In Matthew 18:1–6, 10–11, 14, the Savior tells us that we must become like little children in order to be saved in the kingdom of heaven. His disciples were concerned about who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Indeed, through the ages, the Lord has not always revealed everything about heaven. Because of modern revelation, we know more than men have known about the nature of heaven over the centuries. (Read the account of Joseph Smith’s vision of heaven.)
Although children are not perfect, they have many qualities that we must develop to inherit the kingdom of heaven. These qualities include humility, meekness, and a willingness to believe.) These qualities must endure even in the face of trial and confusion. A child, even when mistreated, continues to return to her parents, continues to love and obey.
The Lord also makes reference to us as adults in how we care for and nurture our little ones. The Lord condemns those who offend children, and in this case “offend” means to cause to stumble. Any sort of abuse would fall into this category.
Elder M. Russell Ballard stated: “We hear disturbing reports of parents or guardians who are so far removed from the Spirit of Christ that they abuse children. Whether this abuse is physical, verbal, or the less evident but equally severe emotional abuse, it is an abomination and a serious offense to God” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1991, 107; or Ensign, May 1991, 80).
The doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teach that little children are innocent before God until they reach an age when they can discern right from wrong and understand the process of repentance. The Lord gives age 8 as the “age of accountability.” That is when children are baptized by authority from Christ into the LDS Church. Until then, parents are responsible for the actions of their little ones. Young children who die are covered by the atonement of Christ and saved into the highest kingdom of heaven, the Celestial Kingdom.
Jesus Loves Little Children
And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bare record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them. And when he had done this he wept again;In the Book of Mormon, there is a marvelous account of the visit of the resurrected Savior to a branch of Israelites who had migrated to the American continent. The Savior took the time to gather the little children and to bless them one by one. He called down angels from heaven to minister to the children, and then opened the mouths of the little ones so they could bear testimony of God the Father and Jesus Christ.
And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones. And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them (3 Nephi 17:21-24).
And it came to pass that he did teach and minister unto the children of the multitude of whom hath been spoken, and he did loose their tongues, and they did speak unto their fathers great and marvelous things, even greater than he had revealed unto the people; and he loosed their tongues that they could utter.
And it came to pass that after he had ascended into heaven—the second time that he showed himself unto them, and had gone unto the Father, after having healed all their sick, and their lame, and opened the eyes of their blind and unstopped the ears of the deaf, and even had done all manner of cures among them, and raised a man from the dead, and had shown forth his power unto them, and had ascended unto the Father—
Behold, it came to pass on the morrow that the multitude gathered themselves together, and they both saw and heard these children; yea, even babes did open their mouths and utter marvelous things; and the things which they did utter were forbidden that there should not any man write them (3 Nephi 25:14-16).
How Do We Become Like Little Children?
The Lord asks us to come unto Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. This means we come to an awareness of our own unworthiness to approach Him, that we become aware that only through the atonement of His Son and the grace that gives us, can we become purified enough to stand in His presence and be accepted of Him. We begin to mourn over our transgressions and the spiritual distance between ourselves and God. We begin to burn with the yearning to reconcile ourselves to God’s desires and we long to stay close, never again to stray.
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father (Mosiah 3:19).
In the Book of Mormon there is a story of a great king who became like a little child in order to know God. The leader of a heathen and warlike people, he was taught by a humble prophet named Aaron. Aaron expounded the gospel to the king, and the king became converted. He prostrated himself and cried out…
O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day (Alma 22:18).
At this moment and on, what mattered to the king was his standing before God, and after that, what he cared about was the spiritual salvation of his people. His life and his values completely changed.
The people of another king, as recounted in the Book of Mormon, also converted and became like little children:
And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually (Mosiah 5:2).