Become Like a Little Child?
Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3). What does that mean and how do you do that?
“That’s easy. He’s talking about having the faith of a child.”
I know that’s what you’ve heard and it’s not a bad answer, but it misses the mark in an important way.
Jesus is not talking about children but little children meaning infants or toddlers. What did he mean when he said we must become like an infant to enter the kingdom? According to some, little children are special because:
- they are without worldly ambition
- they don’t count (they were considered losers in early society)
- they are honest and without guile
- they are capable of receiving love
- they are humble
These are fine interpretations, but again they fall short of Christ’s meaning.
What’s special about little children?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I have a little child in my house. She’s one year old and I don’t consider her a loser or humble or without ambition. As for being without guile, that’s definitely not the case. She played a trick on her big brother the other day that left us in stitches. Sure, she’s capable of receiving love but so are big children and adults.
These are not the defining characteristics of little children. So what is?
Let’s look at the passage in context:
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “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.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)
What makes little children special is they are helpless.
The kids in this story didn’t come to Jesus; they were brought to Jesus. Most of them couldn’t walk, so they had to be carried. Some couldn’t stand, so Jesus had to hold them, and he was delighted to do so.
People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them… (Luke 18:15)
In Luke’s account of the story the little children were babies and Jesus says the same thing. “Unless you change and become as helpless as a babe, you’ll never enter the kingdom” (my paraphrase of Luke 18:17).
Do you see?
This isn’t about your baby-like faith or your infant-like humility. It’s not about you at all but Jesus whose desire is to help the helpless.
And you are totally helpless when it comes to living the life that God wants for you.
What’s the problem?
The problem is that many of us are not helpless. We’ve swallowed a self-help gospel that says “Do A, B, and C and you’ll be blessed.”
We’re like the rich man in the parable, who backed himself, when we should be like Lazarus whom God helped.
“God helps those who help themselves.” That’s not true. God helps the helpless. He surely wants to help everyone but only the helpless receive his help.
I look at my toddler and marvel at her helplessness. If Camilla and I went to Hawaii for a long weekend and left her at home, she’d be in serious trouble. She wouldn’t be able to do a thing. She can’t open jars of baby food. She can’t get water from the tap. There’s only one thing she can do very well and that’s cry for help.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
Okay, so you’ve been helpless and cried out to God and he’s taken you in and now you’re in the kingdom. You’ve changed from the helpless to the helped.
Stay in that place of total dependence. Don’t ever change. Do nothing for yourself.
Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 18:4)
The problem is we’re too strong, too talented, too capable, too grown-up. We pray, “God help me,” but our actions say, “Don’t worry Lord, I’ve got this.”
Only we haven’t.
We try and fail and resolve to try harder next time. It’s a total flesh-trip that produces nothing but Frankenfruit.
The apostle Paul said, “I take pleasure in infirmities… for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).
I have never heard anyone say, “I take pleasure in infirmities,” yet Paul did. He wasn’t saying sickness is a good thing or a secret blessing, because it’s not. But when we’re down, the Lord can take us up.
In this world success comes as a result of hard work, perseverance and staying healthy. But that sort of success can only take you so far. Real success, the kind that endures into eternity, follows a different route.
What’s the path to greatness in the kingdom? It’s the one taken by the little child, the weak, and the lowly.
You want to go up, then you’d better get down. You want to do more, then you’d better do less.
Quit trying, quit striving, and quit trusting in your own abilities.
Give up and admit defeat – real defeat, not the super-spiritual pretending kind – and see yourself as dependent as an infant.
Then watch and marvel at what God can do with the weak and lowly!
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Hi Paul ..
Just wondering if you could explain 1 Corinthians 13:11 in the context of what you’ve just written here.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” There are several scriptures exhorting us to grow up and become mature sons and daughters, but I would not read any of them as “stand on your own two feet and stop relying on God’s help.” The world defines maturity as increasing independence, which turns us into little Adams, but the scriptures define maturity as growing in the knowledge of Christ, which means increasing dependence. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18).
This is beautiful!
I want to express my gratitude for your teachings which are my daily defense against psychosis, depression and anxiety.
Thanks Dami. Be blessed.
The lords help which is his mercy_unmerited is all u need dami. He will make you overcome completely.
