I am researching about sin and sin in children. I read your writtings and agree with you for the most part, but I have a problem with the idea of children being innocent. If children are not sinful, wouldn't that make them sinless and almost perfect? Christ was the only one that I knew that was innocent. I am not saying that children inherit sin from their parents, but don't they sin in their actions? And isn't that sin covered by grace, thus making them not accountable to their actions, until the age of accountability?
It isn't a matter that children are sinless. Children tell lies, they act selfishly, and they disobey their parents. The question is whether God holds them accountable for their sins. We wrestle with this very question in our courts today. Is a mentally handicapped person responsible for his actions when those actions break the law?
Paul stated, "sin is not imputed when there is no law" (Romans 5:13). In other words, you or I could not be justly held responsible for breaking a law that we had no way of knowing existed. Paul uses this fact in reverse to prove that laws existed prior to Moses coming down from Mount Sinai because sin was in the world, but it is important for our discussion as well. Law brings with it a knowledge of sin, "for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). But what happens to a person who has no capacity to know the law? The answer is that they are not held accountable.
When Israel rebelled against God, God punished them by forcing them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until all the adults died off. However, God did not hold the children to the same standard. "Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it" (Deuteronomy 1:39). The children have no capacity to understand good and evil, right and wrong, beyond the basic understanding that things are done or not done because mom or dad say so. Thus, children are innocent because no charge is brought against them for sin.
But we also speak of children being innocent in a slightly different way. Take note of a child's reaction to wrong doing. Catch a four-year-old in a lie, tell them that it is wrong, and they are crestfallen. But minutes latter it is completely forgotten. Convict an adult of telling a lie and the guilt of what was done will haunt them for weeks (if they really care about being righteous). Again, it is the child's lack of a true knowledge of good and evil that makes them appear to be teflon-coated in regards to guilt. Or, another way to see this is to understand that a child's conscience is not fully developed. Lasting guilt doesn't exist because there is no conscience to wound. Children need not live thinking about all the evil things that exist in the world; they have an innocent view of life. As adults we protect children from evil as much as possible. As Christians, we strive to do the same in our own lives. "For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil" (Romans 16:19).
We can also speak of innocence in regards to intent. "Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature" (I Corinthians 14:20). Children rarely set out to be evil. They do wrong because they don't consider the impact of what they do on others or because they think this will get them what they want.
So, no, children aren't perfect, but God doesn't hold this against them because while they are young they are not responsible. As a child matures this changes and at some point a child sees the bigger picture and gains understanding of good and evil. It is at this point that they are accountable for their actions.