At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “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)
I have been taught over the years that the verses above tell us about coming to Jesus with faith like a child, to have the attributes of a child when we approach Jesus. Attributes such as: innocence, trusting, believing without complication, contentedness, and faith to move mountains. And, while it is good and helpful to have these qualities, Jesus nowhere in the Bible actually tells us to have faith like a child. In the passage above, when Jesus says to “become like children” he isn’t talking about faith (although faith is important as stated in numerous Scriptures). Nor is Jesus calling us to be filled with wonder in every moment the way a child so often is. When Jesus says we must “become like children,” he is talking about humility.
In this passage, we see the disciples seeking prestige and honor for themselves. Jesus corrects them by pointing to the example of a child. Jesus points out the importance of humility in the life of those who claim to be His followers. The life of one who follows Jesus is not about putting the focus on ourselves; rather, we should be about pointing others to Jesus.
Faith is a very humble quality, which is perhaps why it is associated with childlikeness. Jesus was pointing out the truth that a child is completely dependent on adults for safety, sustenance, and knowledge. Similarly, the faithful person depends on God in a way that is absolutely dependent. The faith God looks for is humble, like a child. In this way, we Christians are to have childlike faith.
Childlike faith is saving faith, because it looks outside itself for salvation. Salvation is a gift; man does not pay for or contribute to his salvation, it is only of God.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the fight of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8&9)
Just as a child depends on his/her parents for everything that he needs, we depend on God’s provision for everything.
Faith always has an object, you always have faith in something. It would be worthless to hope for something and not have a source to hope in. The faith that saves is faith in Jesus. To have faith in Jesus means that you have become like a child, you humble yourself and see that God is your Creator, your Father, your Provider, your Protector, your Savior, and your Lord.