Infant Salvation: Final
We have, at long last, reached the end of our year-long journey. When this series originally began in January, I sought to answer the question, “Do babies who die in infancy go to heaven?” Searching Scripture and some of the resources that have been written, I think we have arrived at some conclusions.
First, it is clear from Scripture that all infants are born sinners and thus under the just condemnation of God. This means that, as sinners, the only hope for the sinner is the finished work of Christ. Yet, to our knowledge, infants are unable to place their hope in Christ.
Second, it is clear that there is no such thing as an “age of accountability” before which all infants and children are automatically saved. What Scripture does make clear is that there is a period in our lives, beginning at birth and lasting until some indefinite point in our childhood, where we cannot consciously distinguish between right and wrong. Scripture says nothing about salvation for those who die during this period.
Third, it is also clear that infants are not regenerated. If infants were regenerated, why do they not retain characteristics of a saved individual as they become conscious persons? I did allow that we must be willing to say that it is entirely possible for God to regenerate an infant or small child unto salvation. An omnipotent God can most certainly save an infant or small child if He so chooses. Indeed, we must fervently hope and pray that such is the case. But since Scripture is glaringly silent, we must not make inferences into this issue, nor can we state as fact that God does what this doctrine teaches.
Fourth, it is clear that Christ does not issue a special call to children. Such a doctrine has twisted Scripture to make it say something it does not. Instead, Christ calls upon us not to prevent children from coming to him, and that we ourselves must come to him in a similar manner as a child would.
What, then, can we believe?
So, up to this point, we have no clear teaching from Scripture on the issue of infant salvation. Indeed, Scripture is silent! But, tucked away in a corner of the Old Testament, we are given this astounding passage:
22He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23But 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 Samuel 12:22-23)
It is my contention, especially given the concession I make in point 3 above, that this is the only Scriptural position a believer may take as to the question of whether or not babies go to heaven when they die.
You see, David has made a very clear statement about the child between him and Bathsheba that the Lord took from them in punishment for their sin. The child is in a place where David can, at some point in the future, be reunited with him. This is an astounding declaration! But where, exactly, does David expect to meet his son?
I believe the case can be made, from even a cursory examination of the Psalms, that David believed those who were righteous and whom strived for righteousness would live in the presence of God forever. The Psalms are awash with this belief stated in the first person, which indicates David believed he would spend eternity in the presence of Jehovah. Not only that, the Psalms make clear that David relied totally on God to make him a righteous person! By all accounts, David expected to spend eternity with his Lord. That was his great hope.
If this is true, then it can only be the case that David believed his dead infant son was with the Lord. Where else would David meet him? In hell? No, David seems to have bet the farm that those who are righteous will be with the Lord forever, and had an expectation of doing so himself; which means that his son could be nowhere other than in the presence of God.
How does this happen? Scripture is glaringly silent about the hows and the whys. David simply says that is how it will be. He will march into the presence of the Lord and be reunited with his son. There are no explanations as to how the child is counted righteous. But I do think there are hints at how God brings dead infants into his presence.
Let us look at 1 Timothy 1:13-16:
13though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
And in a related verse, Acts 17:30:
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
Paul makes it pretty clear that God willingly overlooked the sins he committed ignorantly in his unbelief because it was God’s intention to save Paul. This passage also suggests that God does this only for those whom he intends to save. What does this tell us? It tells us that if infants who die are saved, it is only because God has chosen to overlook the taint of original sin in them. Furthermore, it tells us that if this is true, God therefore intends to save infants who die.
But we have a problem, brought up earlier in this series: infants, as far as we can determine, are unable to repent and believe. Both the 1 Timothy and Acts 17 passages are contingent on repentance and faith in Christ. How can we resolve this problem? The only way we can do so is to rest the salvation of infants solely on the mercy of God.
And it is this mercy that David seems to presume in the case of his dead son. Though God took his son as punishment for David’s sin, David is confident that God was merciful by not allowing his son to suffer eternally. It was a fervent hope that David held confidently, as confidently as he held the greatness of God. Therefore, if we are to believe that infants who die are in heaven, it must be only because we hold a similar confidence in the mercy of God towards these children.
No, I have no idea how. Scripture does not explain it. There is no clear-cut theology expressed in Scripture on which we can hang our hat. But there we have it. “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”
What a God-glorifying position to take, to throw oneself totally on the mercy of God alone. No hermeneutical gymnastics, no logical tricks, just a simple faith and trust in the mercy of the Almighty. What should this belief do for us?
First, it should make us who remain here alive on earth utterly aware that we are sinners. Romans 3 makes it very clear that none of you are righteous and you are all under condemnation. Your only hope is that same mercy you trust God has lavished on a dead infant.
Second, it should cause us to realize that if we do not possess that mercy, we will never be reunited with our dead children. This is a shocking and sad fact. Many are those who believed they would see their dead children again, only to find they’d failed to obtain the mercy of God.
Third, it should point us to the source of that mercy, Jesus. God gives mercy for one reason only: to bring a sinner to repentance and faith in Christ. Christ came to earth to be born, lived a sinless life, and died on the cross to secure this mercy for all who believe. God fully intends to save anyone who experiences this mercy.
Fourth, it should make us aware that the right response to God’s mercy is to repent. You don’t deserve this mercy. Your sins are what put Christ on the cross. For this horrible offense, you should be cast into the deepest reaches of hell. But God decided otherwise. He decided that it would be the narrow gate to heaven for all who believe. And the only right response is to throw yourselves at his feet renouncing your sins.
Fifth, it should cause us to place our faith and trust in Christ alone. Since you have thrown yourself on the mercy of God, the right consequence is obedience to his command, and God has commanded you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. It is the only action you could take if you have truly submitted totally to the mercy of God. Any other action would result in the despair of hell continuing to be your only destination.
Won’t you take a cue from David? Won’t you believe today that only the righteous will live in the presence of God forever? Won’t you repent of your sins and believe in Christ as the only righteousness that could bring you into God’s presence? God is calling all of you who read this to repent and place your trust totally in his son, Jesus. Believe in him today!