Question: "Does the Bible instruct us to have childlike faith?"
Answer: Unquestionably, faith is the essence of the Christian life. Faith is exhorted throughout the Bible and is presented as an absolute necessity. In fact, “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). The entire chapter of Hebrews 11 is about faith and those who possessed it. Faith is a gift from God, as we see in Ephesians 2:8-9 and not something we come up with on our own. All Christians have received the gift of faith from God and faith is part of the armor of God—the shield with which we protect ourselves from the “flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).
Contrary to popular opinion, the Bible never exhorts us to have “childlike” faith, nor does it tell us to believe as children believe. Often misunderstood is Matthew 18:2-4, in which Jesus says that we must “become as little children.” But Jesus was not referring to faith here, but rather to humility. Whoever “humbles himself” as a little child is the “greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” and unless we are converted to become like little children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said these things in response to the disciples’ question, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (v. 1). There is no discussion of faith in this passage. Rather, He is exhorting us to seek the humility of a child who is destitute of ambition, pride, and haughtiness. Children are characteristically humble and teachable.
But the faith of children is not the kind of faith we are to have. Children are easily fooled and led astray. Children tend to accept things unquestioningly, often missing truth while being drawn to myths and fantasies. Christians are not to have the faith of children. Rather, we are to “test everything” and hold on to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21), comparing all things to the infallible Word of God and not automatically accepting everything we hear. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” but that doesn’t mean we accept blindly as a child often does. True faith, the gift from God, is characterized by “assurance” and “conviction,” not by blind belief for no reason. Childlike faith, while perhaps a good place to start, must mature into faith that leads to certainty and a heart filled with joy that only comes from an assured confidence in the object of our faith—Jesus Christ.