Our redemption, according to God’s design, rests upon His willingness to provide a Substitute to pay for our sins without requiring any works or merit from us. Salvation, as the Bible teaches so clearly, is a gift of God. We are not required to earn it, nor are we able to contribute to it. We are saved apart from our absolute lack of merit (John 5:24; Rom. 3:23, 24; 6:23; Eph. 2:8-10; etc.). Throughout the history of Christ’s Church, however, this pure gospel has been opposed, misrepresented, and misinterpreted. Various efforts have been made to destroy the message that salvation is by grace, through faith alone, by which God receives all the glory. Fallen man seems determined to invent a system by which his labors contribute to our salvation.

A perversion of the gospel that is prevalent in some contemporary evangelical circles is clearly works-oriented, although its proponents insist that their perspective is not the “same old heresy” that has troubled the Church down through the centuries. In this more modern corruption of the gospel, the idea of “formula” dominates. By this I mean that some believers maintain that the salvation of our children is virtually guaranteed if a particular pattern (or formula) is followed. They insist that the Christian household must be characterized by a particular set of beliefs and practices in order to produce believing offspring.

Moreover, those who hold this idea that the salvation of children is largely a matter of parental obedience are ferociously defensive of their views to the point that non-conforming families are ostracized and considered to be in rebellion against the Scriptures. And if a Christian family should include a rebellious teenager or young adult at some point, blame is immediately and confidently placed on the backs of the parents who obviously failed to maintain a consistent application of all the necessary elements of the model.

Rigidness and intolerance are the chief attributes of this mechanical approach to raising children. As a result of this perspective, proponents maintain that all Christian households should basically function the same way, follow the same rules, and employ the same approach with every child regardless of differing personality traits or abilities or interests. It is certainly true that God assigns an incredible responsibility to parents, which includes certain principles that should, indeed, be found in every Christian home. But the Bible does not teach that the salvation of the child is in any way assured based upon the conduct of the parents. In fact, this would be contrary to the notion that salvation is of grace.

Every parent should desire to train a child to live in the fear of the Lord with thankfulness and humility. The crucial element involved in such an endeavor, however, is not within the realm of potential accomplishments for any parent. This is because salvation requires a renewed heart and only God can bring that the pass. It is possible, therefore, for parents to be consistent and diligent in raising their children according to the teaching of Scripture and still have a child who eventually refuses to continue in the faith or who conducts himself in ways contrary to the teaching of the Bible. This does not necessarily mean that the parents failed.

We should be very careful when assessing the relationship between parent and child when the child exhibits signs of rebellion. It may very well be that the parents have been negligent and allowed the fallen nature of the child to go unchecked, but we cannot allow ourselves to put confidence in a particular model of parenting when it comes to salvation of our children. We must not even approach the thought that we can obligate God to save our children based on our efforts as parents.

There are many dangerous consequences if such thinking prevails. I already mentioned the condemnation that is often heaped upon parents with disobedient or unfaithful children. Beyond that, there is also a genuine risk that the child will come to think in terms of reward or merit for pleasing behavior. The gospel, however, will not accommodate a belief that God may be required to reward parents with the salvation of their offspring. Grace is blessing apart from worthiness; grace is divine favor in spite of imperfection. Parents should endeavor to live in holiness and teach their children to do the same. But they should also constantly remember that salvation is God’s gift and should, therefore, prayerfully seek His mercy for their little ones every day. Simply put, grace is not an equation.