Is there anything believers can do to guarantee the salvation of their children? No doubt many Christian parents have asked that very question; naturally hoping to see their offspring grow to know and love the Lord, and spared the horrors of hell.
But the truth is that as much as we might like to pass on the spiritual inheritance of our faith, that’s not the means the Lord has chosen to bring people to truth faith and repentance except through His sovereign will through the power of His proclaimed Word, through the working of His Spirit.
The spiritual outcome of your child, taken by itself, is no reliable gauge of your success as a parent. Nor is it an accurate measure of your faith—salvation is non-transferable, regardless of the depth and breadth of your love for the Lord. Sometimes children raised in fine Christian families grow up to abandon the faith. On the other hand, God graciously redeems many children whose parents are utter failures.
What about Proverbs 22:6?
Invariably parents ask about Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Isn’t that a biblical promise that if we raise our children right, we can guarantee that they will walk faithfully with the Lord?
That notion is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the Proverbs. These are wise sayings and truisms—not necessarily inviolable rules. For example, two verses earlier, we read, “The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life” (v. 4). That is certainly not a blanket promise that everyone who is humble and fears the Lord will always be rich and receive honor.
Furthermore, Proverbs 10:27 says, “The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be shortened.” We know that this principle does not hold true in every case. It cannot be claimed as if it were a binding promise from God to all who fear the Lord.
But Proverbs 22:6 is not a promise for Christian parents to claim that will guarantee their children will never depart from the way of truth. The truth of this saying is a warning to parents, and a promise that if behavior in not corrected when they are young…when they grow older that unchecked behavior will follow them. This verse actually is a warning in Scripture on the importance of training our children to forsake bad “bents” in their fallen condition. Each child has a particular bent; stubbornness; pride; stealing; disrespect, etc. The way they should go is what is confusing in this verse. The way they should go is better translated, “according to their particular bent.” Our responsibilities as parents are to make sure that when we see a particular bad habit or bad behavior, that it is corrected with discipline immediately. Children that are allowed to continue in that bad behavior unchecked, will “train” their children that they can continue it outside the home. The children then become the problem for the teachers; the employer; and eventually their future mates. We are living in a society where the children rule the homes and get their own way and invariably will be the ones who manipulate others as they have their parents.
Ultimately, however, your children’s salvation is a matter to be settled between them and God. Nothing you can do will guarantee your kids’ salvation. To that end you should be praying to God and instructing your children—using all available means to impress the truths of the gospel continually on their hearts. But ultimately a grown child’s spiritual fitness alone is not necessarily a reliable gauge of the parents’ success.
The simple fact is that you’re best efforts cannot guarantee salvation for your children, but your bad example could be a great hindrance to the work of the gospel in their hearts. While you might not be able to singlehandedly win them to the Lord, your influence runs deep and helps set the course for their lives. How do they see you act on making spiritual disciplines a priority in your own life? How importantly is church attendance and Bible studies, and prayer opportunities in your life? Do your kids see it as an absolute priority to you…or do you model compromise? You have the greatest impact on how your kids will see that what you say you believe is really true or not. We call that…integrity.