There is a popular, Christian teaching that children are born sinners, and that the sins of the father are passed on to children, thus leaving all of mankind totally depraved. Is this accurate?
The Bible says that sin entered the world through Adam. He was told, “but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:17) I believe that we should pay close attention to that. It was the ability to know of both good and evil that allowed him to sin. So, are kids sinners? I’d say no. Here’s why.
Children do not have a knowledge of good and evil.
“Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it.” (Deut 1:34-39)
The Israelites could not enter the promised land because of sin but their children could. Why? Because they HAD NO KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL. Children, for a time, exist in a pre-fall state, just like Adam and Eve did for a time.
The son is not responsible for the sins of the father.
“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” (Eze 18:20)
Sin is not passed down from person to person. It exists in the world, and we are born in a world with sin, but we are not born sinners. We have no accountability as “little ones,” for what someone else did wrong.
We must become like children.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Mt 18:1-5)
Sin separates us from God. It prevents us from being with Him. Being saved is having that separation removed. As Jesus shows, children have no separation. Would Jesus tell us to become like “little sinners?” No.
Children grow up.
“I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” (Rom 7:9-11)
Paul describes how he was alive at one point, and then died. Death, from knowing of Adam and Eve, doesn’t mean “kicking the bucket.” It’s a spiritual thing. And here Paul describes how he was spiritually alive in his youth. We become spiritually dead because of our own sins, not sins we inherit from our ancestors. Death came to all because all sinned. (Rom. 5:12) We become “dead through [our] trespasses.” (Col. 2:13)
But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:14)
“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 18:3)