Children and the Kingdom of God

What disciple of Jesus would ever want to hinder children from coming to Jesus? I doubt if anyone would want to do that though the disciples, in the circumstance described in the Synoptic Gospels, did. Perhaps they were protecting a fatigued Jesus from the onslaught of the chaos of playful children….maybe that is what they thought. Who really knows? When Jesus rebuked them they must have cowered in their own embarrassment. I know I would have.

“Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Luke 18:15-17 (cf. Mark 10:13-15; Matthew 19:13-14)

In line with my previous post, I want to suggest that something profoundly relevant to the contemporary church is uttered in this saying of Jesus. He is not talking about baptizing children [his ministry did not baptize children] nor is it simply a pithy morality saying about childlike humility. Rather, it says something about the status of children in the faith community.

Jesus invites children to come to him because (gar) the kingdom of God belongs to them.

I think we need to stew on that sentence for a while and let it sink deep into our theological souls. What does it mean to say that the kingdom of God belongs to children? What does it mean to invite children to experience Jesus because (not “so that”!) the kingdom of God belongs to them?

It seems to me that Jesus recognizes that children are the sons and daughters of God, that is, they belong to the kingdom of God. Jesus touches them, holds them and shares his love with them because children live and breathe the air of the kingdom of God.

Unfortunately many use this text to theologize and moralize about how adults should not hinder their children’s path to Jesus. While there is certainly nothing wrong about that point–and the disciples did hinder children–I don’t think this is the theological substance of the text itself. The reason adults should not hinder children is because children already belong to the kingdom of God and adults need to become like children themselves in order to participate in God’s kingdom.

The theological point is that children are kingdom people too! They do not stand outside the kingdom of God as if they are “heathens” seeking admittance or “sinners” needing conversion. To the contrary, they already belong to the kingdom. Jesus embraces them, loves them and enjoys them.

I think this speaks volumes regarding a “theology of children” within the contemporary church, especially among churches that only practice adult baptism. Just like these parents, we lead our children to Jesus so that they fall in love with him just as he loves (and has already loved) them. But our children do not come to Jesus as outsiders. Our children are not “potential disciples” or “conversion prospects,” but rather they belong to the kingdom. I regard them as “maturing disciples” (see Greg Taylor and I discuss this in Down in the River to Pray, pp. 210-215). They are not “non-members of church,” but members of the kingdom.

Consequently, we invite our children to participate in the faith community as members of the kingdom. We lead them to Jesus in age appropriate ways, and we lead them to the table where they, too, may eat with Jesus. We do not treat them as “non-members,” but as disciples in training for adulthood, as catechumens who already belong to the kingdom of God.

Ultimately, we lead them to Jesus so that they may follow him and become his disciple as they own their own faith. When they are ready to commit to the way of the cross–to take up their own cross and follow Jesus–then they will follow him into the water that they might also take up his mission as their own. Following Jesus into the water they own their own faith and affirm their kingdom allegiance.

27 Responses to “Children and the Kingdom of God”

  1.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    YES!!! And as I read your last two paragraph’s, I immediately thought of the admonition given to Israel regarding their children in Deut 6.4-9. As a practical and pastoral way of “discipling” our children, I would suggest that this not only involves welcoming them to the table but also involving them in our ministries. I grew up with some “old fashion” parents who believed in the verbage that children should neither be seen nor heard when it comes to behavior in the church, her worship and ministry. I understand the need to teach children to be well-behaved but I think some of that mentality has hindered the disciple making of our children (and my mother would agree with me now).

    My daughter is only 4-years old but I have already taken her with me on a couple of pastoral visits and then explained why “we” are doing that. I want her to know when she is older that living in covenant relationship with God is much more than showing up for “church” once or twice a week.

    Grace and peace,


  2.   Jr Says:

    The word “such” (toioutos) throws me off of your conclusion. Does it not mean “of the kind” or “similar to” in that text?

    And how do you interpret the plethora of Scriptures (referenced in previous post) that point to being spiritually dead? David certainly saw himself as sinful from the womb; and are we not all children of Adam until born again in Christ?

