By word and example, parents should teach kids from an early age to treat others with respect, to be kind and fair, to exercise self-control, and to suppress the impulse to seek revenge.
1 Further, children should be taught how to cooperate with authority whenever possible to defuse situations. But it would be dangerous to teach a child that it is always wrong to protect himself and defend his interests.
Jesus understood children. We can be sure that when He took them in His arms and said that we all need to become like them to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:13-16), He wasn’t naive about how cruel they can be. The playground, in its own way, is a jungle as ruthless as most spheres of adult life.
It’s likely that a child trained to unconditionally defer to others will develop a crippling pattern of avoidance and an unhealthy fear of conflict. An immature mind can easily be shaped to think that it is “loving” to back away from confrontation—to be a coward when courage is called for. If we follow the “golden rule”—”So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12)—we won’t always allow aggressors to carry out their aggression successfully. If we do, we encourage behavior that brings harm.
Kids should be taught restraint—the ability to discern just how much force is needed, and to apply no more force than necessary. This may involve “turning the other cheek.” 2 But children are sometimes confronted with bullies who leave them no choice but to resist or be abused. Sometimes a bully will leave without a blow being thrown, merely at the recognition of a child’s unwillingness to be dominated. On other occasions, a fight may ensue that ends with little real damage to either child, but which will result in a major boost of status and self-esteem for the child who refused to be dominated.
Children aren’t miniature adults. Adults may have the maturity to understand the deep sayings of Jesus, though they struggle to live in accordance with them. We shouldn’t expect children to understand things beyond their spiritual and emotional development. To do so would likely provoke them to wrath (Ephesians 6:4), or to cause them to stumble (Luke 17:1-2). We need to protect them when it’s possible, but we also need to allow them to develop the tools they will need to understand and effectively respond to the challenges of adult life.
- Sometimes adults can successfully intervene and guide children through difficult situations, teaching valuable spiritual lessons in the process. Back To Article
- See the ATQ article, What Did Jesus Mean When He Said to Turn the Other Cheek (Matthew 5:39)? Back To Article
Because this is a fallen world, we do nothing from entirely pure motives. (See article on Depravity.) As the prophet Isaiah said:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away (Isaiah 64:6).
Because our motivations are always imperfect and our choices often difficult, one of Satan’s most effective ploys is to confuse and paralyze Christians with his accusations, putting them out of effective action. As our accuser and enemy (1 Timothy 5:14-15; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 12:10), Satan delights in our anxiety and fear. Although we may intellectually accept the premise that no one merits God’s grace, Satan knows how to use our emotions to cause us to feel outside of the reach of God’s mercy. His accusations are often vague, indefinite, and persistent. They throb like a spiritual migraine. They torment us even after we have acknowledged known wrongs and asked God for forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Whenever we are overwhelmed by guilt feelings that aren’t traceable to a specific sin, or whenever feelings of condemnation persist even after we honestly confess them to the Lord, it is reasonable to assume that we are suffering from false guilt — guilt that is either coming from our own hearts or from our spiritual enemy.
Why can we assume that these feelings of condemnation are not coming from God? The Bible tells us that godly conviction is based on love, not fear. Its purpose is to instruct and to correct, not to torment. The apostle John wrote:
In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:17-18).
God is not arbitrary or cruel. He always convicts His children out of love (2 Samuel 12:13; Luke 15:10). Conviction is His tool to bring us to a deeper reliance upon Christ (2 Corinthians 7:10; Ephesians 2:1-10; 2 Timothy 1:9). His Spirit doesn’t overwhelm us with feelings of condemnation for sins that have been confessed and forsaken or for choices that are unavoidably troubling and ambiguous.
When we sin, we will have to live with the consequences of our actions and with the loving correction of the Lord if we do not correct ourselves. Our position as God’s children doesn’t shield us from responsibility. But the natural consequences of sin will never cause us to lose our family relationship with God or any of the spiritual security that Christ has given us.
We need to always remember that it is not our good works but the blood of Christ that has provided for our every spiritual need (Ephesians 2:4-10). Christ is the foundation of our spiritual freedom and our emancipation from fear. Christ is the reason that Christians, unlike unbelievers, have no need to deny or conceal their sins. The entire price for sins has already been paid by the Lord — which gives us reason to quickly confess any sin that would damage our wonderful family relationship with God (1 John 1:9).
When we get to heaven, the process of our spiritual perfection will be complete and our motives will be pure (1Corinthians 1 Corinthians 13:12; 15:49; Hebrews 12:22-23). But in this fallen world, we will always struggle with some legitimate feelings of guilt. Here we wrestle with the tension of knowing that everything we do falls short of perfection. But faith trusts God’s promises. It is willing to go forward in spite of uncertainty (Hebrews 11:1,6), to be a good steward of God’s gifts (1 Peter 4:10), and to be as fearless of God’s wrath as a child is of a loving Father (Matthew 25:24-26).