Are Our Children Lost?

One recent and popular Christian book called Parenting spent a chapter talking about how our kids are “lost.”  It wasn’t a minor theme mentioned in three sentences; it was a major point of the entire chapter that Christian parents are raising “lost” children.  For example, Paul Tripp wrote, “Our children are not just disobedient; they are disobedient because they are lost. …Our children are not just lazy; they are lazy because they are lost” (p. 98).  He goes on to talk about the parables of the lost sheep, coin, and son and explains how they apply to parenting lost children.

I realize that Tripp may be writing from a Baptist perspective.  Of course Christians in Baptist circles will differ from Christians in Reformed circles when it comes to views on children in the home.  Thankfully whether Baptist or Reformed we can still call each other brother or sister in Christ.  But is it biblically accurate to call children in a Christian home “lost?”  A Reformed perspective says “no” based on Scripture’s teaching.

First, a more nuanced approach to the “lost” parables would deal with the kingdom of God, Israel, the first century background and other exegetical and interpretive matters (which would take too long to discuss here).  I’m a little hesitant to talk about these parables primarily in terms of parenting “lost” children.

Second, the Bible doesn’t specifically call the children of believing parents “lost” or little heathens (even if they act like it from time to time!!).  In both the Old and New Testaments Scripture talks more positively about the children of God’s people.  Abraham is a good example; God says he will be Abraham’s God and the God of his children (Gen 17:6).  Herman Bavinck explained this covenantal aspect further:

Children are a blessing and heritage from the Lord (Ps. 127:3). They are always counted along with their parents and included with them. Together they prosper (Exod. 20:6; Deut. 1:36, 39; 4:40; 5:29; 12:25, 28). Together they serve the Lord (Deut. 6:2; 30:2; 31:12–13; Josh. 24:15; Jer. 32:39; Ezek. 37:25; Zech. 10:9). The parents must pass on to the children the acts and ordinances of God (Exod. 10:2; 12:24, 26; Deut. 4:9–10, 40; 6:7; 11:19; 29:29; Josh. 4:6, 21; 22:24–27). The covenant of God with its benefits and blessings perpetuates itself from child to child and from generation to generation (Gen. 9:12; 17:7, 9; Exod. 3:15; 12:17; 16:32; Deut. 7:9; Ps. 105:8; and so forth). While grace is not automatically inherited, as a rule it is bestowed along the line of generations.
The Bible also says that Jesus blessed and welcomed little children.  Paul wrote that children in the home of even one believing parent are not unclean but “holy,” or set apart (1 Cor. 7:14).  Again, Bavinck:
The holiness Paul mentions here must not be taken as subjective and internal holiness but as an objective, theocratic kind of holiness, for otherwise the children and the husband would not be holy on account of the believing mother and wife but on their own account. Nor is Paul in any way thinking here of infant baptism, nor of anything that might serve as a basis for it. His sole interest is to show that the Christian faith does not cancel out the natural ordinances of life, but rather confirms and sanctifies them (cf. 1 Cor. 7:18–24).

This passage is of importance for infant baptism, however, because it teaches that the whole family is regarded in light of the confession of the believing spouse. The believer has the calling to serve the Lord not only for oneself but with all that belongs to oneself and with one’s entire family. For that reason the children of believers are admonished by the apostles as Christian children ‘in the Lord’ (Acts 26:22; Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20; 2 Tim. 3:15; 1 John 2:13). Also the little ones know the Lord (Heb. 8:11; Rev. 11:18; 19:5), and have been given a place before his throne (Rev. 20:12). Scripture knows nothing of a neutral upbringing that seeks to have the children make a completely free and independent choice at a more advanced age. The children of believers are not pagans or children of the devil who still—as Roman Catholics and Lutherans hold—have to be exorcized at their baptism, but children of the covenant, for whom the promise is meant as much as for adults. They are included in the covenant and are holy, not by nature (Job 14:4; Ps. 51:5; John 3:6; Eph. 2:3) but by virtue of the covenant.

While I applaud many of Tripp’s helpful tips on Christian parenting, I think it is unhelpful and unbiblical to view our children as “lost.”  Are they sinners who need Jesus like I do?  Yes, for sure!  But a healthy biblical and covenantal perspective won’t let us call our kids “lost;” we’re not missionaries to our kids.  Like the Heidelberg Catechism (Q/A 74) says, “Infants, as well as adults are in God’s covenant and are his people.  They, no less than adults, are promised the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit who produces faith.”  Our job is to teach them what it means to be a child of God: to repent, believe, and follow the Lord!

The above quotes are from Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 529–530.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

10 comments on “Are Our Children Lost?

