Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. (Mark 10:15)
One of the most endearing portrayals of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels is found in Mark 10, which describes His warm reception of the children who were brought to Him to be blessed (vv. 13–16).
The contrast between the attitude of the disciples and their Master could not be more striking. While the disciples rebuked the adults for bringing their children to the Master, Jesus welcomed them: “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (v. 14).
Not only did Jesus welcome the children, He held them up in the most remarkable way by presenting them as examples adults should imitate if they are to enter God’s kingdom. Jesus’ statement must have sounded incredulous to the mostly Jewish bystanders who heard it. According to Jewish heritage and history, the people the Jews regarded to be worthy of emulation were the great leaders of the past, like Moses, David and Isaiah.
Jesus, however, insists that little children can offer profound insights on the spiritual life. As John Calvin notes, Jesus “uses this present occasion to exhort his disciples to empty themselves of malice and pride, and to put on the nature of a child”.
This is not the only place in the gospels where Jesus uses children to teach His disciples about their relationship with God. In answer to His disciples’ question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus said: “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:1–4).
These passages teach that authentic faith in God must have a childlike character. The first characteristic of a childlike faith is simplicity—not in the sense of being simplistic or naïve—but in the sense that it is innocent of all pretentiousness and duplicity. In other words, a childlike faith is transparent and authentic; it is earnest and true.
And, finally, a Christian with childlike faith is always humble and teachable. He is always submissive to the authority of God and his Word, and so is drawn ever deeper into communion with the One who is unconditional love.
Childlikeness must never be confused with childishness. Paul was not contradicting Jesus when he exhorted the Corinthians: “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking” (1 Cor 14:20). We should not embrace a naïve pietism that sees reason as the enemy of faith (for that would indeed be childish!). On the contrary, a childlike faith is a questioning faith, one that always seeks to understand the truths it holds to be infallibly true.
The Christian with childlike faith can therefore echo Anselm’s beautiful prayer: “Let me seek you in desiring you; let me desire you in seeking you. Let me find you in loving you; let me love you in finding you… I yearn to understand some measure of your truth, which my heart believes and loves.”
And when he encounters the God of truth and love through His revealed Word, his heart will overflow with wonder, joy and praise.