Awareness of Sin

On Thursday nights Tim takes the middle five children to the mid-week programs at church while I stay home with the little boys. I really enjoy the time to spend alone with the little guys, and Paul and I have some great conversations. I’ve even learned whom he is planning on marrying. (He’s already asked her.)

On a recent Thursday Paul and I read about Jesus choosing the twelve disciples, and then our devotions book said something about how we can all be His disciples too.

Paul responded, “I can’t do it.”

“You can’t do what?” I asked.

“I can’t do everything Jesus wants me to do.”

“What are you thinking of?”
“I can’t love people all the time.”

“Ah. Well, neither can I.” So we talked about how none of us can measure up, keep His commands, or obey Him perfectly, and that is why we need Jesus to forgive us, every day. We talked about how as we obey more, it becomes easier to obey, and how God gives us His Holy Spirit to help us to do what we can’t do by ourselves.

I don’t think we’ve had a child like Paul who, even at four, has such a strong awareness of his own sinfulness. Just a few days before this I had disciplined Paul and one of his sisters for an altercation they had gotten into. We’d been through the various steps: talking about the situation, confession, forgiveness, hugs, physical discipline, praying together, etc. My parting words as I sent the kids off were, “Now, don’t do it again!” Paul, ever honest, stopped in his tracks. “Mom, I can’t promise that!”


Several years ago I was in a parenting class taught by an elder in our church whose five children are grown and raising families of their own in the fear of the Lord. One thing he said especially impressed me. He told us that it is often hard for children raised in Christian families to see the true ugliness of their sin. Compared to others, their sin doesn’t look so bad. I think there is a lot of truth to that. It is possible for Christian kids to feel superior, smug, because they don’t do (watch, read, say) certain things that their non-Christian peers do. But it should be our goal to help them see the truth about themselves, and their utter need for the cleansing of the Lord Jesus.

It is one of my repeated prayers that my children (and Tim and I as well) will have tender hearts to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and be quick to repent and turn back to Him. From the world’s perspective this might seem pretty twisted. Won’t focusing on sin make my kids grow up to be depressed, poorly adjusted people with low self-esteems? What bunk! An accurate understanding of our hearts and the grace of God are exactly what each of us, including our children, need.

I turned to Shepherding a Child’s Heart to see what it had to say, and couldn’t believe it. It said exactly what I was trying to write here, but more eloquently. So instead of fumbling around any further, I’ll let Pastor Tedd Tripp talk:

The central focus of childrearing is to bring children to a sober assessment of themselves as sinners. They must understand the mercy of God, who offered Christ as a sacrifice for our sins. …
You want to see your child live a life that is embedded in the rich soil of Christ’s gracious work. The focal point of your discipline and correction must be your children seeing their utter inability to do the things that God requires unless they know the help and strength of God. Your correction must hold the standard of righteousness as high as God holds it. God’s standard is correct behavior flowing from a heart that loves God and has God’s glory as the sole purpose of life. This is not native to children (nor to their parents).

Discipline exposes your child’s inability to love his sister from his heart, or genuinely prefer others before himself. Discipline leads to the cross of Christ where sinful people are forgiven. Sinners who come to Jesus in repentance and faith are empowered to live new lives.

The alternative is to reduce the standard to what may be fairly expected of your children without the grace of God. The alternative is to give them a law they can keep. The alternative is a lesser standard that does not require grace and does not cast them on Christ, but rather on their own resources….

I have spoken to many parents who feared they were producing little hypocrites who were proud and self-righteous. Hypocrisy and self-righteousness is the result of giving children a keepable law and telling them to be good. To the extent they are successful, they become like Pharisees, people whose exterior is clean, while inside they are full of dirt and filth. The genius of Phariseeism was that it reduced the law to a keepable standard of externals that any self-disciplined person could do. In their pride and self-righteousness, they rejected Christ.

Correction and shepherding must focus on Christ. It is only in Christ that the child who has strayed and has experience conviction of sin may find hope, forgiveness, salvation and power to live.


Anonymous said…
I was warned just this week by a christian brother that "my tendency to depression was not helped by being in a church that emphasizes the depravity of man".

What blind eyes! He doesn't see that God has set me free from despair precisely through understanding my own sin and need.

I thank God for my church and it's faithfulness to God's truth.

My heart is deceitful above all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?

Paul is a fortunate little fellow to have parents who honor the truth of God.
Annie Groover said…
Hi Anne (Emily encouraged me to let you know that I read your blog!)

We really learned a lot from Shepherding a Child's Heart, and Keith and I hosted the video series at church. We were really troubled at how many people couldn't grasp the inter-relation of the Gospel with childrearing. One woman in particular did not think her children (preschool and younger) would understand a different approach to speaking to them and it would take too much time. It seems like many parents we know (with children of all ages), simply want the "three easy steps of raising fairly functional children" with a splash of Oprah-psych thrown in. I think Christian parenting looks very different than the world's attempts.
Anne said…
Good comments!

And - HELLO ANNIE!!! I'm so glad to hear from you! Drop me an email if you have time and tell me how things are going for you in SC. (

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