sin of man upon himself and died under God's wrath. So Jesus is a substiution—both in his righteousness and in punishment.
He takes people's punishment and he gives his righteousness. This is God's plan because he loved us. He couldn't just pass over our sin (because that would be unjust), so he took on our sin. Jesus then rose again to show that he was God and that his sacrifice was accepted.
Like John says, if you believe in Jesus (you believe he did all that for you), you can have eternal life. That means you can be restored to God's original purpose for you—being in a relationship with him!
This is what salvation is. We don't do anything to deserve it. You just believe that what Jesus did was enough for you in God's sight and you receive salvation!
Dangers of an Early Profession
If your preschooler doesn't understand what he or she is doing, the profession can give false assurance. Simply praying a prayer does not save anyone.
How many of us have had a friend who lives in perpetual, unrepentant sin but still claims to be a believer because she prayed a prayer at four years old.
How Early is Too Early?
Here's the crux of the matter. You want your child to see the seriousness of their sin and understand what they are doing. So how do you discern this?
Here's something we have found effective. When our child first comes to us asking to talk about salvation, we put them off just a bit. For instance, when my son came to me before dinner asking to talk about salvation, I just said, "Why don't we talk about it after dinner?"
If he walked away and then forgot about it, I came to realize he never really understood just how serious it was. When, however, he said, "Can we please talk about it now?" Or if he remembered immediately after dinner and asked me again, I realized he understood just how serious his sin was and the importance of salvation.