Parents, don’t raise good kids. I’m a recovering good kid, and I’m here to tell you that the gospel isn’t for good kids.
I was pretty easy for my parents to raise. I was generally compliant, had a buoyant, warm personality, didn’t get into any serious trouble, was liked by my teachers for the most part, usually did respectably in school, was a leader in my church groups, and had plenty of friends. My adolescent, wild-oat sowing would only generate smirks and eye rolls.
My folks and most adults in my life affirmed me as a good kid, and I believed it. Which posed a problem for me: I struggled to grasp the gospel.
Though I believe my pre-adolescent conversion was real — God is gracious to produce and honor a small seed of real faith — it was hard to swallow that I was that bad. God showing favor on me in redemption made sense because others had shown favor on me. But it was hard for me to see that this favor was not the approval of a good kid but the pardoning of a condemned sinner. Really? Me deserve hell?
It took quite a while — I am, in fact, still recovering — to see that in reality I was (am) profoundly depraved. Much of my outward good behavior was fueled by evil, selfish motives. Underneath my good-kid veneer was a glory-stealing, envious, covetous, idolatrous, lecherous person.
What Total Depravity Really Is
That’s why I think one of the best things we parents can do for our children is to teach them the doctrine of total depravity. Here’s how John Piper puts it in the new book Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace:
The totality of that depravity is clearly not that man does as much evil as he could do. There is no doubt that man could perform more evil acts toward this fellow man than he does. But if he is restrained from performing more evil acts by motives that are not owing to his glad submission to God, then even his “virtue” is evil in the sight of God.
Romans 14:23 says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” This is a radical indictment of all natural “virtue” that does not flow from a heart humbly relying on God’s grace. (Five Points, pages 17–18)
Hellions in Compliant Disguise
There’s the key: “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Goodness is not behavior that ranks above the median line relative to other sinful people. Goodness is a fruit of faith (Galatians 5:22). When good kids’ behavior isn’t flowing from a deep trust in God, they’re being good for bad reasons. They’re just hellions in a compliant disguise.
The good news is that Jesus came to save hellions! But it’s crucial that hellions know they’re hellions, because “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. [Jesus] came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
So parents, make sure you have a firm grip on the true doctrine of total depravity so that you don’t encourage evil goodness in your children. For apart from Jesus, nothing good dwells in them (Romans 7:18).