Tuesday, July 27, 2021

What Does It Mean To Be Childlike?

I’ve been mulling over what it means to have child-like faith, which is an expression we use based on Jesus’s words to His disciples, which are recorded in three of the four gospels:
Matthew 18:3: “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

Mark 10:15: “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Luke 18:17: “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

In Matthew, the word often translated as turn or repent is better translated as convert or change. The language here is passive voice, suggesting the individual has received the action of change, rather than doing it.

In contrast, both verbs for become [like children] in Matthew and receive [the kingdom] in Mark and Luke are in middle voice, meaning the subject is acting in some way upon himself or concerning himself. The verb for receive implies to reach out and take hold of.

In other words, these phrases mean the same thing: becoming like children and receiving the kingdom like a child means we, as believers, do the action to ourselves, and that action is having childlike qualities.

The key here is to understand those childlike qualities. What does it mean to be like a child or to reach out and grab hold of something like a child?

1. Children ask for what they want without fear or doubt, even if they’ve been told no before. Sometimes my toddler asks for more goldfish when she’s had plenty, and sometimes I’ll tell her no. That’s never once stopped her from asking for more the next snack time. She doesn’t understand or feel or imagine rejection in the face of a no. Her past experiences with no—in the sense of asking for what she wants, not in the sense of discipline—have not limited her enthusiasm for asking in the future.

2. Children trust their parents with utter dependence. My daughter never has to wonder if we’ll feed her. When we go out of town, she’s not concerned about whether we’ve packed clothes or have a place for her to sleep. She doesn’t worry about the route we’ll take or how much time it will take to get there. She knows we, her parents, take care of all those things, and she just gets to be a kid, along for the ride.

3. Children believe what their parents say is true. If I told Emmy her Daddy was in the garage, she would run toward that room and try to open the door to see him. She believes me because I said it, and she has no reason to doubt it. I could show her the empty garage within a few minutes and do it all over again, and she’d still believe me. Obviously, I wouldn’t do that because I’m lying and tricking her, and God doesn’t play with us like that either. But the point is, she would believe me again and again and again because I said it, and if I said it, then it’s true.

I’m using examples with my toddler on purpose. The word for child or children in all three of these verses is the same word, and it implies infancy or a young age, like a toddler.

Certainly by the time some children reach the later stages of childhood, and as we grow into adults, we don’t retain these characteristics. Our experiences or our circumstances have taught us that we don’t get what we ask for sometimes, so we stop asking for certain things. We may worry our parents will forget to pack our favorite blanket or pjs, so we remind them. And we have a better sense of how long we’ve been on a car ride and want to know when we will get there. And we doubt or don’t believe because someone has tricked us before. We’ve been lied to, deceived, and we hesitate first before absolute belief.

But to enter into the kingdom of God, to reach out and take hold of it, we have to go back to those days of infancy and toddler-like innocent.

And to do that, we have to suspend all of our experiences and circumstances, to return to utter dependence and belief, to ask for what we want without fear of rejection or disappointment.

It sounds like freedom to return to these childlike qualities—and yet, it’s so, so hard to let go of our control, to get out of our own heads, and to release our past disappointments. But Jesus tells us we must—and don’t we want all that He has for us? Don’t we want to experience His kingdom—righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17) right now?

Let us return to that childlike faith, the absolute hope and trust and belief in the security and goodness of our Heavenly Father.

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