What does it mean to have childlike faith?
The concept of faith is woven through the pages of Scripture and is essential to a personal relationship with God. In fact, “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV). It is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9) and not only is it necessary for salvation it is part of our daily walk and warfare as believers (Ephesians 6:16).
Contrary to popular Christian opinion, the Bible neither exhorts us to have childlike faith nor does it tell us to believe as children believe. The idea that we are to have childlike faith is an incorrect inference based on several passages of Scripture. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14-15; Luke 18:15-17).
These passages don’t tell us what receiving the kingdom of God like a little child means so it is wrongly assumed to be referring to the faith of a child. In Matthew 18:2-4 Jesus spells out what He means. “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (NASB).
Jesus said these things in response to the disciples’ question, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (v. 1). There is no discussion of faith in this passage. Rather, He is exhorting us to be humble like a child who is not ambitious, proud, or haughty. Children are characteristically humble and teachable. It is the humility of children that we are to emulate, not their faith.
Children are easily fooled and led astray, often accepting things blindly and missing truth while being drawn to myths and fantasies. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” but that doesn’t mean we accept blindly as a child often does. True faith, the gift from God, is characterized by “assurance” and “conviction,” not by blind belief for no reason.
Childlike faith, while a good place to start, must mature. How do we mature in our faith? Just as physical maturity requires certain things the same is true for spiritual maturity. Here are three major requirements for spiritual maturity.
1. Scripture—Eating. “…like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). The Word is our spiritual food. We must take it in and digest it. Reading, studying, memorizing, and obeying are the ways we digest the Word. Our thinking is to become biblical and theological, our obedience is to be total. The result will be personal growth and transformation (Romans 12:2-3). If we ignore Scripture we will remain spiritual babies.
2. Prayer—Breathing. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). What breathing is to the body, prayer is to the believer. Through prayer we submit to the Lord’s will, cement His truth in our hearts, express our adoration, confess our sins, give thanks for blessings, wage spiritual war, and present needs to Him. Learning to breathe deeper, that is, expanding our prayer life will help us mature.
3. Service—Doing. Christ gave us spiritual gifts “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all…become mature” (Ephesians 4:12-13). An inactive body doesn’t grow, it remains stunted. A body that stops being active withers. We are to be active in ministry exercising the spiritual gifts God gave us. By such activity we and the body of Christ mature. Through service we experience fellowship with others, and are personally challenged, stretched, and refined. The more we serve the more our capacity for service grows.
Our goal as believers is not childlike faith. Instead it is to grow to be “mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:4). I hope this helps.