Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all.” “Like a child.” What does He mean?
Does He mean:
(1) Children are perfect? If you believe that, I welcome you to spend one day in my house with six children. I guarantee your belief won’t survive for two hours. Right, boys?
(2) Does He mean children are innocent? Does He mean that while children may do wrong, they are not accountable, they are not guilty before God? But David writes in Psalm 51
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5 NIV)
Even before David did anything, he was sinful, he was tarnished by sin. Paul says we are “by nature children of wrath.” If we are all by nature children of wrath, if we are all sinful from the moment of conception, then children are not innocent.
Let’s look at verse Mark 10:15 more closely. Note that the verse does not say we are to “become like a child;” instead, it says we must receive the kingdom like a child. Indeed, elsewhere Paul tells us we are not to be like children in some ways:
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:14 NASB)
So what do Paul and Jesus mean? How can we receive the kingdom like a child, but then avoid being like children in Paul’s sense?
I believe there are three characteristics of children that Jesus desires in us. Think of four to six-year-old children. What are they like?
First, children are straightforward. My daughter, Erin, was not yet three when my first son was born. My older sister was pregnant at the time with her first, and my brother-in-law Ed, looking forward to getting some experience with infants, came over to see his nephew. Baby Jonathan soiled Ed’s shirt, so he was sitting on our couch, shirtless, with Erin on his lap. Erin was fascinated by the hair on his chest, and, starting to stroke it, said, “Uncle Eddie! You’ve got fur on you!”
Children of this age say whatever comes into their minds. They are not worried about social convention, what others will think, or about what every one else is doing. They are not self-conscious. They say what they think.
Second, children are trusting. That is, they believe that others are straightforward. They tend to believe what others tell them. For example, when I was four, we lived in Colorado, surrounded by mountains. My seven-year-old sister threw me in a hole one day, and told me she was not really my sister, but an Indian; she was going to kidnap me and take me over “that mountain” to her tribe. I cried and cried, begging her not to take me away. She relented, said she was just teasing, that she was really my sister – and I hugged her. Then the next day she did it again, and I believed her again.
This story brings out both what Jesus wants and what Paul warns against. I should have been suspicious of my sister – at least the second time she did it! But God in His great mercy provides us evidence that He is indeed trustworthy – and so we are to believe Him in that simple, trusting manner of a child.
Third, children have a sense of wonder at the world. The Christmas when Erin was two, we were driving around looking at Christmas lights, and came to a particularly gaudy house: Santa and reindeer on top, thousands of brightly colored lights blinking on and off. Erin took one look, and was overwhelmed, saying, “Oh, that house is soinvigorating.” To children, the world is full of surprises, full of things that they don’t understand. They know that they don’t understand everything, so they are frequently lost in wonder.
How do these characteristics apply to the way we receive the kingdom?
Start with wonder: We need to be overwhelmed with the wonder of His love and power. “He created this world around us! He can do anything! And He came for me! He loves me!”
Second, we need to be straightforward with regard to our sinfulness, as the kids on stage were this morning when I asked them.
Third, we need to trust in Jesus, believe Him with the simple faith of a child, knowing He is so far above us that we will never understand Him – but we can trust Him.
So will you wonder as a child? Will you admit your sinfulness like a child? Will you trust like a child?