If you’ve worked with young people that have been in evangelical Christian churches since they were nursery-aged, you’ve known more than a few who have struggled with assurance of their salvation. And you know many who should be struggling over it, but they appear to have a false assurance based on a distant memory.
Many teens who have grown up in the church need help to properly interpret the experience they had—or have been told they had—according to the Bible. Let’s look at a few different scenarios and how godly adults can guide teens through them.
Crisp Memory, Godless Life
This teenager is in a very dangerous place, and we might argue that a well-meaning adult is partially to blame. Even though he may remember saying a prayer and being told by a trusted adult, “now you are a child of God,” God’s own Word offers no such comfort (1 John 1:6). Sometimes, parents are the ones to cling to false assurances like memories of a child’s prayer.
Unfortunately, this kind of wishful thinking can do great harm, in keeping an individual from realizing his true condition and seeing the need to repent and turn to Christ. A more helpful reaction would involve praying for the teen’s salvation, making concerted attempts to demonstrate God’s love and grace to attract him to the Gospel.
Conflicted Memory, Insecure Feelings
This teenager is generally a “good kid” but lacks confidence regarding her standing with God. Such lack of confidence leads to reticence in areas, including Christian disciplines like prayer and Bible study. Of her supposed childhood conversion, she might say things like “I’m just not sure I really meant it,” or “I can’t remember exactly what I thought/said/felt/understood back then.”
What should your reaction be? First, ask her to explain the gospel to you! Once you’re confident that she gets it, ask her if she has confessed her sin before God and trusted in Christ’s death as her payment for sin. If she has, you can tell her that if she truly believes in her heart and is willing to openly profess her faith in Christ (Romans 10:9), she can be confident in her salvation. As she gets to know God better and finds ways to use her spiritual gifts to serve Him, she can experience greater fulfillment in her walk with the Lord.
Cloudy Memory, Godward Desires
This teen is the opposite of the first one described. The doubt is often linked to either a foggy memory or the fact that as a young child, he experienced no major outward change at the time he points to as his conversion.
You can help by focusing not on an experience but by the present reality of your teen’s fruit-filled life (Matthew 7:20). For genuine childhood converts, there may not have been an obvious change at the time of conversion, but there will certainly be a change between these godly teens and the godless ones around them.