The Bible tells us what we all soon learn by hard experience: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15). Though children are young and naive and innocent in so many ways, they are also desperately foolish. Such folly is not displayed merely in silliness or immaturity or poor decision-making, but in something far deeper and far more insidious—an inward rebellion against God that manifests itself in a host of outward attitudes and actions. It displays what David declared in Psalm 51: “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” For this reason, the key task of every parent is to lead children from folly to wisdom, from rebellion against God to surrender and conformity to him.
Like most parents, Aileen and I have had many moments when we’ve been dismayed and brokenhearted at the manner and the extent of folly that can be bound up in the heart of our children. Even little hearts have deep wells of sin. Sometimes our children have made life almost unbearable through their self-centeredness, their anger, and their rebellion. Sometimes we’ve despaired and wondered how we will be able to endure another year or even another day. Sometimes we’ve been able to do nothing more than cry out to God for him to give us the patience, strength, and wisdom we don’t have.
Surprisingly, the one thing that has shown us more than any other just how sinful a child can be is God’s saving work. When children eventually profess faith they, like adults, begin the lifelong work of sanctification. They start to put sin to death and come alive to righteousness, and it’s nothing short of remarkable how much work they have to do. They may be only 10 or 12 or 15 years old, but very quickly there is a stark difference between who they are and who they are becoming. Nothing delights Christian parents more than seeing our children wage war against their folly and embrace godly wisdom. And nothing humbles Christian parents more than seeing how far our children have to go once God begins his work of grace.
You have undoubtedly heard that a diamond shines brightest against a black backdrop, and that’s an apt metaphor for the great salvation God works within his people. But it’s equally true that the backdrop looks darkest when a bright diamond is set over top. In the same way, the beautiful jewel of salvation highlights the deep darkness of sin. Our children’s holiness reveals just how foolish they were, it displays how badly they needed to be saved, and it proves the great power of God’s salvation.