Some words can be very similar and even contain parallel concepts, yet their ultimate meaning is very different. Take for example the words “childlike” and “childish”. Both obviously relate to behaviour found in children, yet one word represents what is reasonable and even commendable, while the other relates to a serious character flaw. The distinction in these words / concepts is made evident in the Bible. We are exhorted to be “childlike” in faith while at the same time we are to leave behind “childishness”.
Jesus famously commends to His disciples the example of little children. Matt 18:1-4, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
The disciples had been discussing what it meant to be great in God’s kingdom and Christ draws attention to the humility of children. Children are not too proud to come to Him; they do not care what others think; they are not interested in reputation. They come to Him willingly, joyfully, expectantly and openly. Pride and self-sufficiency, characteristics not commonly associated with little children are barriers to relationship with Christ. Greatness is not to be had in the mere acquisition of knowledge or exercise of gifts, but in humility. Humility is essential to genuine faith and in this why we have much to learn from youngsters.
At the same time children also represent a stage in life we are to progress from. 1 Cor 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Being childlike and childish are two different things and worlds apart. A man once boasted to me that he was disinterested in theology because he was a person of childlike faith. Listening to him and observing him indicated that he was getting the words “childlike” and “childish” confused. Children lack wisdom and understanding; they are often easily led astray; they tend to be selfish; they amuse themselves with silly things; they are prone to cruelty, etc. Unfortunately some Christians imbibe such characteristics; they are childish having made little progress in the grace and knowledge of the lord Jesus Christ.
We need to continually strive in childlike humility. Pride and self-sufficiency are incompatible to a healthy relationship with Christ. At the same time we need to put away childishness; the trajectory of our faith is to be upward and onward in maturity and fruitfulness.