Are you familiar with the Christian call to have a child-like spirit? Jesus speaks about it in the Gospels.
Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:3
Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. – Mark 10:15
But perhaps you’re wondering why a child-like spirit is necessary for salvation, and what exactly a child-like spirit is.
To fully understand what Jesus has called us to in these passages we must reflect on their greater context and explore the notable characteristics of young children.
Let’s first consider the context. In the instance of Mark 10:15, children had been coming to Jesus in order to touch him. The disciples, feeling self-important, were rebuking and sending them away. In the instance of Matthew 18:3, the disciples, again feeling self-important and concerned about their status, had just asked Jesus who was the most important in the kingdom of heaven.
Now let’s take a look at five characteristics of children that readily stand out as being different, or more prominent, than those of adults’:
- Transparency of character: the youngest of children do not practice deceitfulness, but rather are always open and honest about what they are doing, feeling, and who they are in general. This level of honesty shows the purity of their character. They haven’t learned to intentionally cover up the truth regarding anything.
- Humility: following from the first characteristic, this one refers to the desire to be known and appreciated for who they really are. Children never try to conceal their true character, but are always asking questions (under all circumstances), and aren’t anxious about exposing their ignorance of something. They are always eager to learn!
- Confiding: children are willing to believe everything they hear, and assume that everyone tells the truth. They are unsuspicious and trustful.
- Affectionate: children seem naturally inclined to love. They are “simple-hearted in bestowing their love” and only need to “see the manifestations of love towards themselves, and they give their hearts, returning love for love without stint or fear.”(1)
- Willing to live by faith: in fact, children live by faith all together. They have faith in their family and friends to provide everything they need and trust them fully without anxiety.
So what was Jesus’ point?
Considering what the disciples had just done, Jesus was drawing an analogy with the intention of demonstrating that the characteristics children possess are necessary for the acceptance of salvation. We are not to look down on people because in God’s kingdom there is no room for the pursuit of status. Instead, we must recognize that all humankind is fallen, and without God’s gift of salvation there would be no hope.
God is in the business of acceptance, regardless of status, and extends an invitation of salvation to all.
Therefore, like children we must be transparent in our character before the Lord and honest about who we are. We must confide in the Lord and be willing trust that what he says is true. We must respond in love to Jesus’ love – acknowledging that he loves us with the greatest love imaginable. And we must be willing to live by faith, free of anxiety in the knowledge that he is all we need.
Jesus’ goal in these passages was to get his disciples to re-evaluate what they considered important or necessary for life as citizens of God’s kingdom. Likewise, let’s re-evaluate our lives.
What do we consider important? Do we have a child-like spirit?
(1) Quote from The Child-like Spirit An Essential Condition of Entering Heaven.