(Image courtesy of http://prosperityedwell.com.)
"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).
This verse can be over-spiritualized.  This verse does not apply to Christian discipleship.  Jesus hadn't been revealed at this point in time, so Solomon was not writing that if you train a child to be a Christian he will be one when he is older.  First of all, how do you train someone to be saved?  No, this verse is not speaking to Christian conversions.

This proverb speaks of the never-changing attitudes of the human heart.  Though we would like to believe - and many do - that all children and adults are basically good and therefore do mostly good, this would be a rejection of the truth of God; for all humanity - all creation! - is subject to the rule of sin from birth (Psalm 51:5).  All are born in sin and all work in sin, the wages of which are death and eternal condemnation (Romans 5:12, 6:23).

Babies Are Sinful (he just said what???)
Even the smallest baby has what you and I have: a sin-nature.  There is no one who can or will escape this curse, just as no one can or will escape their body's need for food and water.  No baptism or special prayer or pastor's blessing will remove the sin-nature from our children (or from us).  All are born in iniquity and act according to sin's desire (Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 17:9, 1 John 3:4).*

To be certain, the sin-nature does not have to continue its mastery over us.  At the moment of regeneration through faith in the grace of God, the natural man is freed from mastery of the sin-nature and becomes free for righteousness' sake.  This is the power and will of God for all who believe in Christ Jesus.  All of this is in accordance with the Gospel (John 3:16-17, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:22-24, 10:9-10).

What does it mean to have a sin-nature?  It means that it is in our nature to sin.  It is programmed into us.  Similar to that certain animals are "hard-wired" to eat meat and others grass according to their kind, humans are "hard-wired" to sin because our hearts are wicked and evil.  "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).  On the contrary, God - revealed in the person of Jesus - possesses a divine nature, meaning He cannot sin, but only do good.  There are some things that are impossible for God.  God cannot lie and He cannot sin.  He is wholly good.  It is in His nature.

To say that even the smallest baby is a sinner is an unpopular belief, though it is true.  In Proverbs 22:6, Solomon, then, speaks to those who, as adults, have already learned the law of God - what is right and what is wrong, how to control their bodies from giving into the desirous sinful-nature.  It is the parents responsibility to teach (train) their children in the way they should act, so that when they are older and can reason and think for themselves, they will know what is right and wrong and can act accordingly without the direction of mom and dad.

What Was Once Common is Now Uncommon
All of this was common knowledge and practice for generations, until the 1960s when unprecedented, unrestrained idolatry, sensuality, and perversion erupted in the United States.  Out of this era came the birth control pill, legalized abortion, and rebellion toward teaching children the way they should go.

Logically speaking (and logic and reason are of God), we must understand something foundational.  Babies are humans.  They are not aliens or foreign objects needing manuals.  In the age of information, it is easy to fall victim to the newest fads and quick fixes, the newest lists of dos and donts, and ever-changing "brand new" philosophies.

Logically, however, we know babies are little humans.  For instance, all humans communicate.  However, babies cannot speak.  Because babies cannot speak, we know they must communicate in other ways.  But what other ways do babies communicate?  Babies communicate both verbally and non-verbally, just the same as you and I.

Whoa!  No way!  Whoa!  Yes way!

Watch a baby's face sometime.  They communicate very thoroughly if they are sad, happy, scared, surprised, or defiant.  In my opinion, they actually communicate better non-verbally than most adults.  Babies also communicate verbally; not with words, but with cries.

Yes, babies have different cries.

Just the other night, my wife and I awoke to our six-month old crying at 3:00 in the morning.  She had woken up and was trying to fall back to sleep, but every once in a while would cry again out of tiredness and frustration.  Right as we thought she had fallen back asleep, I sneezed.  This caused a gasp of air followed by a loud wail from our daughter, telling us that she was now scared, so my wife picked her up and comforted her until she was ready to go back to sleep.

Mothers: it is important for you to learn your baby's speech.  Her cries communicate very well what she is feeling at that moment, just as her laughs and coos communicate when she is happy and content.  Some cries are frustration cries.  In the beginning of sleep training (for the first few days), our daughter spent, on average, fifteen minutes (the most ever being thirty minutes once) crying in protest because she did not want to go to sleep, either for a nap or for bed.  Knowing that all her needs had been met, however, we did not give in to her cries of protest.  If she could have spoken her feelings at those moments, she would have said, "No!  I don't want to take a nap!  I want to stay up and play!"  Today, either my wife or myself can take our daughter and lay her in her bed for a nap or for bed and within minutes she is fast asleep.  She no longer protests her sleep because she has been trained (taught) that sleep time is sleep time.  No protesting allowed.

