Matthew 18:1-3 – At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
What did Jesus mean when He told His disciples that we must be converted and become like children, in order to enter the kingdom of heaven?
The word “converted” means to change, or to turn from one thing to another. The Greek word is a little more specific. Strephō means to turn around or turn back. We often say that someone who becomes a believer is “converted” to Christianity. This is an accurate statement. The gospel is the good news of how we can return to our original state which God intended when He placed Adam and Eve in the garden. Through Christ, we are redeemed, and brought back into a right relationship with our Heavenly Father. We are converted from our sinfulness, into the righteousness of Christ.
So we understand what it means to be converted … to turn back to God. But why must we become like children? When Adam and Eve were created, they truly knew what it was to be a child of God. They were completely dependent on Him for every part of their life. This is the lesson that I see in Jesus’ words that we become like children.
God’s children depend on Him to provide for their physical needs.
A baby is completely dependent on its parents to provide for everything: food, clothing, a place to sleep, medical care, and love. As children, we grow up, and become more and more independent. But that’s not how God wants us to be. He desires for us to be more and more dependent on Him, just like a newborn baby.
Matthew 6:25-33 – “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Jesus is speaking to his adult disciples. Of course, He is not telling us we should stay at home and wait for God to supernaturally deliver food to our door. Just as He gave Adam and Eve the responsibility to care for the garden that provided for their needs, He gives us wisdom, strength, knowledge and abilities to work. (2 Thessalonians 3:10) He expects us to be a productive part of the body of Christ, and work hard in response to the gifts He has given us. But we must recognize that all our needs are ultimately provided by God, and when things get scary or tough, we can depend on Him to fill whatever is lacking. Our primary task is to seek His kingdom purposes, and live a godly life that honors Him. That is our part. His part is to care for His children, including their physical needs.
Philippians 4:19 – And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Psalm 104:24-28 – O Lord, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your possessions. There is the sea, great and broad, in which are swarms without number, animals both small and great. There the ships move along, and Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it. They all wait for You to give them their food in due season. You give it to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.
God’s children depend on Him to protect them from our enemies.
A baby that is loved and cared for doesn’t know what fear is. They relax in their parent’s arms, never worrying if they will be dropped.
They close their eyes in sleep, never thinking about what harm might come to them. They look trustingly into the eyes of their father or mother, expecting to be fed, changed, looked after and protected.
In the same way, we should relax in the arms of our Heavenly Father. As we get to know Him as our Creator, the Almighty God, we should never know anxiety. Oh yes, it might pop up for a moment, in our emotions and thoughts. Our enemy is the master of those stinging arrows that cause our heart to race, as we think, “What if…” But as we look trustingly into the eyes of our Father, through the power of His written Word, we will relax in His arms, knowing that He can protect us from all things that come against us.
Psalm 121:7 – The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul.
2 Thessalonians 3:3 – But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.
Psalm 138:7-8 – Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me. The Lord will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O Lord, is everlasting; do not forsake the works of Your hands.
God’s children depend on Him for to meet their spiritual and emotional needs.
Galatians 4:6 – Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Read any research paper on how children develop, and you quickly learn that it’s not just about food, clothing and shelter. A baby needs to be loved. He needs conversation that stimulates him, helping him to grow in knowledge. He needs affirmation and encouragement to develop emotionally. He needs discipline to show him how to live as a productive member of society. He needs a mother and a father who are there for him, every step of the way – cheering him on, picking him up when he falls, and correcting him when he makes wrong choices.
As we learn to allow God into every part of our heart, as a trusting child, He meets our spiritual and emotional needs. We can trust Him to tell us the truth. We can go to Him for encouragement when we are afraid. We can depend on Him for advice and counsel in every decision. He longs to be our “Daddy” (Abba), and to fill us up with Himself.
Ephesians 3:14-19 – For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
These verses are not describing a cold, legalistic, works-based religion. They are describing a relationship with our Heavenly Father that is deeply satisfying on every level. God desires us to know Him personally and intimately, and to fill up all the empty places inside of our soul with Himself.
If you are a parent or grandparent, consider what you feel when you hold that little child in your arms. There is a rush of love that is so deep you don’t know how to describe it. You realize you would do anything in your power to make sure that no harm comes to that child, and that his or her every need is met.
Don’t you think our Heavenly Father feels the same way about us? He longs to hold us just as we love feeling that sweet weight of a relaxed baby who is completely trusting in us to care for them.
Whatever you are facing today: fear, anxiety, physical needs or challenges, or places in your soul where the enemy has tried to steal the peace of God … relax in the arms of your Father. Turn back…turn away from your independence and self-sufficiency and remember what it’s like to be a child…the child of God, secure in the arms of the Father.
Deuteronomy 33:26-27a – There is none like the God of Jeshurun [Israel], who rides the heavens to your help, and through the skies in His majesty. The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.