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      “of such”–these are the kind, the ones, to whom the kingdom of God belongs. It seems to me that there is something corresponding here. Let them come because they belong.

      I recognize spiritual death, of course, but I also recognize spiritual life in Christ. I believe Christ reversed what Adam did. We are all children of Adam but redeemed from Adam’s ills by Christ. It seems to me that Christ receives children as children and declares them part of the kingdom of God.

      I do not read Psalm 51 as you do. I read it as a metaphor for the fallenness of the world, and that we all enter a broken world in brokenness. I do not understand it as bearing the guilt of Adamic sin nor closed off from the grace of God’s gracious consideration of children.

      •   Jr Says:

        As I have studied further, a verse that brings me pause to this view on children is John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall no see life, but the wrath of God remains (stays) on him.”

        If the wrath of God remains; then it is already present; it is there. So when is the wrath “put on” (for lack of a better term) if not at birth (as we are born children of Adam)? Would an opposing view make the “put on” totally subjective depending on “age of accountability” which may be different for every single human being?

        (I’m not debating nor denying God’s grace towards children or infants who die young; he could very well send His Spirit upon them at His will and save them.)

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        Perhaps, Jr, it might be something like this: God gives grace to all children whether they die young or not.

        I think one could read John 3:36 something like this: “whoever does not obey the Son maintains his status as a disobedient one and thus the wrath of God remains on him.” The text makes no assumptions about children, but only intends to say that those who are disobedient will experience the wrath of God.

        It seems to me that unless one has some sort of covenatal understanding of family relation with God or some kind of theology that children belong to the kingdom of God, then the status of our children is quite unnerving since we are uncertain whether God would accept them if they die before they come to some kind of “personal faith” or “conversion.”

        In other words, it appears to me that a padeobaptist Reformed view can have confidence in the redemption of their children. My view has confidence in the redemption of children. But a Reformed Baptist does not unless we postulate that all children who die too young for “conversion” are saved. And a traditional understanding of children among Churches of Christ as “safe” does not either since we are uncertain when the “age of accountability” arrives and when God will hold them accountable for their sin before they are baptized.

        Children belong to the kingdom of God. John 3:36 would have this meaning for me. When they own their own faith, they mature as disciples. When they rebel and faith is choked out of them, then they experience the wrath of God.

  3.   Terrell Lee Says:

    I’ve wrestled with this verse a bit over the years. Pointing out the broader theology of the text is helpful, rather than simply using it to emphasize the importance of being proper role models.

    Jr. perhaps there are other ways to interpret Psalm 51 without concluding David was born with “original sin.” Certainly is a loaded Psalm no matter how one reads it.

    I love reading this blog. I’ll be taking a motorcycle trip next week with two of my (biological) brothers as we go to NC to visit the fourth. I may have withdrawal pains during my time away from the computer.

  4.   Jr Says:

    I’m also wondering how you would interpret blatant disobeying of parental orders even at 2 years of age (for example); or temper tantrums. Is that the behavior of a sinless being? Is that the behavior of a Kingdom person? Personally, I find the natural behavior of little children evidence enough of original sin. We are naturally inclined to disobey; to rebel. And that is on a human-parent-child level. Imagine the separation at the human-God level.

    I think I’m inclined to think Jesus is referring to not only the humility or vulnerability of a child; but to their status as outsiders. Children were a burden until they were of work-age. So just as lepers were unclean, or prostitutes and tax collectors were sinners and were all seen as social outcasts; so were children (though not in the same way). Simple point being; Jesus came for the children too. I would hesitate to say it was an automatic thing; because I just don’t see anywhere in Scripture that anyone is in automatically.

    Of course, I could be wrong. But as I’m not sure I’m willing to take that sort of chance on my two kids.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I’ve seen such in the kingdom of God as well as in children. Temper tantrums are not uncommon even among God’s saints.

      Outsiders is certainly included in the scope, but it is not simply that they are included as outsiders but that children are categorically part of the kingdom of God.

      I did not regard my children as sinners. They did some bad stuff (just like I do). But I watched them grow up in faith, learning to believe, learning to follow Jesus. To my mind, they were never sinners in the sense of standing outside the grace of God.

