The day after my first child was born, I strode out of the hospital a new man. I couldn’t believe how different the world looked, and how I felt about it. I was a father. As I carried that little breathing soul carefully to our van, I vowed to do all that I could to protect my son. I drove with utmost care and caution, paranoid of every intersection. A newborn enters a crazy world of dangers. Physical dangers like choking hazards, or metal falling off the semi-truck ahead of you and exploding your vehicle’s gas tank (this actually happened to someone.) But there are also all kinds of spiritual dangers that can lead to heartbreak and despair in this life, and torment in the next.
As new parents hold that tiny, wrinkled form, a protective instinct is awoken that shocks them with its intensity. Parents, of course, have a duty to protect their children. But I am discovering a dangerous lie that can sabotage parents’ efforts to protect their child from evil. The lie: The most dangerous evil your child faces is “out there.” If you can keep your child from evil influences, he will become a good child.
It’s an appealing idea to parents. But the truth is that the most dangerous evil we all face is in our own heart. Jesus warned: “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” (Mark 7:20-23)
The seeds for these repulsive characteristics are in your child’s heart from the moment of birth. As a parent, you are powerless to change your child’s heart. It is only God who can grant new birth by the power of His Spirit.
When you live by the lie that your kids will be good if they are protected from evil influences, your attention will focus on guarding against outside sources. Meanwhile, the deadly killer of sin within will fester and grow unnoticed. And because you have protected the outside of your child so well, their externals will probably look reassuringly clean and shiny compared to the dark and dirty world beyond.
Sheltering is a natural greenhouse for pride. The child protected from many temptations that have brought his peers low, can start to take credit for his lack of moral failures. Because he has not been in situations that have shown him his inner brokenness, he will feel morally superior. But pride is as dangerous as any of the evils parents try to protect their children from, perhaps even more so. It says in Proverbs that immorality is a “deep pit. And those that are abhorred by the Lord will fall there.” (Prov. 22:14) What makes this verse chilling is when you combine it with Proverbs 16:5 “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Assuredly, he will not be unpunished.”
Pride is doubly deadly: Because it alienates us from God, our only hope of being truly righteous, and also because the more pride becomes a problem in our life, the less we are aware of it! Pride manifests itself in a critical, condemning spirit of others’ sins. The irony is that we will never feel more righteous than when we are arrogantly indulging in this criticism of others, committing a sin that God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19, James 4:11-12, Col 3:8, Titus 3:2)
Sheltering can also prevent us from seeing our need for Jesus. Children who have not been humbled by failure and have achieved outward success only because they were protected from opportunities to fail, will not feel broken by sin. Jesus said He came for the sick because the healthy have no need for a physician. (Mark 2:17) I think Jesus meant that we are all sick and in desperate need of a Savior, but there are those of us who don’t see it.
As your child ignores the depravity of his own heart and continues to judge the outside world for being so much more sinful, spiritual pride will harden his heart to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and will blind him further to the darkness lurking inside. Left unattended, the poison will continue its deadly work, eating away at his spiritual life. Lust, and bitterness, and self-pity will rob him of joy and freedom.
Parents who believe that the only corrupting influences on their children are from the outside will deal with failure in their children by becoming more controlling and restrictive. Relationships will strain and lead to rebellion.
It sounds bleak and you may accuse me of being dramatic, but many communities who seemingly fell prey to the lie are in the throes of a painful wake up call, as cases of sexual abuse and molestation are coming to the surface. Hundreds of sheltered young people who rotted from the inside are throwing away the pretence of their faith and walking away, leaving parents in shock and disbelief.
So what can be done about the evil inside us? Is the answer to stop sheltering? We need to first look at what duty we as parents have to our children.
I believe there is a Creator who entrusted us with these children. They belong to Him and we will someday have to give an account of how we treated and trained them. There is a command in scripture that makes our duty as parents very clear: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph 6:4 NIV) And if the great commission, “Make disciples; teaching them to obey all I have commanded” (Matt 28) applies to all nations, then it certainly applies to our children. Based on these two passages, our number one responsibility to our children is to teach them what God commands and desires of us!
But isn’t it presumptive for a parent to claim to know what God wants for their child? Absolutely! But if God were to write down instructions for us, what would be truly presumptive and arrogant is to teach anything else.
I believe we have such an instruction book, (the Bible) and that God confirms this by giving us His Holy Spirit. Why the theology lesson? Because as I presume to speak on controversial parenting matters, I want to you to know that my conviction flows from far more than confidence in my own opinion.