No more struggling. No more striving. In Jesus, I finally found my REST! Thank you, Paul.
This is awesome Paul. Thanks for sharing the light God’s given you on this scripture.
“Out of the mouths of babes and infants…” indeed praises and adoration are like our helpless cries to Him for our dependence.
God bless you.
Excellent!! As I read this I’m not sure what I thought about this verse but it was a blessing to read that God is my Father who wants to help me in my helplessness. The photo really tells it all, she is smiling, not worried one bit that she won’t land in the arms of her daddy. But the daddy is even more excited that she is totally dependent on him.
You should’ve seen the mommy taking the photo – she wasn’t smiling. 😉
““I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 NKJV
I am still learning, that without Him I can do nothing. Trusting and depending on Him gives true rest. This is true faith; May the Grace of God work in us to will and do for good pleasure, to labor and enter His rest.
Thanks Paul, another needed at the right time teaching ,ya gotta stop that its getting spooky
‘We pray, “God help me.”’ You can take this a step farther too. We pray, “God help ME,” but we don’t need Him to help us do things. We need Him to work through us, so that it is Him doing the work, not really us at all.
Woke up this morning with thoughts about how the super rich form little wolf-packs of lawyers and NGO types to create “austerity programs” designed to steal the resources of entire countries thereby making them poor. Based upon your fine article, should we thank the rich international thieves for their thievery for putting 100’s of millions of people into helplessness and poverty so they can get into position to be blessed by Jesus? Please pardon the cynicism.
Evil is indeed running its course over this world, and I have been crushed by it too. But God! He has ordained such to happen here, by our own humanity evilness!
Through this, His allowed sin curse from others, and my own sinnings, I am becoming aware that His Supernatural, Spiritual Kingdom, alive in me IN HIM, is indeed my True Life and only True Help!! The curse is only reversed Now in the Awesome Spiritual unity we have in JC, WHICH WE HAVE PERFECTLY AND AWESOMELY TOTALLY THE MOMENT WE ARE SAVED!! We cannot stop the sin curse flowing over this world, as it is a Sinking / doomed “Titanic ship”, but we can eagerly and lovingly throw the Life Ring Seeds of His Love in the Gospel Truth to others that they too would be saved! Our only True Hope is in Jesus,
Amen and Amen
Tentmaker-YOU’RE so smart. That’s what the problem is.
Amen! Helpless is a good lifestyle! He can do wonders when we are totally dependent on Him!
Thank you Paul. I really needed this.
I am going to read this several times. I needed this today. Thank you for writing it.
Yet another section of scripture that is not about me. I see a trend here. 🙂
3 letter word. W.O.W
Love this brother! I had the same revelation of this passage not long ago thanks to the grace of God and how you and other grace preachers have changed the way I read scripture and think. Thank you so much. TB
this is right on time. thanks lot for this!!!
Paul, I would venture to say this is the best post you have ever written. Thank you.
GOD bless, rescue and keep you, Mr. Ellis! Your words are dripping with milk & honey and, oh so good for the soul. Just when I thought the Creator’s love couldn’t get ANY deeper…you go and turn on the Holy Hose.
Yes indeed! Well said! I believe the Holy Spirit revealed to me that His glory only flows through our dependence, so it is my great undeserved privilege and joy to put my trust and hope solely in my Father and in His perfect love for me.
The world is full of performance and that’s why we always miss the mark of grace and find it difficult to belief. The gospel is so simple to understand but difficult to enter into our heart because we belief in ourselves. Thank you Paul for revealing the truth through the word of God. Stay Blessed
Unlike many other believers I always knew that I was helpless, and perhaps you did too! It was a gift now that I look back! It was not wisdom on my part I was helpless I could believe the facts or go into denial. I chose to look at the facts! Then came to know the truth in Jesus! This is a beautiful teaching! Beautiful picture of you and your daughter!
Growing up we had Christian name plates hanging in our living room. Mine read: “Paul – dependent on God.” That message stared me in the face every time I ate dinner. At first I didn’t think much of it. It didn’t seem very manly. But I have grown to realize how blessed I am to have had that particular nameplate. To be dependent on God is probably the greatest attribute anyone could have. “This happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (2 Cor 1:9).
Beautiful! That’s an awesome way to grow up with that thought!
