Let’s look at a familiar passage, shall we?
Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:15–17)
We tend to use this verse to illustrate the nature of our faith. We think of how gullible kids are — how they’ll believe almost anything you tell them (think about how easy it is to convince them that Santa delivers them presents or a fairy collects their lost teeth). We may read this passage and think, I want to believe in Christ like a child believes: Without reservations, doubts, or qualifications. And this wouldn’t be a bad thing to think about after reading this passage.
But allow me to offer another takeaway. One that focuses less on the faith of the children and more on the grace of the Father.
Childlike faith has as much to do with God’s love as our belief.
I love how Luke points out that the gathering children were young (“even infants”). This highlights the children Jesus had in mind were utterly incapable of doing anything to earn their place in His Kingdom.
My children don’t do much to contribute around our house. The closest they get is occasionally picking up a portion of their toys at the end of the day, but that’s not saying much. My kids not only do virtually nothing to contribute: they also tend to be the primary culprits of household messes.
They drop foodstuffs all over the floor. They dump all their toys out and then walk away. My son recently hurled a toy broom at our television and broke the screen, leaving us to have to go and buy a new one. Breaking things, disposing of an array of bodily fluids in any particular spot (with or without our knowledge), spilling drinks, throwing the food we prepare all over the floor in defiance — my children are totally incapable of earning their keep around here.
But do they have to? That thought never occurs to me — or them!
None of the negative things my children do to my house negates my love for them. No matter how many of their messes we have to clean up, nothing can change the fact that my wife, Morgan, and I are crazy about them. They might spill juice on a newly mopped floor, but she and I will still dote over pictures of them as we’re laying in bed.
They don’t have to do anything to earn their place in our house because they are our children. They will always have a place here. Their place in our home is predicated purely on the fact that they are ours.
The only claim my children have to my gifts is the fact that they are my children. And lavishing them with love (however imperfectly) is the most natural thing I can do as their father.
This takes us back to Jesus’ invitation: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
More than understanding this as an illustration of the nature of our faith, we should also see in this a testament to God’s love.
Jesus invites people to come into His kingdom who can do nothing to earn their place there. He extends a warm welcome to the screw-ups. He opens the door to people who are going to track mud on the carpet, make messes at the table, and knock over the expensive vase in the corner.
Jesus doesn’t use the example of children because they are morally innocent. Quite the contrary: Jesus uses the example of children because they are the only sinners to whom it never occurs that they have to earn a spot in His arms. The kingdom is theirs, not because they are exceptionally pure, but because they receive God’s exceptional grace with no inhibitions.
Meanwhile, even the most spiritual adult still battles a little voice in their mind telling them that God’s love for them is contingent upon their works. There is still a lingering feeling that, when we sin, God’s feelings somehow change about us. We feel that God must get frustrated with us after a while. We fear that He will eventually grow tired of putting up with all of our nonsense, throw up His hands, and walk out the door. After all, can’t we feel like that about our own children sometimes?
But that’s not childlike faith.
Childlike faith is faith that never considers our own works but wholly trusts that there is a place for us in God’s family. The children from the passage above didn’t consider whether or not they had the right to go and sit on Jesus’ lap. They simply saw a loving man extending His hands to them, and they ran into His arms.
So take heart, my fellow sinners. Be at peace, my fellow failures. Come, all you inconsistent, selfish, and prideful. Draw near, all you anxious, depressed, and despondent.
Rest easy: God will never need to be won over by you. You will never woo Him with your impressive talents, nor stand out to Him because of your good works. The only person tempted to think about your works — good or bad — is you.
We can often be like the disciples in this story, believing that those children would be an inconvenience to their otherwise austere religious meeting. We think that the only ones who have access to Him are those who can earn their spot. What if, instead, we became like the children who saw an opportunity to be loved and took it?
No matter who you are or what you’ve done, there is a place for you in God’s family.
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)