God’s grace in Jesus Christ is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. We are saved by God’s grace, not by our works (Eph. 2:8–10), but God’s grace operates differently in different classes of people. First, there is the class of those converted as adults, who have lived lives dominated by sin and its injurious consequences. God’s grace when they trust his Son is his recovering grace.
Second, there is that class of children generally reared in a Christian home and the church who, while born sinners, are spared the deep, injurious effects of sin since God’s grace captures their little hearts before sin’s effects run deeply in their lives. This is God’s preventative grace. These are two kinds of grace, both splendorous, but one is preferable to the other: God’s preventative grace is preferable to his recovering grace.
All Grace Is Great, But Some Grace Is Greater
Years ago there was a popular Christian radio program called, “Unshackled.” It was a dramatization of the conversion experience of sinners who’d fallen into deep depravity but whom God had marvelously saved: alcoholics and thieves and drug addicts and prostitutes and unscrupulous businessmen and on and on. It was always exciting and moving. One got the impression listening to “Unshackled” that the most exciting conversions were those conversions of sinners who’d fallen into deep depravity but whom God had saved and cleaned up for his glory.
This mentality, in fact, has become the reigning paradigm in much of American Christianity.
But there is one drawback to the “Unshackled” mentality. It’s the spurious idea that somehow God’s grace is most greatly exhibited when it rescues the most depraved sinner.
This is utterly false. God’s preventative grace is preferable to his recovering grace. Do you imagine that God’s grace is less potent, less glorious, less overwhelming when it captures a little child in a Christian family and keeps that child from the depths of depravity? Which is a greater testimony to God’s grace: salvation of somebody steeped in immorality and drug addiction and abortion and pride or illegitimate divorce or pornography, or salvation of somebody so that they’ll never have to endure the painful consequences of these and other sins?
Know this: God promises to forgive the sins of anybody who repents. But God doesn’t promise to deliver us from all of sin’s consequences. Oh, how many who were saved later in life still bear the scars of the sins of their pre-conversion life! And oh, what joy in the hearts of young adults, reared in the Christian Faith, most from infancy — knowing that there’s no reason to suffer the dreadful consequences of those sins of heart and mind and body — because God’s preventative grace is preferable to his recovering grace.
The Blessing of a Boring Testimony
Years ago one of my daughters was going on a mission trip with an evangelical church. She came to me and said, “Dad, before we go, we’re required to give the group a public testimony of our salvation experience. I know I’m saved. What should I say? A lot of the other kids have really spectacular testimonies, but mine is so boring. I was trained in a Christian home and heard the gospel from an infant and trusted the Lord. I wish my testimony were more exciting!”
I smiled with gratification, and told her of the blessing of a boring testimony.
One of the great errors of the church today is the notion that one must fall into deep depravity in order to be “truly saved by grace,” and that since this usually excludes small children, they need to “grow up and sin real good” before they can become “real Christians.” One is immediately reminded of Paul’s dire comment to the Romans:
For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And [why] not [say], “Let us do evil that good may come”? — as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just. (Rom. 3:7-8)
God’s grace is not glorified because of sin; it is glorified in spite of sin. Obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22).
God’s preventative grace is to be more highly prized than His recovering grace. It is glorious grace in both cases, but God’s grace is exalted more in what it prevents than in what it repairs.
We learn of Timothy, to whom Paul writes, “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15, emphases supplied).
My daughter’s paternal grandmother was converted as a Sunday school child at nine years old. Her father himself (that is, I) was converted at two or three years old, and cannot even remember first being converted.
We can experience salvation from a very young age, in fact, from our youth. Little children who bounced on Jesus’ lap believed on Him (Mt. 18:6). The very smallest children can — and should — be believers.
Indeed, while the modern evangelical message is generally that children must have an “adult” conversion experience, Jesus taught just the opposite: adults must have a child’s conversion experience (Mt. 18:3).
Child conversion is rule; adult conversion is the exception.
May God give us a massive harvest of young people nourished in the gospel from their infancy! May we, by the grace of God, rise up an entire generation of warriors for the Faith, protected from many of the tragic consequences of sin into which those not blessed with a Christian upbringing have fallen.