What’s your biggest hope for your children as you parent them, day in and day out?

Of course, as good Christians, we might be able to dutifully recite: “We hope to raise our children in God’s ways, so they will come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.”

However, whether consciously or not, our words and actions might reflect the very opposite. For many parents in Singapore—including believers—our biggest hope may be for our children to get into a good school, score outstanding academic results, and eventually go on to clinch a well-paying job. And all our time, energy, resources, and prayers are funnelled into achieving this for our children.

Of course, aiming for good grades or a good job is not wrong. But our motivation can be unbiblical if they’re driven by the world’s definition of success.

So, what is the biblical hope we should have for our kids? And what wisdom does the Bible have for us?

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Three Views on Children

The book of Proverbs gives us good insights into what God expects of us as parents. Because children are a gift of the Lord (Psalm 127:3 NASB), He has every right—as Creator and Giver—to tell us how we should raise our children for Him.

But this can be very much influenced by how we view our kids. Today, there are three competing views on children:

1. Children are born inherently good.

The humanistic view sees children as born completely innocent and good. This view discourages discipline and regulation, such as by religious rules, because—it argues—punishment and restrictions would only damage children’s self-esteem and hinder their self-actualisation.

However, this view can’t explain why toddlers and young children, even in the best environment, know how to lie and disobey their parents without being taught.

2. Children are born neither good nor bad.

The behavioural theory argues that children are born as a blank slate, and that they are largely products of their environment. According to this view, if kids grow up in a good environment, they will turn out well; and if they grow up in a bad environment, they will turn out poorly. This view therefore advocates parents to provide their children with a good environment and education, so that they can turn out well.

However, if this were truly the case, then societies with the best education systems and parents with the most money to create the best environments for their children would produce the most virtuous children—which is clearly not what happens.

3. Children are born sinners.

The biblical view paints what some might see as the most negative picture: children are born sinners. As far as the Bible is concerned, kids don’t become sinful because they choose to sin—they choose to sin because they are already sinful. As David declares in Psalm 51:5: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

Our children are not born inherently good or with a blank slate—they are born with a sinful nature.

In light of this, what, then, are some truths we can glean from Proverbs about our children, and how we should relate to them as their parents?

Our Child’s Greatest Enemy

At the heart of our child’s misbehaviour is foolishness. Proverbs 22:15 states: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.” This means that our child’s behavioural problems stem not from his environment, but inside his heart.

As far as the Bible is concerned, kids don’t become sinful because they choose to sin—they choose to sin because they are already sinful.

All children—including my own—will naturally disobey their parents when they reach a certain age. They don’t need anyone to teach them how to. For example, while we might spend a lot of time teaching them about honesty and modelling it to our children, they will, sooner or later, tell a lie.

From the day he is born, every child’s greatest enemy is himself. If left to his own devices, our child’s sinful nature and foolishness will lead him astray. Isaiah 53:6 says this about all of us: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.”

If this foolishness in a child is not dealt with, it will lead to outright disobedience—and even physical death in cases of criminality (Proverbs 19:18). The only way that foolishness can be overcome is if a child gains wisdom from an external source.

Rescuing Our Children

Throughout Proverbs, parents are exhorted to do one crucial thing to rescue their children from themselves: discipline them. If a child is undisciplined, he disgraces his parents at best (Proverbs 29:15), and at worst, he faces death (Proverbs 23:13).

While this may sound unduly harsh, we need not look far to know that the consequences of sinfulness and foolishness are dire and real. A quick scroll of the news headlines will tell us all we need to know about the extremities of man’s sinful nature as well as the resulting punishments we may face.

It’s not enough for a parent to simply tell the child what to do or what not to do. The child must also experience discipline, lest he grow up believing that there are no consequences to wrongdoing or sin.

Discipline can help our children understand sin and its ultimate consequence of death—which will hopefully drive them to Jesus.

Disciplining our child from young will also enable him to make the connection between sin and the penalty of death later in life, when he is taught about sin and the gospel.

It is important to note, however, that discipline cannot save our children—it is only Jesus Christ who saves. However, discipline can help them to understand sin and its ultimate consequence of death—which will hopefully drive them to Jesus as their Saviour one day.

Fellow parents, may we not merely say with our lips that we hope to raise our children in God’s ways—while parenting them in our own ways, with worldly standards of success in mind.

Our children need to be rescued from their own foolishness and sinfulness. Our goal as parents is to discipline them, and thereby lead them to Jesus Christ, their ultimate Saviour.

Read Part 2 of this two-part series here.
Rev. Dr. McCoy Chow is the pastor of Emmaus Evangelical Free Church, having pastored a Mandarin congregation in Singapore and an Australian church in Sydney. He obtained his M.Div and PhD (Theology) degrees from Bob Jones University, USA. He has been blissfully married to Michele for 26 years, and have two adult children and a bonus 11-year-old daughter.
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