I was not raised at all Christian but rather in a way that caused me not believe God existed. So once I got saved I did depend on God because I did feel so helpless and I have actually posted that on my FB page and it kind of freaked some people out LOL! I told a teacher of mine at church when I first got saved how I felt he said that is a great place to be! I was expecting horror and shock! I was pleasantly surprised!
Thanks for your response!
The world is full of performance. Thanks for revealing the truth to us through the word of God but not through your thoughts. Stay blessed
Great piece. Good for sermon and for enlightenment as well. Has truly blessed me.
The concept is mind-bending in our modern culture of achievement and self-promotion. Even after I “quit trying, quit striving, and quit trusting in (my) own abilities” I don’t know exactly what that looks like when applied to life and work.
Great revelation,Luke’s account is actually more sinking,glory to God
Thank you so much for these lovely teachings! I always receive one at the exact time I need it. I am learning I am His beloved little girl. God bless you Paul!
Thank you Paul… awesome revelations!
Hi Pastor Paul,
Thank you so much for sharing this, I’m so blessed.
I translate this article to Indonesian, hope my friend can repent (change their mind towards God) by reading your article, thank you.
We say our God is our father, people in this world suffering with no rain, no water to drink,etc .how do we comprehend the crisis in this world, godly people r suffering convince me , God has lot of attribute – mercy, miracle, God of gods, compassionate,etc .when these attribute to be featured when in need? Please explain of our savior Lord! Await.
This world has become broken since Adam fell, joao. Man broke fellowship with God and the devil has trampled man and nature since. The devil has become the god of this world. God still does own everything. Scripture has shown that Jesus came to reveal the unconditionally loving Father. And with the ongoing, unveiling revelation we have now, with authority restored to Christ and passed on to believers, He left us the charge to retake what Adam unwittingly gave to the devil. So instead of misunderstanding and blaming God, can I encourage you to stand up and help stamp out the problems you’ve identified.
Thank you Paul for opening up this verse for us!
So good. This is real food to me. I need to eat this type of food every day. If I go a couple weeks without eating this I feel the emptiness creep in.
Here’s the problem with most of us as I see it. Our morality and striving and doing produce good things. It’s so much better being a moral person than sinning all the time, which produces a crop of trouble. So most Christians are satisfied with this sowing and reaping because we’re ok people most of the time and our lives are so much better than they used to be. And we do get blessed – to some degree.
BUT the doing and performing mindset does NOT produce the ridiculous, over the top crazy blessings that I sometimes get from God now that I have a small understanding of grace. If you don’t KNOW deep inside that God is crazy about you. If you don’t OFTEN feel like God LOVES to do stuff for you and give you the desires of your heart then you are probably in the performance mindset. It’s like the older brother in the prodigal son story: “You never give me anything” when the Father is saying “All that I have is yours”. Which one do you believe?
Well said, Bob. I guess that’s why we must strive to enter his rest.
My GOD this blessed me!!1
Me too! Thank you Paul.
Oh, you’re really bucking the system now, Paul! Wonderful! Thank you!
It’s easy to forget that Jesus did it all. We are helpless and can only depend on Him. It is the grace of God and nothing else.Good word.
Thank you so much for this post Paul! It states exactly where I am now, four years into my Christian life. After years of performing, striving, and burning out, I am disenchanted with a life centered on achievement and I’m done! It’s empty, vanity, pointless – Solomon had it right. Jesus is showing me that a life focused on love is what brings fulfillment, meaning and joy. Better yet, for a recovering performer, love can’t be quantitatively measured, so there’s no falling short of a bar! Jesus already gave the greatest expression of love (John 15:13), and now I can live in it forever.
I love the last paragraph of your post best. I am now wanting to embrace this weakness, and I think by embracing it, I’m going to get what I wanted all along, a closer relationship with my Father and to be a vessel of gold in His hand (2 Tim. 2:20-21).
Hey Paul ellis! I’m a huge fan of your books and I thank you for helping me understand Gods grace.
Oh my, Paul! I don’t have any fight left in me so this is great news. Got my blankie, my pop pop (pacifier), and no agenda…crawling up in His arms, and laying it all down! Whew! What a relief! Thank you!
its great being able to rest isn’t it Kay, and lets get the term right its a binky, I haven’t heard the term [pop pop] ps:…….Paul had my DNA done, trying to find a Great grandfather…….anyway, LOTS of Ellis’s in the tree,so maybe its [ WHAT UP CUZ?]
