One of the “tough” moments that Christian parents face is when a young child expresses a desire to be baptized. Christian parents do not want to discourage their child from doing what is right. However, most Christian parents know that when one is baptized, one must obey from the heart (Romans 6:17)—one’s motive must be to please God, and one must understand the purpose of baptism. If one is baptized, but does not obey from the heart, one’s baptism is of no avail. While Christian parents do not want to discourage their child from doing right, parents do not wish to encourage their child to be baptized before the child has a relatively good understanding of baptism and the commitment that it involves. Hence, the question, “Is my child ready to be baptized?”.
How do parents ascertain if their child is ready to be baptized? There is no “magic” age that assures parents that their child is ready to be baptized. Parents must determine how to advise their child by their child’s deeds and thoughts. How serious is their child about religion? I doubt that a young person who still literally sleeps through most worship services, never pays attention to what goes on during worship services, and has to be “made” to come to worship has demonstrated the spiritual maturity that is needed for baptism. If a young person is serious about religion, he or she will be serious about such things as worship and Bible study and righteousness.
There are questions that parents can ask that might be helpful in gaining insight into their child’s readiness to be baptized. Start by asking, "Why do you want to be baptized?" Listen carefully to the answer. Is it because a friend has recently been baptized? To be baptized because someone else has recently been baptized is not a sufficient reason to be baptized. However, do not assume because a friend was recently baptized that your child’s desire to be baptized is not legit. The conversion of one person may cause another to think of his or her own soul’s need and to genuinely and rightly desire to be baptized.
Does your child want to be baptized because he or she wants to go to heaven and does not want to go to hell? Jesus did say, “He that believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). But is the child lost? Why does he or she think himself or herself lost, and how does baptism “fix” the problem? What change does your child think baptism will make in his or her life? Is your child just wanting to “play it safe,” or does he or she presently feel condemned to hell and feel the need to be saved?
Also, ask your child what the scriptures mean when they speak of Jesus as “Lord and Christ." Do not seek a formal definition of terms, but look for an understanding of the statement. If one does not know what it means to say, “Jesus is Lord and Christ,” can one be ready? How can one confess faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ if one does not know what is meant by this great truth? (Acts 8:36-38).
If you are not reasonably sure that your child is ready to be baptized, offer encouragement by telling him or her that it is good that he or she is thinking about being baptized and being saved; ask your child to think about the matter for awhile longer. Tell your child that God does not send any young person to hell or expect him or her to be baptized until he or she is able to understand more fully the answers to some of the questions that you have discussed. Do not tell your child all the answers at this moment. You do not want him or her to simply memorize your answers and repeat them back to you in a day or so; you want him or her to learn and understand the answers to essential questions and to act out of conviction. If your child truly understands about salvation and recognizes himself or herself as lost, he or she will not be easily dissuaded from being baptized. His or her persistence might be indicative of a readiness to be baptized.
Parents may also find a workbook by Mark Roberts helpful; it is entitled, “Am I Ready?” The workbook is designed to help parents and child determine if a child is ready to be baptized. It contains only a few lessons; they deal with fundamental truths that one needs to know to become a Christian. A different lesson is to be studied every week by the parents and child together, but the child needs to take some of the initiative in pursuing the study. The thought being that if a young person is not serious about becoming a Christian, interest will wane; if they proceed, they probably are serious about becoming a Christian and will have been taught or reminded of some essential Bible truths.
Parents are sometimes concerned that if they discourage their child from being baptized at an early age, he or she may never be baptized? The purpose of talking with a young person about baptism is not to discourage the child, but to give needed guidance that is in accordance to God’s command, “Do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). When honest, loving counsel is given in an environment of godliness, it is not usually detrimental to souls.
Parenting is not always easy, and it should be done in humility and prayer under the oversight of God’s Word. However, parenting does have its rewards — like seeing a son of daughter become a Christian and watching them grow in the Lord. May God bless those who seek to be godly parents!