Answering this question requires prayerful patience on the part of us parents. Basically what we are looking for is what I call “signs of life.” If you were to walk into a house while the occupants were away and see little toys all over the floor, dishes in the kitchen sink, music left playing in the upstairs room, tools left out on the counter, and a laundry basket left on the stairs waiting to be carried up (yes, this is a description of the average day at my house), you would reasonably assume that a family lives in that house. These are “signs of life.”
This idea translates into our spiritual lives and the spiritual lives of our children. We are looking for spiritual signs of life–things that can give us clues as to the spiritual condition of our children. While they may profess to be followers of Christ, professions alone cannot answer the question as to the spiritual condition of an individual. There are certain things that invariably show up in an individual’s life who has been born again. Here are a few to be on the look out for in your children’s lives:
1) An interest in talking about spiritual things. If your child will talk to you about spiritual matters, this is a good thing. Even young children can show evidence of faith in their willingness to talk to their parents (or others) about God and the Christian life. Jesus tells us that what is in our hearts eventually comes out of our mouths (Matthew 15:18), so what we talk about reveals a great deal about what is in our hearts. This is more than a mere curiosity about Christ. It is a willingness to talk about God and the Christian life on a personal level. If your older child or youth is uninterested or unwilling to talk about spiritual matters, this is an issue for fervent prayer.
2) An interest in the spiritual disciplines (Bible reading, prayer, family worship, etc.). If your child makes positive moves toward Bible reading and other spiritual disciplines, this is a good thing. Of course, we should remain realistic in our expectations. Our children may not be spending hours a day in the word of God, but if they show even a very basic interest in God’s word (an awareness that they need to be in it and even guilt over their own inconsistencies), we can be encouraged. Another sign of life is interest in family worship and prayer. Do they participate? Do they ask questions during family worship/devotions, or do they dread it and are glad when it is over? Again, these are issues of fervent prayer.
3) A concern for becoming more like Christ. If you see that your children have even a rudimentary sense or awareness that they need to be growing deeper in their faith and becoming more like Christ in their character, this is a good thing. All true believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who produces the fruit of the Spirit, conforming our character to the likeness of Christ (Galatians 5:16-24, John 15:1-8). If our children show signs of wanting to become more like Christ and living in a way that is pleasing to God, then these are obvious clues that the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives.
We have to be careful–none of these things actually save our children, but they are possible indicators of their spiritual condition. Our children may not demonstrate the spiritual maturity of an adult who has walked with God for decades, but the same basic tendencies should show up at times. Our job as parents is to model authentic repentance and faith while stoking the embers of faith in our children, always pointing them to Christ alone as the one who saves.