Babies: Little Sinners? Part 4

Are babies “little sinners”? How we answer this question impacts not just how we view babies, but how we treat them. Jesus describes a true Christian as one who receives children, the “little ones” (Matt. 18:1-6). Whether we are receiving babies or young children rightly depends upon what we think of them.
People who have tried to answer this question must decide what they believe about two things: Corruption and Guilt. Christians usually fall into one of three views: 1) We are born corrupt and guilty; 2) We are born neither corrupt or guilty; 3) We are born corrupt but not guilty.

I think we are born corrupt.

Another way to say this is that we begin life apart from God’s spiritual help. Instead of beginning with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we are born with only our natural abilities, or what the Bible calls “the flesh.” Paul writes, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).

I don’t think we are born guilty.

In Scripture, God differentiates between guilty adults and their children. He does not lump them together and say, “Since the parents are guilty, so are their children.” Consider these verses, starting with a passage where God informs  guilty Israelites that they will not enter the promised land but their children will:

“And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it. But as for you, turn, and journey into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.” (Deut. 1:39-40)

The son will not suffer for the sin of the father (Ezekiel 18:20).

Each will die for his own sin  (2 Kings 14:6).

God does not count a person guilty unless they consciously sin.

That is, unless they have knowledge of good and evil, and choose evil. Thus, it would seem that babies cannot be sinners in this sense; human beings are born without guilt.

Some people think that babies are born guilty but God does not count that guilt against them until they consciously sin; see this. There is merit in this view, but then I think, “If God does not count the guilt against them, why call them guilty at all?” (And not’s not just a rhetorical question. Thoughtful feedback is welcome.)

Are babies little sinners? Though they inherit a corrupt human nature that leads to sinning, babies are not conscious sinners; they do not sin intentionally. On the other hand, there is the potential for sin in them, because they are of the “flesh.” In fact, without God’s gracious intervention, every baby will become a guilty sinner (Romans 5:12ff). If we are forced between calling them sinners or saints, we must say they lean toward the sinful side of the scale. Thus, babies are little sinners. But…

Babies are very little sinners. 

Babies are non-guilty sinners, meaning they have the potential to sin but have not yet developed the capacity to commit sins that lend them guilty. Thus, they are “very little sinners.” Adults, on the other hand, are BIG SINNERS. That’s why whenever Jesus talks about adults and children, the onus is on the adult: 

And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:5-6).

Implications for parenting are enormous.

Here are a few:

  • When you are with a young child, you are the one most liable to sin, not the child.
  • Take the log out of your own eye, and then you can take the speck (if any) out of the child’s.
  • Don’t judge children’s motives like you judge an adult’s.
  • Receive a child; accept him just as he is.

Our view of children affects how we treat them.

A few weeks ago my 3-year-old crept high onto the couch behind me while I knelt on the floor reading a book. All of a sudden, he was crashing on top of me like a professional wrestler! In that moment, I realized that I could either judge him as if he were a sinner intent on my harm, or I could receive him as a child wanting to play with his dad. So, we wrestled.

 

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Brett Brett (39 Posts)

PhD Student in Pastoral Theology at Southern Seminary. Married to Rachael. Father of two girls and a boy. Louisville, KY.


2 Comments Babies: Little Sinners? Part 4

  1. JoshJosh

    Thanks, Brett!

    I like how you said that when we are with children, we are the ones more likely in sin! So hard to look at ourselves when we feel like someone else is “making us” angry!

    Reply
  2. Laura Vaden

    What an incredible son you are, Brett. So glad you have had Christian mentors/teachers as you grew up who loved you and spent time with you; encouraging and teaching you as you walked with Christ. You and Rachael are wonderful examples of Christian parents.

    Reply

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