Become Like a Child


[Jesus] said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3-4)

But Jesus said, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14)

But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Permit the children to come to me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." (Mark 10:14-15)

But Jesus called for them, saying, "Permit the children to come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." (Luke 18:16-17)

When people read these scriptures they almost universally will tell you that Jesus is here speaking of child-like faith.  Child-like faith is, for some inexplicable reason, accepted and taught as though it were a concept that is found in the Bible.  However, there is no hint of the so-called "faith of a child" in any of these - or any other - statements of Jesus.  The notion is just not in the Bible.  Are you surprised to hear this?  Are you offended to hear this?

Jesus clearly says that unless a person becomes like a child he or she cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.  And people somehow draw the conclusion that faith is the child-like characteristic to which Jesus is referring.  No form of the word "faith" is found or even suggested in these scriptures.  OK then, what exactly is the uniquely child-like characteristic he is speaking of?

Is Jesus leaving the precise characteristic of a child open to our own interpretation?  Suppose you say: "Children are inventive," or "Children are idealistic," or "Children are refreshingly simplistic."  All of these, and many other positive characteristics of children, may be suggested as possibilities for understanding the meaning of Jesus' words.  But for all of them we can surely find many examples of children who do not share these positive qualities.

Would Jesus use, as an illustration of such an important teaching - how to enter heaven - something that is not always true?  Have you ever seen children who do not express faith?  Of course, everyone has.  I see the picture of a father standing in the swimming pool, asking his child to jump to him.  "You can trust me.  Just jump; I'll catch you," he says.  But the child is too afraid of the water to trust his own father.  

We use illustrations that have flaws and are not always true.  The illustrations that Jesus used were perfect and universally true.  So what was Jesus talking about?  These statements by Jesus do not say that a person needs to have an attitude like a child, but rather that he/she must assume the position of a child.  And he was referring to the position of a child that was immediately understandable.

Children are dependent!  Is that not immediately clear?  Is that not universally true?  In the animal kingdom there are some species that are walking in a matter of minutes or hours after birth.  Children take about a year.  Some animals are separated from their mother, and fending for themselves in days or weeks.  Children require years to be self-sufficient.  This is clearly what Jesus was referring to when he told the people they must become like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

In order to enter heaven, we must change our thinking regarding ourselves - our abilities, our potential, our knowledge, our independence.  We must humble ourselves and become like children - totally dependent upon God.  When we begin to change our attitude about ourselves, then we are able to hear the truth that God says about himself, and about us.  And when we hear God's truth, it is then that we are able to have faith in what God has said.  As the scriptures say: Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Do you suppose that the specific child that Jesus set before those he was teaching was a particularly humble child, who was known to be humble by all who were hearing him?  No, he was referring to that which is true of every child.  If children are universally humble, then what does it mean to occupy a humble position in the culture?

The poor, the widow, the orphan, the leper, the social outcast, all occupy a humble position in the culture.  They may not personally evidence humility, but they are humble by virtue of their place in the society.  It is in this respect that we are to be like the child or like the poor.  Notice the similarity of the words of Jesus:

Let the children alone...for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. (Matthew 19:14)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

Entrance into the kingdom of God requires becoming like children.  It means that your view of your own position must be diminished.  You must become as dependent as a child.

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