  1. Jacob Vierzen says:

    Thanks Shane, that was very helpful.

  2. Frank Strickland says:

    Mr. Lems I must confess your comments left me very confused. I am a Reformed Baptist (no that is not an oxymoron) and I do realize that we have a different view of the covenant then most of our Presbyterian brethren however I am not really understanding how children that have not made a profession of faith can be considered “saved” since it seems you and Dr. Bavinck don’t consider them “lost”? Perhaps this is a matter of semantics but if I am understanding your view it sounds virtually Roman Catholic in that some other means than faith is the basis of salvation. Also something that is very confusing is mentioning that Paul Tripp is coming from a Baptist perspective. Paul Tripp is a Presbyterian minister and serves at 10th Presbyterian in Philadelphia. It what sense is he coming from a Baptist view?
    I do thank you for your helpful articles and find the books you bring forth quite interesting but this one really threw me for a loop!
    In Christ,
    Frank Strickland

    • Thanks for the kind tone, Frank. Appreciate the comments.

      First, in Reformed theology, we typically think and speak in covenantal terms rather than simply “saved” or “lost” terms when it comes to the Christian family. As in the Old Testament, God’s people and their children are members of his covenant, so we think in covenantal terms. Granted, children of believers are not automatically regenerate and elect, but we can think of them positively, covenantally. Think of how the Bible speaks of the children of God’s people – it’s not in “lost” language, so we want to think/talk of our kids as the Bible talks of them. It’s not Roman Catholic, since we don’t teach that baptism saves a kid. And, it is true that sometimes God even calls a child in the womb (cf. the prophet Jeremiah or Psalm 22:10 and Psalm 71:6)!!

      Second, as far as Tripp serving in a Presbyterian church, I wrote that Tripp “may” be writing from a Baptist perspective. His chapter on “lost” children isn’t a Reformed perspective, but more of a Baptist one. Not sure of all his beliefs, but this one is baptistic, not Reformed.

      Anyway, we may disagree on this, but of course I count you (and other Baptist Christians) as brothers and sisters in Christ.

      Shane

  3. Do you believe that the children of believers are “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2:3) until they are regenerated through the gospel? (Jas 1:18). If so, what is the difference between being lost and being by nature under the sentence of God’s wrath? Jesus said in Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Are the children of believers not in need of the saving of Christ? Do those who are not lost need to be saved? Do you evangelize people who are not lost? Do you evangelize your children and tell them they need to be saved? (Rom 10:17).

    Also, the holiness of 1 Corinthians 7:14 is the legitimacy of the marriage and children in mixed marriages in contrast to the situation of Ezra and Nehemiah where the Israelites had to put away their pagan wives and children. If infant children are to be baptized because they are holy, then the unbelieving spouse should also be baptized because he or she is holy too! As Abraham Booth explains, “If, then, that sanctification of the unbelieving husband gives him no claim to baptism, the holiness thence arising cannot invest his children with such a right.”

  4. […] Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, Wis. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

  5. […] Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, Wis. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

  6. Isaac Shrum says:

    “But is it biblically accurate to call children in a Christian home “lost?” Yes, it is absolutely Biblically accurate to call children of believers lost. The position taken in this article is unnerving and alarming, as it creates the illusion that there are numerous types of people (i.e. unsaved adults, non-covenant/unsaved children, saved adults, and covenant children), and two ways of salvation for children (i.e. one for children of lost parents, one for ‘covenant’ children). But in reality, there are only two types of people, saved/unsaved, regenerate/unregenerate.

    The doctrine of original sin is an inescapable truth of Scripture, namely that we are born sinful, whether born in a Christian home or not. David (the son of a believer) recognized that he was sinful from his mother’s womb, in need of salvation (Ps. 51, 58:3). Other verses amplify the truth that infants/children are sinful, lost, hell-bound, and under God’s wrath (Jer. 17:9, Gen. 8:21, Eph. 2:3). God has no spiritual grandchildren, only children.

    Of course, children are a blessing from the Lord. But this does not change the fact that they are lost and in need of a Savior. Obviously, having Christian parents is a blessing and advantageous because the gospel is (hopefully) preached – but this too does not change the sinful nature or salvific need of the child. It is requisite for a child to understand his lostness before coming to Christ.

  7. Richard says:

    Isaac, children are to repent and believe the Gospel same as adults. The glory of being in a covenant community is that as a church we do this through our liturgy every Lord’s Day. I’m not seeing why we should treat these children as lost when they have the benefits of the church. Scripture is clear that our children are set aside, sanctified, as children of believers.

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