The Faith of a Child

We’ve all likely heard about “having child-like faith.” While you won’t find that phrase in the Bible, it’s a popular phrase for a reason. Consider Mark 10:15, and the context:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them, and blessed them.

Mark 10:15 is one of the main “child-like faith” verses, if you want to call it that. It may not be apparent, but you can understand this verse in two ways. Jesus could be talking about someone receiving God’s kingdom the way a child would receive it, or about someone receiving God’s kingdom the way they would receive a child. Which one is it? Well, Jesus was, indeed, receiving children in this very moment—something the disciples tried to prevent.

Children appear small, weak, and unimportant in many ways. Maybe the disciples thought, “Why welcome children? What’s the benefit of receiving them?” God’s kingdom—even Jesus himself—can also appear to be small, weak, and unimportant. If Jesus wants his disciples to receive the kingdom like they would receive a child, perhaps the disciples don’t understand what God’s kingdom is really like. If they can’t welcome someone like a small child, how can they themselves be welcomed into God’s kingdom? This is one way to understand Jesus’ words.

The timing of Jesus’ next interaction should also be considered, though. A man comes up to Jesus and asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is an odd question, because an inheritance isn’t typically earned, yet the man asks what he can do. People may inherit a gift of some kind from their family, but not as hired workers earning a wage. We may inherit things as adults when our parents have passed, while being capable of working and earning what we have. Yet an inheritance is still received, not earned. What does this mean? There is, quite literally, nothing you can do to inherit eternal life.

Here we remember the little children that Jesus was welcoming. Little children, too, can receive an inheritance, but even if it were possible that it could be earned, they would be unable. Children are dependent. They have everything given to them and cannot offer anything in exchange. This is where Jesus said, “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” It is the second way to understand Jesus’ words: receive the kingdom of God freely, with nothing to offer in exchange, the way a child would receive it.

Here’s how it comes together. God’s kingdom appears small, weak, and unimportant, like a child. God’s kingdom belongs to and is received by those with nothing to offer, like a child.

That may seem like an odd way of describing God’s gift to us, but it truly is wonderful!

The Kingdom of God, as the disciples had heard already (ironically), appears as small as a mustard seed, but grows to put out branches large enough for the birds of the air to build nests and rest in (Mark 4:30-32). Jesus appears weak, emptying himself and becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8). Yet his death and resurrection are far from unimportant; they are of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). For by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5); by the gospel of Jesus Christ we are saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Little children have no works—nothing in which to boast. It is in this way, like little children, that we receive God’s kingdom—forgiveness, redemption, new life—as a completely free gift, like an inheritance, by means of faith.

So, where does “child-like” faith come in?

We could probably say that true faith is always child-like. We don’t need to describe faith as child-like, but there is a great metaphor in that description. My children trust me. They tend to believe me when I say something. They know that I will be there when they call on my name. When I say, “I love you,” my kids believe that I love them, and the ones who can speak repeat after me, “I love you, too.” Our youngest cannot yet speak, but when I say something like, “Can you put that over there?”—he believes “over there” is exactly where “that” should go, and he does it. The trust (faith) of a child is very simple and yet profound.

Even when they choose to rebel, they are always invited to trust again. Inevitably, going their own way leads to unforeseen consequences (even though they were warned about them). When that happens, who do they run to? Who do they trust to save them from their own way? When they encounter the harsh realities of sin that go beyond their choices, who do they trust to comfort them, to be with them, to help them understand?

Mom and dad.

They can’t articulate it all the time. They can’t explain the intricacies or the reasoning behind my love for them, or their trust in me. They just believe. They believe that we will give them whatever they need, all the way from food to forgiveness.
This is your relationship to the heavenly Father.

You have nothing to offer God, and God offers you everything. His kingdom appears small, and yet is a place of true rest for you. Jesus seems weak, and yet he conquered sin, death, and the devil for you. He warns you about your sin and is there when you call on his name. He saves you from your own way. He is with you. He comforts you. He provides for your every need, all the way from food to forgiveness. You are his child. So trust in Jesus. Stop striving for an inheritance you cannot earn. God loves you. He forgives you. He has good work for you to do. He will be faithful to you. Believe him and cling to his Word!

Rev. Nick Joyal is Pastor at Living Hope Lutheran Brethren Church in Beaumont, Alberta.

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