by Laurie Aker and Scott Kaczorowski
Our time is limited when we are together each week and often we don’t have time to delve into each topic to the depth that I would like. We recently touched on the sensitive topic of infants and salvation. Rather than gloss over it, my heart’s desire is for you to know and understand the fullness of the doctrine. We have said before that our doctrine impacts our deeds, and this is so very true. But our doctrine is also crucial when we are faced with very difficult times. God is love and His ways are perfect. We can’t understand them completely but we are to seek to understand what He has entrusted to us. With this mind I thought it would be helpful to work with Scott Kaczorowski and provide for you a synopsis of our understanding of God’s Word on the subject.
The issue of how salvation works for infants is a difficult one and the Bible does not speak with comprehensive clarity on this issue. However, here are some points that we can glean from the Scriptures:
- We know that due to Adam’s transgression everyone who is born from his line (that is everyone in the human race) starts out spiritually dead and therefore separated from God. Romans 5:18 says, “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” and verse 19 continues, “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners…” So Paul can say, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).
- There is biblical data that nevertheless suggests that God mercifully saves infants. David says of his deceased son, “But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23). In Matthew 21 we read, “But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant, and they said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,”Out of the mouth of “infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise”?'” (Matt. 21:15-16).
- God’s attitude towards children (in general) notes their preciousness. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:16-17).
- We also see in Scripture that God is very willing to extend mercy especially in cases of ignorance. Paul says, “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief…” (1 Tim. 1:13). (This does not of course guarantee that God extend mercy in every case of ignorance; in fact, we know that He does not. But it is to note God’s disposition to be gracious especially in cases of ignorance.) In the case of infants, we have some of the most profound cases of human ignorance.
- The Bible also suggests that there is an age when we become accountable for our sin. In Isaiah 7:15-16 we read, ” He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.” This suggests that before a certain point, there is not the cognitive ability to distinguish between right and wrong.
- The Bible event hints that there may be circumstances in which infants have a form of saving faith.1 David said of his experience, “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God” (Psa. 22:9-10). In the case of John the Baptist, the angel tells Zechariah his father, “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15) which was probably fulfilled when Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit and John responded in joy to the presence of Jesus–in Mary’s womb (Luke 1:41-44).
All of this biblical data still does not yield easy answers to this question, but at the level of general impression we can say that believes should have great hope in God for the salvation of their children, and we know that we can trust that the judge of all the earth will do right (Gen. 18:25).2
1I owe this point to another author, probably John Frame.
2Another author has made the point from Gen. 18:25 (though possibly in another context). Unfortunately I cannot recall the source. The language here may be substantially similar.