      If I were Reformed, I would be a paedo-baptist because otherwise I would have not confidence in my children’s salvation until they were “born again” at some future point. That seems a fearful way to live and runs counter to–to my mind– to God’s desire to save and Jesus’ love for children.

      •   Jr Says:

        My position is that I have no idea when anybody is born again. Like Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) For all I know, God could make a child born of His Spirit just before they die; how would I know? My confidence is not in me “knowing” my children are born-again; my confidence would be in the grace of God; delivered by His prerogative. We’ll differ on this, I suppose, because I would never say they weren’t sinners. I can’t think of any Scripture that points to anybody being sinless. Is there any Scriptural justification for the opposite position (that children, or man in general, is sinless)?

        I find it much more fearful to think we have actual control, as spiritually dead people, over our salvation. To think that we can “lose” it is to me terrifying; reduces grace; and rejects the assurance of Christ. Jesus either died and took away my sins (past, present, future) or He didn’t. Imagine Jesus saying, “Well, I did pay for your sins at the Cross and take them away forever; but not really because you walked away so I removed the payment and put them back upon you.” So much for blessed assurance.

        And I don’t believe God’s desire to save trumps all things; and you would have to agree since we know that He doesn’t save everybody. But I don’t want to get too far out of this particular discussion.

        Thank you for the allowance of opposing views during this enlightening discussion. I am continually fed throughout… Grace to you –

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:


        I enjoy discussion as long as we treat each other with mercy, and I see no problem between us, my brother.

        My context for refusing to call my children “sinners” is not that they are “sinless” but that they are “saved” by the grace of Jesus Christ by his reversal of Adam’s work. I understand Jesus words to mean that they belong to the kingdom of God and thus are part of God’s redemptive, reclamation project within history. Adam will not take’em down, is my opinion. 🙂

        Jr, it seems to me your paraphrasing of aother’s position is a bit problematic (e.g., putting words in Jesus’ mouth for them in a way that does not fairly represent their position). Can one imagine God saying, “I’m only going to pay for the sins of some of you, and the rest of you will stand condemned because I decided to save only a few.” Unfortunately, I think that does, however, farily represent Calvin’s position and the Reformed position generally. I just don’t buy it because it seems to me that God’s universal salvific intent–flowing from his love for all that he has created–is clear in Scripture.

        I would prefer to discuss this at the level of redemptive history rather than speculate about the eternal mind of God. From the vantage point of redemptive history, we are saved through faith (not works or sinlessness) and it is only through faith we are assured of salvation.

        We are on opposite sides of the Reformed-Arminian divide. But it does not mean, I would hope, that faith in Jesus cannot unite us.

        Blessings, John Mark

  5.   randall Says:

    This has been another interesting discussion. The issue of the relationship of children to the kingdom of God is interesting. Clearly they are precious and Jesus speaks so favorably of them. And yet they are like tiny adults in that they display so much of the corruption of an older person e.g its all about me – I/m hungry, I’m uncomfortable, I want that, I don’t want to do that etc. We never have to teach our children to misbehave as it seems to come quite naturally to them. I wish scripture was more explicit about the state of children that die too young to come to faith but I do trust the God of all the earth to that which is right.

    The broader issue of Calvinism versus Arminianism or the Pelagianism I was taught at church as boy will require more than a few lines in a comment to address. I respect JMH’s scholarship, but even more than that I appreciate his forbearance and the tone of almost everything he shares. I find a lot of scriptural support for Calvinism. I won’t quote it here as I am convinced JMH already knows both sides of the argument and it would be way too long. Perhaps he will choose to address it in a series of posts sometime. Though I was converted to Calvinism through scripture I am not opposed to being converted to an even better understanding. At the present I think Calvinism is the worst understanding of the sovereignty of God there is, with the exception of all the other understandings of that issue that I am familiar with.

