At What Age Do Children Start Choosing to Sin?

Recently, I was asked at what I thought that children could choose to sin. I wrote a response back and decided I should add it here too.

We are all sinners. We have all sinned. It’s not up to me to determine when my kids can start choosing to sin—that’s God’s job. It’s my job to love God, love them, have appropriate boundaries, give them tools for facing life, see that they learn from the natural/logical consequences of the choices they have made, and extend grace, which is not cheap.

As dh and I have been in the classroom and interacting with our girls, one of the things we’ve noticed is that when we focus on punishment/consequences, the student/child spends more time dwelling on those then on learning the lesson God has for them. Removing pain as an imposed consequence actually helps them retain their lesson so that they choose to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, not because otherwise they’ll get punished.

Furthermore, punishment can’t take away their sins. Christ died because of our sins; He bore the punishment we all deserved. So if punishment doesn’t take away sin and punishment can detract from learning the lesson, why rely on it as a major tool in my parenting toolbox?

I’ve been doing some reading on control and relationships. One of the interesting things the author pointed out was that, in the Bible, whenever someone tried to control someone else, it always, always, always ended badly. And God Himself doesn’t control us or manipulate us. He points out the natural consequences and the logical consequences, but He doesn’t force or punish us into following Him.

I love the way Ellen White put it (which, did you know that she didn’t ever spank and that she said that spanking, if used, was to be a one-time event for something super-major? Adventist Home, page 250, I believe).

“The earth was dark through misapprehension of God. That the gloomy shadows might be lightened, that the world might be brought back to God, Satan’s deceptive power was to be broken. This could not be done by force. The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government; he desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened.” (Reflecting Christ 23:3.)

“Minds are constituted differently; while force may secure outward submission, the results with many children is a more determined rebellion of the heart. Even should the parent or teacher succeed in gaining the control he seeks, the outcome may be no less harmful to the child…” (CG 201.3)

“Children cannot be brought to the Lord by force. They can be led, not driven. ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me,” Christ declares. He did not say, “My sheep hear my voice, and are forced in the path of obedience.” (R&H, January 29, 1901, para. 8)

So  a baby that is crying or not wanting a diaper changed or exploring gravity by dropping food isn’t being rebellious. Just because *I* don’t like it or it inconveniences me, doesn’t mean that it is rebellion. I do teach about God and His law. Rather than punish them for breaking it, I help them learn how to keep it.

One of the things I love the most about God is that HE determines what is sin, when it begins, and when it is forgiven. And what is most awesome is that He is the one that punishes. Vengeance is His, He tells us. So this frees me as a parent to not have to determine the underlying motivation for why my child does things. To go back to your original question, it doesn’t matter what age children can choose to sin. Knowing that punishment belongs to God to give, this allows me to work with God to teach tools. It allows me to make boundaries, make mistakes, apologize, and extend grace. Rather than child errs—I punish—I teach what to do, it looks like child errs—I teach what the right thing is to do; I leave any punishing to God.

Now, there are natural and logical consequences. Child doesn’t want to wear a coat outside when it’s cold, they get cold.  Child is having epic meltdowns at home, child doesn’t get to go to library with me. Children can’t stop fighting over a toy, toy goes in closet. Child tries to hit people, child is removed from situation.

What I see God is asking parents to do is not punish, but rather He is calling us to walk alongside our children and help them put the word of God into their hearts and their minds.  I see God calling us to train up children in the way they should go.  18“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 19Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.20Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors. Deuteronomy 11: 18-21

I enjoy Ellen White’s take on it: “Solomon says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This language is positive. The training which

Solomon enjoins us to direct, educate, and develop. In order for parents to do this work, they must themselves understand the way the child should go. This embraces more than merely having a knowledge of books. It takes in everything that is good, virtuous, righteous, and holy. It comprehends the practice of temperance, Godliness, brotherly kindness, and love to God and to one another.

In order to attain this object, the physical, mental, moral, and religious education of children must have attention.” {B E c ho, May 1, 1893 par. 3}

Our girls know right from wrong, in age-appropriate ways. We talk about God and Who He is and ways He works in our lives. They learn Scripture—hide it in their hearts. We talk about how people are different and the same, about the cool ways God made us all.

I cannot make my children love God. I cannot make them want to have a relationship with God.  I can show my children Who God is and invest in my relationship with God. I can teach them about God and help them memorize Scripture. I can pray and plead with God to work in their lives. But if I don’t have a relationship with my children, none of that will happen. Out of relationship comes obedience and compliance and respect. Though there are consequences, punishment we inflict doesn’t have to be part of our lives ever again.



About randomteacher

Alphabetically speaking I'm a mom, a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, teacher, a student, a wife. In all these aspects, I'm always learning and putting together my learning. As an ENFP on the Myer's-Briggs Inventory, I also process things externally, so this time, I figured I'd save on my phone bill and blog about things instead

Posted on June 21, 2013, in The Journey. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Hi randomteacher,
    I came across your blog while searching for Special K recipe. Thank you for putting it out there – so easy to follow and I love your method of making bites rather than the big casserole. Yummy!

    This post about disciplining in a positive manner, leaving the “punishment” to God, gave me something encouraging and new to think on in my parenting. I’m a new mom and trying to navigate these waters can be challenging, at best. I’ve long been looking for a parenting/homemaking SDA blog and yours is the first one I’ve found.

    Thank you for writing, for sharing your heart.


    Sarah from VA

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