For many years I misunderstood what Jesus was saying when He said, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” I thought the Lord wanted us to believe with an unquestioning faith, as a child believes. Perhaps, I thought, when He told us to humble ourselves as children, He intended that we stop being sophisticated and just be our unembarrassed selves. A child is naïve. He doesn’t worry about the confusing things that cause adults to fret. Did He intend to communicate the idea that we must be obedient children if we are to enter His kingdom?
Then I read Ephesians 4:14: “That we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine...” Ah, children are poor teachers in faith. I know of a child who was sporting a fancy Superman cape and was told that if he ate Alpo dog food he would have super powers. The child believed. We are not to believe as children believe.
Then I read I Corinthians 3:1, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ.” Anyone who has ever had children knows that they are anything but humble. They are very proud. They will cry aloud over the toy they are not strong enough to tear away from their playmate. They are constantly pushing to the front of the line and holding up their creations for praise. We are not to be humble as children are humble.
Then I read I Corinthians 14:20, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking: yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.” A naïve Christian is in great danger. As a child, I forgot to bring something to school for “show and tell.” I was embarrassed to admit that I had forgotten, so I quickly reasoned myself out of a jam. I brought a chair to the front of the room, stood on the chair, and before the teacher could rescue me, I yelled, “Watch me fly.” Well, I flew all right. Face first onto the floor! My child’s thinking got me a bruised head and a bloody nose—and all the embarrassment I was trying to avoid. We are not to think as children think.
Jesus was not calling us to imitate children in their dispositions. We are not to believe, respond, think or behave as children. Jesus compared His generation to fickle children. What then, did Jesus mean when He said, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all”?
The key to understanding what Jesus meant is in the context of His statement. Luke 18:15 says: “And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them...” B.B Warfield, the Presbyterian theologian, translates the word babies as “infant of days.” In other words, they were bringing their newborn babies to Him! An infant who is a few days old does not have a child’s disposition. An infant knows how to cry and mess up; that is about all. They cannot yet believe, reason or behave. All they can do is lie in helpless dependence and wait until another meets their many needs.
A glorified childhood is one of my favorite pictures of the Christian experience. Simply falling helplessly into the arms of Jesus!