    Above, we read Calvin’s view presented as “I’m only going to pay for the sins of some of you, and the rest of you will stand condemned because I decided to save only a few.” The connotations of this statement seem to make God sound harsh rather than loving. I see some emphasis on the words “only” and “few.” One could present God as saying “I loved you so much that I went to extravagant expense and trouble to save you and a company of others so great that no man can number them.” This is closer to how some of us understand Calvinism. The father gave me to Jesus and no one can pluck me out of his hand.

    The L in TULIP (Limited Atonement) is the most controversial of the five points. Many scholars doubt that Calvin believed it though some of his followers do – but by no means all. It is logically consistent with the other points but does not have the practical value of the rest of TULIP. But we ALL limit the atonement – the difference is whether the atoning work of Jesus was intended to atone for the sin of only the elect (thus limited by God in its intent) or whether it was intended to atone for the sin of every person w/o exception but applied only to those that come to faith on their own (thus limited by man in its application). However, the end result is the same. Jesus atoned for the sins of all those that are saved.

    This is God’s world and as sovereign over it he appears to have done things in such a way as to save some and condemn others. Surely he could have chosen to save all, but he didn’t and this is the issue we struggle with. We do not accuse God of being less good b/c he doesn’t save all, but the Calvinists take a lot of heat for acknowledging God (rather than man) as sovereign in that decision. It seems the Arminians claim the “high ground” by saying God has delegated his sovereignty to man when it comes to who he will save or not. And that he did it that way knowing full well that so many would ultimately be lost. Neither Calvinists nor Arminians think that more or less people are saved in the end. Without a doubt TULIP has its problems but no more so than DAISY.

    Why is there evil in God’s world? Where did it come from and how should we understand God letting it exist when the result is that so many are lost. We focus on his love and swing one way. We also try to understand more of what he is like (e.g. powerful, wise, immutable, etc.) and lose/confuse ourselves in the struggle. And if we ever contemplate his wrath… what can I say other than I tremble in both awe and fear.

    This is a hard thing to understand JMH. How about some help? – in your own good time of course.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:


      Perhaps…one day…I will turn my attention to Calvinism and Arminianism once again. I find the heat of that discussion too overbearing for me at the moment. But perhaps the day will come…. 🙂

      I hear your summary of Calvin. I can see that both mine and yours are accurate since “only” and “few” still funciton within Reformed theology. God only saves whom he determined to save and–comparatively speaking–it is “few” (as the Matthew texts tells us of which Calvin is fond). And yet there is an innumerable host and God does love those whom he saves.

      My problem is that Scripture tells us that God has universal intent and does not desire to settle for a few.

      As an aside, I don’t think Calvin explicitly affirmed limited atonement, but it is a explicit consequence of his doctrine of election that he did not want to accept seemingly.

      In fact, if we could stick with Calvin’s understanding of election as rooted in Christ, perceived through faith, and performing the function of assurance….I would have little problem with it. It is what one extrapolates from that–without explicit Scriptural warrant, to my mind–that sends shivers down my spine. 🙂

      Blessings, John Mark

    •   K. Rex Butts Says:

      I don’t mean to quibble much:-) and I am certainly not the most read on Classic Calvinsism and Arminianism but in “limited atonement” if the atonement is limited by human intent (those who come to their own faith and those who do not) rather than divine, is this not an admission of free-will choice for humanity? Or do those who come to their own faith do so because of the “irresistable grace”? If the later question is true, then it seems to raise other concerns such as…if grace is irresistable and God loves the entire world, then why does he not make his grace irresistable to the entire world? Of course, as I understand it, one could respond and say that grace is irresistable only for the “limited atonement” number which just brings us back to the same problem — is God’s love universal but one humans have the choice to either accept or reject (hence the reason why not everyone will be saved) or has God indeed limited his grace to only the elect (which denies by immplication the universal love of God for the world).

      Since I have read only a limited number of secondary sources on Calvinism and Arminianism and even fewer primary sources, my thoughts and questions are really the thoughts of a layman on this issue.

