Become Like Children

Small children play at a park. A boy’s voice breaks into the festivity with a wildly unpopular declaration, “We can only play soccer on the field, not around the playground equipment!” The game stops by the swing set. Outraged to the bone, every child on the playground knows the drill. Spontaneously and collectively this little indignant crowd erupts,  “Who says?!!”

Even children know mandates mandate only when there is indisputable authority behind them. Words fall like feathers if the speaker carries no stick. Yet what children know in their hearts has gotten recklessly abandoned in the godlessness and heartlessness of contemporary society. Whether politics, social issues or spiritual issues, the “Who says” has been trumped by “Who cares.”

Illustrations abound. For example, contemporary debates on ethical issues (homosexuality and the definition of marriage, for example) find their way into public discourse with willful neglect of question behind the question. No one cares who gets the word, as long as mine is the final one; as long as I get my own my own way. But it is worse than that. Revealing our infatuation with moral defiance, we celebrate immoral self-expression. Whoever speaks most provocatively, flamboyantly, or perversely earns the microphone. And in a world where the “selfie” has become an art form, putrid narcissism has attained new vistas of societal acceptance and sophistication.

Our world idolizes trim waistlines and fit figures, and pushes diets, drugs and surgeries to make us beautiful. Meanwhile, the girth of our immoral appetites crushes the scales of morality. Physically fit and spiritually destitute, we long for more of our own way, our own comforts, and our own autonomy. Michael Jordan has apparently dubbed himself, “Yahweh,” profanely affirming “I am that I am.”[1] Though most would decline the open blasphemy, self-deification is a cultural slam-dunk: the only moral wrong is for you to deny that I am god.

With brashness and a sense of impunity, most in contemporary society join the Jordan broadcast of Romans 1, and do so in Dolby surround sound and 4k high definition. Americans have come to believe that we are wise, when in fact, we are fools. We are all right, and that is the only thing that is all right. Such is the kingdom of the world. It is not the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We wisely return to children. Lessons from these little ones were never lost on Jesus. At a critical time of gospel instruction with his disciples, he reminds them that greatness shows itself like childlikeness. As children embrace the connection between words and authority, so too the children of God know the voice of the authoritative King. “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Jesus has spoken. His voice commands our ears and our hearts.

Childlike hearts repudiate autonomy. Jesus does not mince words. To enter the kingdom of heaven requires faith, a childlike faith. As a child respects the voice of authority, so too true faith shows itself as an abandonment of self-reliance, a rejection of personal rights. Faith shows itself in a simple dependence and delight in the word and will of the King.

J. C. Ryle puts it richly concerning our childlike conversion, “If we have really received the Holy Ghost, we shall show it by a meek and childlike spirit. Like children, we shall think humbly of our own strength and wisdom, and be very dependent on our Father in heaven.”[2]

As Jesus insists, any sense of personal sophistication must die. Before the almighty God, self must evaporate. Our commitment to self-promotion, self-trust, and personal rights must come to an end. Any demands for rights are simply not right.

Jesus’ kingdom is defined not by the advance of self, but the denial of self. Our worth and value are not created by our foolish self-reliance, but upon our acknowledgement that Jesus is King over our hearts and our lives. He is Lord and there is no other. The voices of the children of God spontaneously and collectively erupt with praise: “He is Lord.”

Any other way is utter foolishness. It is the way of death.

[2] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: St. Matthew (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, n.d.), 220.


David Garner