“Didn’t he ever make a profession of faith in Christ as a child?” This question came in response to a request to pray for our wayward son —in particular, asking God to show mercy and save his soul. Since our son grew up in the church, the questioner assumed he experienced many opportunities as a young boy to hear the gospel. Surely, they thought, he responded to an invitation at some point as a young child. Unfortunately, he gave no evidence of a relationship with Jesus in his teenage or adult life.
I could not count the number of times we heard parents make statements about their children such as, “I take comfort from the fact that he made a profession of faith when he was five, so I know he is saved. But he has not walked with the Lord for three decades.” We have often conversed with parents whose offspring gives no present evidence of saving faith, yet they treat their grown child as though he were eternally secure, just temporarily estranged from God.
It is easy, though unhealthy, for a parent to cling to a false hope regarding their child’s eternal state. No parent wants to face the hard truth that the sudden earthly departure of his or her child will lead to eternal punishment. But if we do not face the hard reality of our child’s apparent eternal state, we will err in the manner that we pray to God and in the manner we speak to our child. An individual who needs the mercy of God to draw him into the Father’s forever family needs to be prayed for, and spoken to, differently than one who is a believer that has fallen into sin. If we do not determine the true spiritual state of our children to the best of our ability, our approach to them will not address their true need.
It is an errant theology that neutralizes the repeated threats of judgment in Scripture upon those who surrender themselves to sin. True believers do not make peace with sin in their lives (cf. Matthew 5:29 and 1 Peter 2:11). They fight it. They wage war against it. Yes, followers of Jesus may lose some battles. At times, they do so with painful frequency. But they do not hoist up a white flag and declare, “I am yours and will do your bidding.” Those who have surrendered to the passion of the flesh are destined for judgment and not for heaven (cf. Colossians 3:5-6).
This is one of the hard truths many find difficult to embrace. Nevertheless, ignoring a hard reality will not make it less real. If we are going to help our wayward child or loved one, we must begin with an accurate diagnosis of the condition of his heart. As in clinical medicine, a misdiagnosis can result in a treatment that does more harm than good. Would we want to give someone a false sense of security as to the state of his soul?
Excerpted from The Painful Path of a Prodigal: Biblical Help and Hope for Those Who Love the Wayward and Rebellious by Craig K. Svensson.