      Grace and peace,


  6.   Alan Scott Says:

    John Mark,

    Your post reminds me of a recent trip to Mission Lazarun in Honduras. We were working with one of the village Church of Christ rebuilding a member’s adobe house. The preacher’s daughter was helping. She was only about 10, but a fireball of energy and love for the Lord. The preacher told us that he had lamaneted to his wife one day that he didn’t have a son to travel with him to the villages to help the residents and teach God’s love. He said that his daughter had overheard and replied, “You don’t need a son to do that. You have me!” Even in the machismo culture of Honduras, it appeared that this Dad was proud of the Spirit within his daughter.

    God bless,
    Alan Scott
    Sugar Land, TX

  7.   Jr Says:

    Thanks, John Mark. Feelings are mutual; united in Christ indeed.

    To keep it on redemptive history, I think I understand your position. You believe that Christ ended the reign of Adam for man regardless of belief of the individual. Therefore, all men living or to have lived post-Christ are no longer under the sin of Adam; (therefore not spiritually dead, able to seek God) and His death and resurrection had this universal achievement. If this is a correct summary, then what is the purpose of being born again if we all are under Christ regardless of belief? And are all people then effectively “alive in Christ?” If so, then our understanding of the atonement is very different; and the NT Scriptures that continue to point to spiritual blindness (and “no one seeks God”) – well, I wouldn’t know what to think of them.

    Here is the biggie: Are all people, then, Abraham’s children? Hebrews 2:16b “but he helps the offspring of Abraham.” This seems like a pretty specific (not universal) work to me.

    Your quote accurately describes the Calvinist position as I understand it; but doesn’t it also accurately describe yours? Unless you believe that all men are saved, then you would have to believe that Christ only died for some – or many – whatever word we choose to use (whether belief is by choice absent of God’s initiating factor or belief by choice through God’s initiating factor).

    I actually find the Arminian position on atonement far more limiting than the Calvinist; for with the latter Jesus came and completely saved all people He was sent to save; but in the former it’s all just up in the air.

    I think the big difference is the universal intent that you speak of. I believe Scripture points to ‘God being glorified’ as His universal intent and all things fall under this inscrutable umbrella. Among many other examples, Ephesians 1 shouts (in repeated fashion) this case for me.

    Grace to you – Jr

  8.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    I appreciate your kindness, Jr., and our communion in Christ.

    The reversal of Adamic eschatological consequences does not entail a reversal of our own actual sins nor of the consequences within history (thus our spiritual maladies).

    I would disagree that my statement of Calvin’s position is my own as well. I do believe Christ died for all, intended all, invites all, and calls all to faith. God initiates and empowers faith but I do not believe that power is irresistible. But this is simply the standard Arminian-Calvinist discussion. I’m not really too interested in that as you can probably tell. 🙂

    I do think God’s universal intent is God’s glory. He glories in loving his creation and redeeming it.

  9.   Brian Says:

    I am truly a lay person on this board and must admit that much of the discussion in the comments goes over my head, but here is my impression based mostly on gut instinct and a working knowledge of the bible and the original topic as presented by JMH.
    How can my one year old son be damned to Hell simply by passing through his mother’s birth canal and taking his first breath of air on his own? If this is the state of man, why would I choose to bring another child into this world lest I fail to instill faith in that child thereby condemning this child I love so much? If this is the case, am I causing this child to stumble simply by procreating such that I should have a millstone hung around my neck? If this is the condition of man, I face a great dilemma as father: the desire to have a child that I could love and nurture counterbalanced by the fear that this child is born outside the grace of God.

  10.   rich constant Says:

    boy oh boy
    if i could write i would develop and answer some of these root principals from my perception of pauls comment in rom.3.25-26,a propitieation through faith…
    when in the forbearence of god he passed over sins preveously commited…before redempshion speaking of jew and gentile.

    and the biggie


    TO ME JOHN MARK ROMAans 3.19-31 taken in the subjective gender skews the perspective on romans and presents a development of focas to a perspective of the intent of god that is apart from sin, as sin is not imputed where there is no law…period…
    that said
    what did god do in christ before redemption.
    death / sin
    faith in god
    doing that which is good…rom. 2
    the bases of life is always faith in god.through the redemp. that is in the christ…
    he judges

    oh well thanks all
    be faithfull to his word of grace and love

    got to go

    thanks john mark
    blessings rich

  11.   rich constant Says:

    i did see the comment on “reverse the curse”john mark
    i still don’t like it in the contex of propituation.and the loss that the father must have felt cursing his son for the sin of the world this we conclud as one dided for all therefore all are dead …or something like that…
    blessings 🙂 john mark

  12.   rich constant Says:

    ya know john mark i have always wondered about 1st.cor 7.14
    got anything on that

  13.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    I commented on 1 Cor 7:14 in a response to the previous post, I think. I have not written anything on it.

