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.
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” (Proverbs 22:4). That is certainly not a blanket promise that everyone who is humble and fears the Lord will always be rich and receive honor. Too many other verses also teach us that the righteous are inevitably persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12) and often poor (James 2:5).
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.
Likewise, Proverbs 22:6 is a principle that is generally true. The same principle would be true if applied to soldiers, carpenters, teachers, or any other form of training. How a person is trained determines what he becomes. In Jesus’ words, “Everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). The same principle applies to children, who are also, normally, products of their training. This is an axiomatic or self-evident truism.
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 great Puritan commentator Matthew Henry made these remarks about the truism of Proverbs 22:6,
When they grow up, when they grow old, it is to be hoped, they will not depart from it. Good impressions made upon them then will abide upon them all their days. Ordinarily the vessel retains the savour with which it was first seasoned. Many indeed have departed from the good way in which they were trained up; Solomon himself did so. But early training may be a means of their recovering themselves, as it is supposed Solomon did. At least the parents will have the comfort of having done their duty and used the means.
As a general rule, parents who follow biblical principles in bringing up their children will see a positive effect on the character of their children. From a purely statistical point of view, children who grow up in Christ-honoring homes are more likely to remain faithful to Christ in adulthood than kids growing up in homes where the parents dishonor the Lord. The truism of Proverbs 22:6 does apply. We’re certainly not to think that God’s sovereignty in salvation means the way we raise our kids is inconsequential. God often uses faithful parents as instruments in the salvation of children.
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 your 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.
Next time we’ll consider the spiritual value of a strong, parental influence, and the dangers that arise when one is lacking in the home.