Posted by: Ety W. | May 23, 2008

Children, Sin, and the D Word

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When my daughter was a toddler, I happened to attend my husband’s company Christmas dinner party. Across from me sat another company wife; also a Christian and a brand new mother. Having these two things in common, we had a lot to talk about. During the course of our conversation, she told me that her baby was so perfect that she could not believe that babies were born with sin. Babies were born sinless she felt, and learned sin as they grew up.

Nothing I said changed her mind. As I reflected on it later, I realized that she was setting herself up for a lot of heartache and disappointment. If babies are born sinless and learn sin as they grow up, then the responsibility for all sin falls onto their parents, for either teaching it themselves, or for allowing it to be taught to their children. What a horrible burden of guilt that would create!

This was one of those experiences that helped me to define what sin really is. Sin is not doing bad things, rather sin is the our natural inclination toward self and doing things our own way. I talked about that in “The Problem With Being Good”. It is true that babies are capable of learning a lot of bad behavior. But like all of us, babies are naturally self-centered rather than other-centered.

Selfishness is the manifestation of self-centeredness, and it is difficult to overcome. Even for Christians. I have often thought that my biggest obstacle to godliness was myself! The ability to not serve self requires self-discipline. This does not come naturally; it must be learned.

I think that “discipline” is often misunderstood. Too often it is assumed to mean punishment. But remember the biblical definition from my last post?

Discipline – Strong’s 3811 – παιδευω – paideuo – to train up a child. i.e. educate, chasten (correct), nurture, instruct. Used thirteen times in the New Testament.

As Christian parents we need to train our children through instruction, correction, and nurturing. This pretty much flies in the face of a common modern parenting technique: permissiveness.

Understanding sin and biblical discipline helps us to understand these verses:

Discipline your son while there is still hope, and do not desire his death. Prov. 18:18 (NASB)

Correct your son and he will give you comfort; he will also delight your soul. Prov. 29:17 (NASB)

Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it. Prov. 22:6 (NASB)

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him. Prov. 22:15 (NASB)

Now, I’m not going to get caught up in the controversiality of “rod of discipline” and corporal punishment. What I am going to point out is that without discipline (instruction, correction, and nurturing), a child grows up into a selfish, impatient, self-indulgent adult. That is a very cruel thing to allow a child to become.

As parents we need to understand that children have a natural bend toward sin, and that we have a responsibility to lean them in the other direction, toward the Lord. Through prayer, we need to discern their personal weaknesses and seek to turn these into strengths through instruction, modeling, and correction. All of this because we love them enough to do the tough things: say no and mean it, not renege on disciplinary measures such as “grounding”, be consistent with the rules we make. But as hard as these things are to do, they are far better than the alternative.


  1. Ety,
    thank you for picking up this topic with wisdom and gentleness.
    I like the tone of your blog =-)

  2. Thank you so much for visiting and for your kind comment. One of my goals is to speak the truth in love, and it is encouraging to receive feedback like yours!

  3. I am one of many quiet readers of your blog. ❤ Your ministry is greatly appreciated. Thank you for your faithfulness!

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