This is just one instance in many where the proverb applies: "Train a child to sleep as a baby, and when they are older, they will know how to sleep well."  Other ways to apply the proverb include the following:
  • "Teach a child that no means no, and when they are older, they will not need to be told even twice to obey."
  • "Teach a child that stop means stop, and when they are older and playing in the front yard and their ball goes into the street and you yell stop, they will stop and not get hit by the car."
  • "Teach a child to obey authority (you), and when they are older you will have saved them from trouble at school, trouble making friends, and most likely prison."
  • The formula is not difficult: "Teach a child ____, and when they are older they will ____."
What parents allow and expect of their children, even as a young baby, has great implications for the future.  If the expectation is low, it will be hard work to raise the bar when the child grows older and can speak in actual words and use their bodies in more harmful ways.  Therefore, "train up a child and when he is old, he will not depart from [how he was trained]."

Training a child means to temper a child's natural will to do what they want when they want to do it, so that they will not do what they want whenever they want.  This does not crush creativity, as some refuters of child-rearing have suggested.  On the contrary, order is a natural, God-created function of all things in the universe and leads to greater creativity.  (Read Dare to Discipline by Dr. James Dobson for more research on how order actually encourages creativity.)

A Personal Success Story
The bottom line is the moral responsibility of a child is completely upon her parents.  Until the child reaches the age when they can think for themselves, they are under the parents responsibility.  This age of accountability differs for each child.

But when should this training begin?  It should begin when the child is ready, typically around six months when fine motor skills are becoming more controlled by the will of the child.

Six months!?  Yes, about six months.  If you don't believe me, read the following real-life account that happened recently in our family:
The other night, I put some training techniques I had been reading about into practice.  After our six-month old daughter had finished eating, I sat her on my lap at the table to where she could reach out and touch the things on the table.  Her motor skills are at the point where she definitely knows what she is grabbing for, which makes this time of her life the perfect opportunity to start training her to practice self-control.  After she was situated on my lap, I moved our salt and pepper shaker to the edge of the table within her reach.  Immediately she reached out to grab them, to which I responded by grabbing her hand and bringing it back to her body as I said, "no."  I did not raise my voice.  I did not hit her.  I simply brought the weight of my hand down on hers, drawing her hand away from the object on the table and back to her body, while saying "no."  This repeated itself one or two more times. after which she began to cry in protest.  Parents, you must be able to discern the cries of your baby.  In this instance, our daughter's cry was a cry of protest, as if she was saying, "I want those colorful, ceramic cylinders NOW!  Let me grab them!"  After one last desperate grab at them, and after she was met with one more "no" and swat, she gave up.  She stopped crying and looked out the window.  Both my wife (who was sitting at the table watching us) and myself were amazed at what we had just seen.  Her first training session had been a success!  And all parties were in harmony at the end of it.  The most interesting part to me was that it all took place, from start to finish, in sixty seconds.
And the Finale...
In all sincerity, it is time for we parents to wage war against our flesh and its control over our families.  This is the only way to combat irresponsible teens, blatant defiance from youth, disobedience to authority, and fearful, anxious parenting.  Each one of us is fleshly and sinful from birth (Psalm 51:7); therefore, the problem is you.  The problem is me.  The problem is our unrestrained sin-nature.  The problem is weak pastors feeding the flock fluffy, feel-good sermons.  The problem is we have not made war with sin in our own lives and the lives of our children.

Beware of Dr. Spock and all his irrational, technical jargon.  Beware the ways of the flesh, for they only lead to death through sin.  Instead, let us train up our children in the fear of the Lord.  Let us wage violent war against the sin-nature in our lives and the lives of our children on their behalf.  Their morality is completely our responsibility until they reach the age when they can think for themselves (whenever that may be).

Above all, put on love.  Let us love our children enough to make war on their behalf against the sinful nature that seeks to kill, steal, and destroy their lives.  Let us call their natural inclinations what they are and get back in the fight.  PLEASE get back in the fight!

(For more on the topic of parenting and child-rearing, read To Train Up A Child by Michael and Debi Pearl.  There is much controversy surrounding this book, yet I affirm it.)

*How can you say that infant baptism does not save a child from original sin (i.e. the sin nature)?  The aforementioned belief regarding infant baptism is unpopular, especially among certain denominations who believe infant baptism is saving baptism.  The Word of God does not support this notion, however.  For further reading on this, read the article from John Piper entitled "Infant Baptism and the New Covenant Community".

Training children is not an angry matter.  It is a matter of love and should be treated with kindness and care.  Apart from the Gospel and deep-rooted love for your child, all training and discipline is useless and abusive.