  14.   Dan Smith Says:

    Tommy King did his doctoral project thesis for ACU on this very topic. Absent scriptural direction for second generation (our kids) initiation, he initiated a comprehensive project of viewing baptism as a “rite of passage” much like the bar mitzvah.

    Tommy has granted me permission to share the thesis with whomever wants it. Let me know if you would like a copy.

  15.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks, Dan. I already have a copy, but I appreciate your offer for the sake of others. It is a good project and worth attention.

  16.   Brian Says:


    I know this question may be a bit out of date, but it just came to me in the last couple of days. My congregation is about to go through the process of selecting some new men to be elders. Although we have not had the traditional elder qualification sermon, my mind wandered to the qualifications and I thought about Titus. I was wondering how your view of children expressed in this post affects your interpretation of Paul’s instruction in Titus that an elder have believing children.

    Brian B.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Brian, if you were asking David Lipscomb, he would say that an elder does not even have to be married, but if he is married, he should only have one wife and be faithful to her, and he does not have to have children, but if he does have children, then these children should be obedient children (evidence that the father manages his home well).

      Under the strictures of much of what is written about the qualifications of elders, Jesus and Paul themselves would not have qualified. That seems a bit odd to me.

      But to answer your question more directly, I think it is quite possible that Paul is using the phrase “having pista” as a synonymn for something he communicated to Timothy about children in 1 Timothy 3:4 “having children in submission.” I don’t think this means children need to be a specific age or necessarily to have been baptized, but that their children are characterized by respect, submission and faith (or faithfulness, that is, faithfulness to parents, obedient to parents).

      But, it seems to me, one can make a good case for “believing children.” In the context of my points above, I would take this to mean children who are in the process of faith rather than necessarily children who are baptized as believing adults. They are children who believe, that is, they are children who are growing and maturing in faith. I think to equate “believers” and “baptized” regarding “children” overplays the language unnecessarily.

      Further, one might suggest that if this is a specific requirement regarding baptism, then it is strange that Paul does not suggest this in his letter to Timothy. Timothy could have appointed bishops who did not have “baptized children” since he was not given that instruction. Or, further, it may be that Titus–if this is what the phrase means–was given instruction about “baptized children” because this fit the situation in Crete which was apparently quite problematic. This would ensure a whole family dedicated to God, mature in practice, and thus more stable amidst the uncertainties of the Cretan situation.

      So, there are plenty of options. I like Lipscomb’s point, but if we insist on children, it seems to me we need only insist on children who are submissive and in the process of faith within the family.

      Blessings, JMH

  17.   Dan Smith Says:

    Lipscomb and others of the same mind are led to their conlusions because they see the “laundry lists” to Tim and Titus as “characteristics” rather than “qualifications”; which understanding is made possible when the differences in the lists are noted.
    Why would Tim look for some things that Titus doesn’t?

    I concur with the Lipscomb view, FWIW.

  18.   Johnny Melton Says:

    FWIW, the difference in Timothy and Titus may be different because of their differnt functions. In Timothy Paul is describing what an existing eldership looks like. His list in Titus one is for the purpose of appointing. But, what is the significance of “believing children” for appointing elders in a first generation church? Generally, the explanation for reading “believing” as “baptized” is because we want elders to have reared children to be Christians. That would not have been possible for the first elders in a new church plant. Those who would have been old enough to be elders would not have been rearing their children to be Christians–they were not Christians themselves during those formative years. However, they could have been rearing children to be faithful in the sense of trustworthy and true to their parents’s ideals. An interpretation of a text that could not have applied in its original setting has to be suspect, at least.


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