I like this post Saint Paul.
I think the key in your post is: “God helps the helpless. He surely wants to help everyone but only the helpless receive his help.” Reminds me of the alcoholic who wont receive help (hopefully) until he hits “rock bottom” with the addiction.
Warren (South Carolina, USA)
“It’s a total flesh-trip that produces nothing but Frankenfruit.”
LOVE IT! :)) What a great analogy.
First I have to that I LOVE the sweet picture of you and your precious daughter. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing this with your readers.
I love this post Paul and it’s perfect timing as usual. Thank you for bringing the Gospel to the nations with your blog and for debunking the Gospel killers that are so prevalent.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that your time and writing in these blogs are truly a blessing to readers. Thank you for being like a child and allowing the Holy Spirit to have His way to work thru you in your ministry.
Blessings to you and your family-
I have been thinking about this becoming like a child and I realized that a child has not been indoctrinated and therefore is a clean slate and easier to teach.
Have you ever tried to witness to a hardened street preacher, who can only speak about carrying your cross and dying to self and giving up the world to be saved. They are far from children, they hate the gospel of grace, I have been severely rebuked by one of them for this message.
Those people find it so hard to be like children because they cannot empty themselves of what they believe to then see the true gift of salvation.
Yes, Jesus knew the condition of our heart has to be childlike, open like a child, that is what is needed to enter his kingdom.
“See yourself as dependent as an infant.” This helps us (the proud) to exclaim with Paul, If anyone boasts, let him boast in the Lord! The scriptures do say, “God works for those who wait for him,” and maturity works in us a strong desire to make sure that we keep ourselves still — until he signals us with his eye. His eye is on the sparrow!
Once upon a time, there was a public lecture in Boston on July the eighth, 1731, by puritan, Rev’d. Jonathan Edwards — it’s called _God Glorified in Man’s Dependence._
Thanks alot this is great and timely on point.
Good post. Realizing you are helpless like a little child (dying to yourself) is the first step. Then realize that Jesus is ready to help you! (Christ in you)
I have grown tremendously by that little scripture of being like a child. One of the greatest blessings from that growth is realizing that babies don’t worry either. I said to Christ, if you own everything, my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my business, my home, my possessions; why am I worrying about them? His response? Good question Keith, why are you? LIfe changing!!
Hi Paul. I just love your perspective. I like the contrast between the world’s way of and the kingdom’s way. That opened my eyes and helped me.
Do you have more material written to and/or about children?
What I have can be found in the Archives > Subject Index under children or parenting.
Thank you for that comment “Keith Pinke”… when I sat down to read Paul’s latest article I’d spent most of the day totally wound up in anxiety (it’s still a daily fight of faith for me at least, to escape the religion that bound me!) and by the time I’d finished the article and reading the responses instant relief flooded through me. So couldn’t agree with you more! Be quick to enter that rest! Its the only way Ive found to receive the abundant life Christ has already delivered. Thanks Paul!!
Thank you. Part of the difficulty is that most of us don’t remember much about being babies. So when I look back on my childhood, I think: ‘Right, when I was eight years old and reading the Bible for the first time, I was literal-minded, legalistic, terrified of growing up because I thought Jesus liked only children, and depressed because St Paul wrote that everyone grows up, which I assumed meant that being loved by Jesus was one of the childish things that I would have to give up – so if Jesus wants me to be like a child, he must want me still to be as literal-minded, legalistic etc as I was then.’ But of course, when I was a baby, none of this applied.
St Paul is often more helpful to read than Jesus, because he makes distinctions like, ‘In regard to evil, be as innocent as infants, but in your understanding, be mature adults.’ A superficial reading of the words of Jesus can sometimes make it sound as though it’s either/or: being a child = good, being an adult = bad. But I realise that probably isn’t what Jesus meant.
I thank God for the street preacher that changed my life. We would all do well to listen to the archived firebrand preachers occasionally. My grandfather was one. I’m sure that by embracing this concept of helplessness it only empowers them to preach the gospel. Our depraved culture hates the Truth. I will attempt to continue my time on earth making disciples