The two most important truths each parent must teach their children are:
1: Who God is:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Prov 9:10) Right knowledge of the world is only possible when we see God as He is: A Holy all-powerful Creator, who hates poisonous sin with a passion, and loves us with an even deeper passion. This God is the source of all true pleasure and we were made to worship Him. God will call us all to stand before Him and give an account of how we used the time He gave us.
2: Who we are:
We were created to worship and live holy lives that bring glory to God, but we are born broken and enslaved to sin. We are no longer “basically good.” Our hearts have a propensity for producing evil desires and deceitfully convince us that we are pure and righteous, compared to those outside. But the truth is that compared to the holiness of God, our righteousness is filthy rags.
Please don’t misunderstand me. The message is not “you are wicked and worthless!” Not at all. The message is that your children are precious and loved, not because of their accomplishments but because they are the valued creation of God. What children need is the quiet confidence that their worth is not found in their success or failures but in the unfailing love of God. How freeing to know you are loved even when you fail! The knowledge of God’s unconditional acceptance for all who are in Christ is vital before we can be honest about our hearts’ moral shortcomings.
Let’s revisit the issue of sheltering. While the Scripture is clear about the dangers of our own heart (often called “the flesh”), it also warns against the effects of “the world,” and the Devil. James says that part of the essence of true religion is to “keep one’s self unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27) He later warns that to even want to be a friend of the world is make your self “an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)
In the cultural air we breathe, there is a poisonous pollution produced by minds and hearts that are in rebellion to God. “Worldliness” is the spirit of wanting to be God and wanting what belongs only to Him. To be God is to have the right to decide what is right and wrong, and to reserve the sole right to be worshipped. Ever since the fall of man, we have rebelled against the authority of God’s Word and we now want the right to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. We have stopped worshipping God and have turned to worthless idols, particularly to seeking others’ approval. Because we are no longer satisfied by worshipping God, we care way too much what others think of us. The evil within will always be drawn like a magnet to this spirit of rebellion, this craving for our will over God’s will; our glory instead of God’s glory. Christians need to be vigilant to guard against this spirit of worldliness, but always with the awareness that the most dangerous source of worldliness will come from their own heart.
What can we do to defeat the enemy within? The enemy is so great that there is no formula or self help manual that is powerful enough to help us overcome it. Our only hope is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. We must see our depraved heart as it really is: a filthy, deceptive idol factory. We must acknowledge our total inability to produce on our own the righteousness God requires. This attitude is not a mere mental exercise. It is the inescapable result of having our eyes opened to the majestic holiness of God. Whenever God’s Spirit has drawn near, men and women are suddenly made painfully aware of their own sin and how filthy they really are. There is recognition that, apart from a Savior, we would be rightfully consumed by God’s holiness. A critical condemning spirit is the furthest thing from the mind consumed with the fear of God; there is only the desperate prayer, “save me, I am unworthy.”
God has demonstrated His unbelievable love for us by sending His Son to take our evil into Himself and instead give us His moral perfection. He gives us a new heart with new desires. He opens our eyes to the destructive power of sin. Anyone who knows the magnitude of this gift of Salvation will boast only of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only One who deserves the glory and admiration we used to crave. The truly saved one looks out at the evil in the world, not with self-righteous condescension, but rather with empathy and compassion, longing for them to find freedom from their enslavement.
Having discovered the depth and power of the evil within there will be a new dependence on God’s Holy Spirit to defeat our lust, greed, and bitterness. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)
You as a parent have every right to seek to protect your children, but if you want to fully protect them you must acknowledge the dangers of pride and self-righteousness. The only truly safe shelter is the arms of Jesus. You must keep your children before the mirror of God’s Word, which will reveal the inner sins of the heart. You must beg God for the purifying presence of His Holy Spirit that will burn away the ugliness of pride.
Sheltering must also be motivated by the glory and purposes of Jesus Christ and not by fear or a desire for control. The goal of sheltering should not be to keep your child “safe” but to encourage him to stay surrendered to the authority of Jesus Christ. Following Jesus is the safest place for the soul, but it will often put the physical body in great danger. Seeking the Kingdom of God first means putting our need for comfort and safety second. Obedience often calls us to risk the things that are precious to us. But Jesus, who gave up all the comforts of heaven and laid down His very life for our freedom deserves nothing less than our complete devotion and surrender to His will.