Children are such a blessing. When young couples are considering having kids, they’ll usually be told by other parents how much having children will change their lives, usually for the better. There will be good times and bad; kids can be a joy and a pain! This is because they have certain characteristics that make them such. It’s no wonder then that sometimes Scripture encourages us to become like children, and sometimes it teaches us not to. What, then, are the characteristics of a child that we should and should not apply?
Don’t be Immature
In Matthew 11:16, Jesus compared His generation to immature “children…saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.” The point to consider here is that children have not yet matured to the point that adults have (or should have). While it is generally inappropriate for any adult to act like a child, spiritually speaking Christians should never be characterized as such.
Don’t be Unknowledgeable
The Hebrews author scolded the Jewish Christians to whom he was writing in Hebrews 5:12-14, reminding them that they ought to be teachers, but needed someone to teach them. He said “ye….are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.” Spiritually they were small babies that couldn’t handle solid food, even though they had been Christians long enough that they should’ve known the word well enough to teach it. Many of our religious friends, while claiming to follow Jesus, have little to no knowledge of His Word. And sadly, this describes the Lord’s church these days too.
Christians are to “desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:2, Emph. DR). We shouldn’t remain spiritually needy like a child. God expects us to grow, just like parents expect their children to grow physically, mentally, etc. It is very unbecoming of a Christian (who has been one for many years) to be so unknowledgeable in the Word. This neediness causes Christians to be susceptible to false teaching. False teachers will not survive in a biblically knowledgeable and sound congregation. They’ll move on to a weaker one.
Don’t be Naïve
Closely related to lack of knowledge is naivety. Children are very impressionable and susceptible to the teaching of others. This can be a positive trait (as we’ll see below); but it can also be very dangerous. Young children don’t yet know how to question the validity of what they’re taught (e.g., evolution taught in public schools). “Newborn” Christians have the same vulnerability. It’s so easy for them to accept whatever they’re taught because they like the teacher and they don’t know the Word well enough to refute error.
Jesus said in Matthew 23:15, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” He becomes a child of the ones who taught him falsely. Paul commanded “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14). Picture your child being stalked by these predators! A child needs to grow out of his naivety, and so do new Christians. Strong, seasoned-veteran Christians don’t fall prey to these things; they aren’t naïve anymore! But the deceivers are still out there and always will be. So, every Christian needs to grow beyond this trait (again, Heb 5:12-14; 1 Pet 2:2).
Don’t be Childish
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” While this is dealing with a more specific topic, it presents the fact that people are expected to grow out of our childishness. Have you? Did you do anything as a child that embarrasses you now? We know that we all did! Hopefully we grew up and grew out of those things.
But have we grown up spiritually? Are you stronger and more mature in the faith now than you were ten years ago? Five years ago? Last year? Or did you hit a plateau in your past where you felt you didn’t need to grow anymore? There are old Christians who are still very childish in their biblical knowledge and in their actions. Are you still a child spiritually?
Don’t be Disobedient
Ephesians 2:2-3 says, “…we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature [i.e., habit – DR] the children of wrath….” We were offspring of wrath (anger, impulse, violent emotion); we were sinful, disobedient, in need of punishment and correction! Children eventually grow out of this and are able to control and discipline themselves. So it should be with Christians. We have been saved from the “childhood” of sin by our obedience to the gospel of Christ and must continue to grow in our understanding of and obedience to Him.
Don’t be Malicious
“Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children…” (1 Cor. 14:20). While all children will disobey their parents from time to time, the idea of maliciousness is to be purely and consistently bad, evil, wicked, depraved, vindictive, etc. Most children are not this way. They haven’t yet developed hatred and maliciousness like many adults have.
Be Pure; Not Yet Defiled
Children don’t have the prejudices against certain people or things that adults do; they have to learn them from adults. For example, children don’t understand or practice racism. As a child I recognized different skin colors, but never considered that one race was supposedly superior to another (as some unfortunately believe). Young children don’t recognize racial differences like that.
Be Eager to Learn
Children are like sponges, soaking up all the new information. As kids they have so much to learn, and hopefully as they get older they continue to desire to learn more. Christians should be the same. 1 Peter 2:2 says “as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby.” A new Christian, like a child, should be eager to learn, studying and asking questions, learning new things every day. But this attitude should never die in a Christian! We’ll never know it all!
In Matthew 18:1-6, the disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus took a child and said, “Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child shall be greatest in the kingdom.” And in Matthew 19:14 He said, “of such is the kingdom of heaven.” A child hasn’t yet become so proud and arrogant that he won’t humble himself and accept that he’s under the authority of parents, teachers, and adults in general (cf. elementary school vs. high school)!
Be Obedient, Not Rebellious
We know that children don’t always obey; but they also aren’t completely rebellious or set in their ways yet. 1 Peter 1:14 says “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance.” Also Eph 5:1—“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children.” Children follow their leaders, not blindly, but trusting, based on their parents’ knowledge of life and their love that the child feels. God’s children follow Him for the same reasons. We know that He knows everything about life and loves us, desiring the best for us (cf. John 10—the good shepherd).
We Are All Children
In a sense, all humans are children of God. We were all created by Him; we’re all descendants of Adam and therefore all children of God (physically).
More specifically, all humans are spiritual children. But children of whom? Either of God or of Satan. 1 John 3:10 says “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” You’re a child of whomever (or whatever) you follow. In John 8:44 Jesus said, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.” And here, God says there’s no middle ground (you’re either a child of His or a child of the devil) and that if you are not doing righteousness, you are not His child (you’re obviously lacking in these “childlike” qualities). So, whose child are you?