Reformed theology has been instrumental, even foundational, in keeping our kids Christian. Looking back at Christian history this means that I find the faith explicated by men such as Augustine and Calvin more persuasive than Pelagius and Arminius. I was reminded of this recently in a New Testament reading at our church from John 10. The passage is familiar to all Christians because it’s about Jesus as the good shepherd. What stood out to me was the relationship of the shepherd to the sheep. It is clear that the relationship is one of belonging; the good shepherd knows his sheep, and they know him. They belong to him, and he to them. Here are Jesus’ words:
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Verse 27 is especially powerful and instructive in that it comes before verse 28 and the promise of eternal life. The sheep belong to the shepherd: he owns them (v.12). Jesus doesn’t offer them eternal life if they will only take it; he gives it to them, and “they shall never perish.” Period, end of story. This is true because Jesus didn’t come to save just anybody, but a specific body of people. We know this because when an angel of the Lord announced the coming of the Messiah he was given a name for a very specific reason. (Matthew 1):
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins
Notice who Jesus came to save: his people. He didn’t come to potentially save some undifferentiated mass of humanity from their sins who might one day choose to accept the offer. No! He came to save his people from their sins. His people. The way Augustine or Calvin would interpret theses words is completely different from the way Pelagius or Arminius would, and I find the former far more persuasive.
The reason this has to be true is because all human beings are born dead in sin, and are enemies of God. As Paul says quoting the Psalms, “there is no one who seeks God.” We are all like Adam and Eve after the Fall. When the Lord God “was walking in the garden in the cool of the day,” what did Adam and Eve do? They hid! They were ashamed because of their nakedness. God could have exacted the wages of sin, death, that very moment, but he didn’t. In fact, he first promises that there is a salvation to come, then pronounces judgment upon them (I call this the gravitation pull of sin in a fallen world), and then he sacrifices an animal to clothe them. At that very moment, the sovereign, Almighty Triune God put in motion the excruciatingly long process of saving his people from their sin. And throughout the whole story of the history of redemption, God is choosing. We might even say, God is the choosing one. And God’s choosing is always in spite of what his people do, never because of it. Next time you read through the Old Testament see just how true this is.
So how is this Augustinian and Calvinistic (Reformed) view of salvation foundational in keeping our kids Christian? First, they are Christians because they are born to my wife and I, and God’s covenant promises are to us and our children. Don’t believe me? Here are the words of the Apostle Peter in Acts 2, the very first sermon in Christian history:
39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.
Our children are not strangers to the covenant! Peter was no doubt aware of Moses’ words in Deut. 29:29: “the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” Our children have never had to bear the weight of thinking their salvation was up to them, that it was ultimately based on their choice. It wasn’t! They have chosen to follow Jesus as one of his sheep because he chose and owns them; they are his. He gave them eternal life, and they shall never parish; no one will snatch them out of his hands.