There are four things a child must understand to be ready to accept Christ. All four must be understood for a child to be ready.
1. A child must understand the meaning of sin.
A child must understand the concept of sin, not just the word itself. Sin is not just an action; it is a conscious choice to do wrong. Sin is choosing our way instead of God’s way. It is living to please ourselves and not living to please God. Because of this attitude, we do things that do not please God. These are called sins.
A child must understand that sin is a deliberate choice to disobey God.
2. A child must realize he has sinned.
A child can understand what sin is but still not believe he is a sinner. A child’s response to questions will help determine if he understands this concept.
Even if a child understands what sin is and that he is a sinner, he must also understand the next two things to be ready to receive Christ.
3. A child must realize that he has sinned against God.
Until a certain age, a child will determine right and wrong on the basis of pain and pleasure. It must be right if it feels good and people approve of his doing it. If he is punished or hurt when he does it, it must be wrong. But a child does not have a real understanding of right and wrong.
When the Holy Spirit convicts a child, he understands that his sin is wrong. He has an understanding that his sin is not wrong just because his parents say it is wrong. It is wrong because he has deliberately chosen to do what he wanted to do instead of what God wanted him to do.
4. A child must understand that he is separated from God because of his sin.
A child may understand he has sinned against God but not understand that he is separated from God because of his sin. He may understand the fact but not the consequences or the seriousness of his sin. Like an adult, a child must repent. He must be sorry enough for his sin to turn from it and decide to live his life to please Jesus. If he does not understand that he is separated from God now, he cannot do this.
A child may also understand that if he died he would be separated from God in hell, but he may not understand why. He may not make the connection between God’s judgment and his sin. He may believe he would go to hell because God is mean and would send him there.
One must be careful not to lead a child to a commitment he does not understand. Leading a child to a premature decision is like giving him a vaccination. When vaccinated, he is given just enough of the bacteria to keep him from getting the real disease. Leading a child to a premature decision gives him just enough of an experience that it may prevent him from having a genuine conversion experience when the time is right.
Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers until you feel comfortable about the child’s level of understanding. If you feel that the child does not understand the four things discussed in this article, be confident that God will continue to mature the child’s understanding.
Adapted from Camille Hamilton, “The Signs of Accountability,” in Sharing God’s Special Plan with Children, Training Manual (Atlanta: Home Mission Board, 1992), 7–9. Available from the North American Mission Board’s Children’s Evangelism Resources page.