At first glance, it may seem that the two words, “childish” and “childlike” are synonyms. Don’t both have the attributes of an adult with qualities relating to the behaviors, thoughts, and actions of a child? Absolutely, they do. The difference is startling if you actually take a look at the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Childlike – adjective – resembling or suggesting a child : like that of a child; especially : having or showing the pleasing qualities (such as innocence) that children often have
Childish – adjective – of a child or typical of a child; especially : having or showing the unpleasant qualities (such as silliness or lack of maturity) that children often have
As you can see, there is more here than a simple play on words. There is a major difference between childish and childlike. The former (childish) describes negative, or unpleasant qualities that children have, while the latter (childlike) describes the positive or pleasant qualities that children have.
So let me ask you again: Is your faith childLIKE or childISH? Lets explore this theme.
What does the Bible say?
We have scriptural support for behaving like children where our faith is concerned. For example, in Matthew 18, the disciples come to Jesus and ask Him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” After calling a child over and setting the child in His lap, he declares, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)
Here we have an example of the disciples being childish. They had a childish understanding of what it meant to be great. They thought in terms of being the best, the strongest, the coolest guy around. Jesus tells them that the mature and positive way of looking at being great is to have childlike humility. An obedient child looks up to their father and submits to his will. This is the essence of humility: Understanding who you are in the shadow of somebody greater. You understand that they have more knowledge than you and that they know what is best for you, so you willfully obey. God knows more than you could possibly imagine. Stop questioning Him and come before Him in childlike humility seeking to do His will.
Another great example is in Mark 10:14-15. Jesus was sitting down teaching and folks were bringing their children up so that He might touch them. Knowing that Jesus was teaching, His disciples rebuked the children, but that did not make Jesus happy. It says that He became indignant and said, “‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.'” And He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them.”
The disciples seem to be wrought with childish behaviors. This is a case of the disciples being called to childlike acceptance. He is telling them that it is foolish for them to question the gift of the kingdom of God. Instead, they should receive their gift with open hands and joy.
Modern applications and abuses
Let’s stop picking on the Apostles for a few minutes and talk about ourselves.
So often, we are caught up in our lives that we often display childish behaviors where our faith is concerned. It is childish to think that all it takes is one hour per week to sustain a relationship with God. Those of us who are married understand the importance of spending a large amount of time with our spouses. If we gave an hour a week to our wives, how good do you think the marriage will be?
Another question is how much do you think you know about God? You understand TULIP, fantastic! You can spout off the doctrinal definition of the Trinity (God is one in essence, three in person), and you can explain the nature of the incarnation (Christ is fully God and fully man), AWESOME! But it is childish to think you’re done learning. No man has perfect knowledge of God. No man has perfect Biblical understanding. Unless you are Christ Himself, you still have a lot to learn.
It is also childish to take a “blind leap of faith.” God has never called us to this. He calls us to leap from the darkness into the light, not from darkness to darkness. 1 Peter 3:13-16 says, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (emphasis mine).” This explains that there are REASONS for the hope we have. We don’t have a blind faith. Our faith is not built on irrationality or some psychological need for a god. Instead, our faith is the only rational explanation for life. It is the only rational explanation for anything, including logic, reason, and science. Without the Triune God of the Bible, none of these things could even exist. It is childish and unbiblical to simply dismiss somebody who asks you why you believe what it is you believe. In this, have maturity enough to defend yourself against their attacks.
What is not childish, but rather childlike, is for us to believe without doubt. To understand that God is there without constantly asking, “why?” a thousand times. It is childlike for us to realize our place when confronted by the Holy. It is childlike to stand with wide eye wonderment while our pastors are revealing the mysteries of God to us. It is childlike to want to learn all that we can about the God who made us and all creation.
Beloved, let us always remain childlike in our faith. Let us always have an unwavering faith in our all-powerful eternal God. Let us never doubt His Word, never doubt His love, and never let us question His commands; However, let us never remain childish in our faith. Rather, let us mature and grow steadfastly in our faith. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Let’s keep this in mind as we continue to live out our faith. Just because we are called to be childlike in regards to our innocence and in regards to our unwavering faith, let us not assume that this means that we are not called to learn all that God has revealed to us. Let us not assume that this means that we don’t need to have a defense for what it is we believe. Let us not assume that this means that we do not need to learn the more mysterious and difficult doctrines of God.
Be childlike but never childish with your faith. One is pleasing to God, the other is sinful neglect of the pursuit of the knowledge and applications of the things of God.