Children may be ignorant when they come into the world. They may be naive. They may be inexperienced. They may be cute. But they are not innocent with regard to evil.
I suppose the simplest way to say it is this: The seed of every known sin is planted deep in the heart of every child.
Listen to this, because it’s so important. The truth is not that if things somehow turn out badly, our children might get messed up. Our children are severely messed up when they arrive. It’s not that if things don’t work out the way we would like, our children may drift spiritually and wander morally. The drive to drift spiritually and morally, the drive to sin, is embedded in their natures, and it is the compelling drive.
They don’t come into the world seeking God and righteousness. They come into the world seeking the fulfillment of their sinful desires. All that is required for the tragic harvest is that children be allowed to give expression to their most evil desires.
We talk about chronic criminal behavior, and people are always saying, “What happened to them when they were young? They must have been in an abusive environment.” The question is always asked, “What did their parents do to them?”
Let me tell you something. Lifelong criminals are not the products of what their parents did to them. They’re the products of what their parents didn’t do to them:
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child;
The rod of discipline will remove it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)
It’s frightening that people bring these little reprobates into the world, as adorable as they are, and have absolutely no commitment to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They simply allow the children to give full expression to their depravity. The psalms describe the total depravity of children:
The wicked are estranged from the womb;
These who speak falsehood wander in error from birth.
They have venom like the venom of a serpent;
Like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear,
So that it does not hear the voice of charmers,
Or a skillful caster of spells. (Psalm 58:3-5)
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5)
Understanding this about your children is the important practical foundation of all parenting.
You can bring depraved people under some control by teaching them morality and punishing them in a proper, loving and firm way. You can bring your children under control. But, ultimately, what you want to do is see them pass from darkness to light, right? You want to see their heart transformed, so that instead of loving sin, they love righteousness.
Psychological analysis of criminals misses the point. It’s not what somebody did to them. It’s what somebody didn’t do to them. Nobody would deal with them. Nobody would confront their wickedness. Nobody would show them the divine standard. Nobody would hold them to conformity to that divine standard. And most of all, no one led them to the knowledge of God through Jesus Christ so that they would have a supernatural restrainer.
It’s of little consequence what you do with your children in terms of the practical issues. What schedules you put them on or don’t put them on is not the issue. The issue is that you lead your fallen, sinful child to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.
God has not given us holy, little angels to be delicately handled so that they don’t go astray. They’re corrupt little sinners who have to be led to become saints. If you have trouble with this, just recognize that your children are a miniature version of you.
We have a disaster on our hands, with a generation of angry children. And they are most angry with their parents, who have frustrated them – the very thing that Ephesians 6:4 says not to do.
The world recognizes this problem, and the psychologists say that the cause is that children don’t have proper self-respect. They don’t have a proper pride in themselves, and they need to see themselves as good, noble, wonderful people. In fact, they need to love themselves.
The result of this self-esteem emphasis is that you’ve got to defer to every kid, because every kid needs to have a right to express himself so he feels good about himself. And it just escalates the out-of-control behavior.
Let me tell you, self-esteem can’t tame the little beast. It just pours gas on the fire, because it feeds the sin of pride.
So what’s the answer? God gives it to us in Ephesians 6, which we’ll begin to unpack next time.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1996, titled “God’s Pattern for Parents, Part 1.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at masters.edu.