As a parent, we delighted in watching our sons open birthday gifts when they were young. Their laughter and beaming faces were contagious to everyone in the room. That is, until the birthday cards were ripped open and shaken to see if cash fell out. If nothing fell out, the cards were thrown by the wayside. This parent’s beaming face quickly became flush with embarrassment but let’s face it: children possess the unique ability to display playful innocence one minute and childish behavior the next.
Where Does the Bible Mention Childlike Faith?
The Bible may not use the phrase “childlike faith,” but in Matthew 18:1, the disciples ask Jesus who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. They wanted a clear-cut answer because they couldn’t figure it out among themselves, but Jesus turned their perception of the “greatest” upside down by calling a young child to Himself and placing the child among them.
With all eyes on the child, Jesus says in verse 3, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus is speaking to the disciples, not to a crowd of unbelievers. He says the people who enter this kingdom will be those like a child, empty of power and have nothing to offer for entry—personal achievement, good works, etc.
What Separates Childlike from Childish Behavior?
What separates childlike and childish behavior is the origin of the actions. Being childlike is expected of a child, and it implies positive behavior. They are being what they were created to be—a child.
Childish behavior is actions done by someone who knows how to act more maturely but chooses to hold onto a child’s behaviors, carrying a negative connotation. They are acting like a child. Some childlike behaviors include:
1. Honesty. Their innocence promotes honest remarks whether we’re prepared for them or not.
2. Inquisitive. Some statistics reveal that children ask an average of 73 questions a day.
3. Joyful. Little effort is required to make a child giggle or go into a full-blown belly laugh.
4. Free. They think and act freely, unhindered by the weight of the world.
5. Dependent. Young children totally depend on someone to feed, clothe and supervise them.
6. Quick Recoveries. After a fall, there will most likely be tears and bandaged knees, but young children quickly put the incident behind them and start playing again.
7. Playful. With an endless imagination, boxes become forts and castles, and imaginary friends make the best tea.
8. Creative. With no worries of judgment or self-doubt, children create masterpieces hung on grandparents’ refrigerators until they fade or crumble, whichever comes first.
9. A sense of wonder. A tiny bug can stop a young child in their tracks.
10. Unbridled trust. If not for us fully trusting in the parent who told us to peddle despite the wobbly tires, none of us would know how to ride a bike today. Young children trust quickly and often without much thought, which is why we warn them not to talk to strangers.
What Does Childlike Faith Look Like?
With spiritual eyes, it’s understandable why Jesus pointed to a child when describing the traits of faith that inhabit the kingdom of heaven:
1. Honesty. We must be honest with ourselves, others, and God. Not one thing is hidden from Him, so nothing we say will catch Him off guard. We, like children, can come to Him with a humble and honest heart, seeking mercy and forgiveness (1 John 1:9).
2. Inquisitive. God welcomes our questions. He isn’t afraid or intimidated by them. Throughout the book of Psalms, King David asked God hard questions but always ended them with a declaration of God’s attributes, trusting in His sovereignty, whether he received the answer or not.
3. Joyful. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).
4. Free. John 8:36 says it best. If Jesus has set you free, you are free indeed. Believing in Jesus Christ frees us from the penalty, power, and one day, the very presence of sin. It has no hold on us.
5. Dependent. In a culture that cries out for independence, we recognize the desperate need for our Heavenly Father’s guidance (Psalm 62:5-12).
6. Quick recoveries. We’re not to be easily offended (1 Corinthians 13:5) or hold grudges, which keeps us in a holding pattern of bitterness and anger. We’re to forgive as Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).
7. Playful. Some people are naturally more playful than others, and that’s okay. However, not taking ourselves too seriously opens opportunities to make true connections with others (Proverbs 17:22).
8. Creative. Creativity isn’t limited to fine artists or poets. We were made in the image of God, and He is creative. Perhaps our creativity comes alive in the kitchen, when solving technical issues at work, or in finding ways to make the unseen feel seen (Psalm 65:8).
9. A sense of wonder. In a world that promotes side hustles and push notifications, it’s easy to miss God’s wonders in our daily lives. It requires intentionality to slow down and notice God’s touch in people, nature, and the simplest things (Psalm 118:23).
10. Unbridled trust. Because God is trustworthy, we can fully trust in Him (Proverbs 3:5-6). We can trust in Jesus for our salvation and everything pertaining to life.
What Does Childish Faith Look Like?
Some adult childish behaviors could include:
1. Letting healthy, playful behavior hijack our work ethics or goals for the future instead of working unto the Lord.
2. Demanding our way, refusing to trust in God’s way.
3. Making decisions based on our thoughts instead of God’s wisdom.
4. Hiding behind good works, busyness, or pride when we sin instead of being honest with God and receiving His grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
It may seem contradictive to be told to become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” But it goes back to the difference between being childlike and childish.
Being like a child—innocent, dependent, and trusting—is desired.
Acting like a child—letting our sinful desires control our actions—is not desired.
Does Childlike Faith Mean We Don’t Seek Knowledge?
A childlike faith seeks knowledge because it is keenly aware of the need for God’s wisdom and discernment. Ephesians 4:14 explains that such faith is resilient, not naïve, nor easy prey to cunning and crafty people. As children of God, we keep a child’s spiritual perspective, loving, trusting, and depending on God while walking wisely and firmly rooted in our childlike faith.
How Do We Achieve Childlike Faith?
1. Stay in God’s Word. When we miss these times alone with God, we refuse to remain in shame or guilt. Our good and gracious Heavenly Father waits with open arms for our return and a readiness to pick up where we left off. Don’t let the enemy convince you otherwise.
2. Memorize Scripture. Children learn verses at church and home. When we choose to keep God’s Word hidden in our hearts, it keeps us from sin and helps us to make wiser choices. (Psalm 119:11)
3. Spend more time with children. Notice their joy and exuberance for life. Ask God to help you become a child in all the right ways.
“[Christ] wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.” — C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
For Further Reading:
What Does it Mean to be a Child of God as an Adult?
How Do We Seek First the Kingdom of God?
What Does it Mean That God Is Our Abba Father?
How Did Jesus Interact with Children?
What Does it Mean to be a Slave to Sin?
Why Is Spiritual Maturity Important?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Sasiistock
Cathy Baker is the author of Pauses for the Vacationing Soul: A Sensory-Based Devotional Guide for the Beach and Pauses for the Vacationing Soul: A Sensory-Based Devotional Guide for the Mountains. She writes from a tiny studio lovingly known as The Tiny House on the Hill in the Foothills of SC. As an author, Hope Writer, and Bible teacher for over twenty-five years, she encourages women to pause and embrace the seemingly small, mundane moments of their day for God’s glory. She invites you to join her in the tiny house where you’re always welcome to come in and take a seat.
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