Moral Stillbirth and the Faith of Infants

Posted: September 27, 2010 by Dan in Doctrines, Original Sin, Total Depravity
Tags: , , , , , ,

Sentinel posted about original sin and how it extends even to infants a few days ago, and the general topic as of late has been original sin. I’d like to offer a quick summary of the Scriptures on original sin, and then discuss how an infant is saved. Just as infants are not automatically saved because they have not reached an age where they can reason, they also do not become believers outside of the normal means – namely that they come to faith in Jesus Christ through the Word.

What the Bible Says About Original Sin
The Bible teaches that no one is righteous (Rom. 3:10). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The human heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). The natural man is dead in trespasses and sin (Eph 2:1). By nature, we pass “our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). We are inclined toward evil (Gen 6:5), conceived in sin, and “brought forth in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5). All of us “like sheep have gone astray” (Isa. 53:6). Even “our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before the Lord (Isa. 64:6). We are by nature not just morally tainted, but “children of wrath,” deserving of God’s punishment, even before we actually sin in our flesh (Eph. 2:3). Even on the best of days, we are divided, doing what we don’t want to do and failing to do what we know is right (Rom. 7:18-19). Because of the Fall, we are hardwired toward evil. We sinned in Adam and died through his trespass, inheriting his guilt and a corrupt nature (see Rom. 5:12-21). In other words, we all deserve hell from the moment of our conception. We are morally stillborn, including infants.

What God Has Done About Our Moral Stillbirth
But God has provided a means for salvation, For “all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death[.] We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:3-4). Baptism is a way that infants can come to saving faith in Jesus.

How is this possible? Does baptism in and of itself have the power to save? No, God alone saves through His Word working in and through baptism to create saving faith in the heart of the infant. The Bible records several instances of infants expressing saving faith. Think of John the Baptist, who leapt for joy while in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44). Remember also that Jesus said that “if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42). Notice that He said little ones “who believe in me,” indicating that these little ones possessed genuine faith in Christ. The Greek for little ones in both of these passages is μικρων (mikron), which implies children under the age of three. Psalm 22:9-10 says, “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God” (some argue that since this passage is prophetic it only applies to Christ, but it is still an instance of infant faith nonetheless). 2 Timothy 3:15 points out “how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The word used for infancy in this passage is βρέφος (brephos), which means an unborn child, embryo, baby, or infant! God can clearly create faith in anyone’s hearts — even infants, mentally handicapped, and Alzheimer’s patients — because salvation does not depend on our own reasoning abilities. This might even offend our reason and sensibilities, but the Scriptures are clear that infants and children can and do have faith. A child is upheld in the Bible as the ultimate model for how to receive Christ as Lord, for Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

The Bible is careful to show how faith is a gift of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). The gift of God is precisely the faith through which salvation comes. “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). “You were raised with Him through faith in the working of God” (Colossians 2:12).

Faith is a gift, created by God’s Word. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Of course, God does not do the believing for us. It is we, infants and adults, who believe, just as it is we who live, and yet just as God gives and sustains our life, so God gives and sustains our faith.

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Comments
  1. J.W. Wartick says:

    Dan,

    Thanks for your insightful post! You immediately head off what I would say is the idea of an age of accountability at the beginning with your statement, “…infants are not automatically saved because they have not reached an age where they can reason…” What do you have to say to those who do think this is the case? I recall specifically Norman Geisler utilizing this view in his “Big Book of Bible Difficulties.”

    Further, one of my own contentions in this issue is relating original sin to abortion–do those babies that are aborted go to hell, because they are not baptized? My own reason oriented mind (not using this in a superior sense, but saying that I tend to try to answer every question and never want to leave things to mystery) doesn’t settle for saying “we don’t know.” What are your thoughts there?

    • Disciple says:

      Howdy, Joseph. I’m afraid that we mere humans do have to leave some things to mystery. Some things only God knows. The Catholic view would be that God’s Mercy operates in ways we cannot know and cannot comprehend; we leave the poor unborn victims of abortion in the hands of our Merciful Lord and we pray for them, knowing that God loves His children and wants everyone to live.

      How could Jesus’s sacrifice not be efficacious for all of us, no matter our age or ability to reason? We might not be able to understand it. But how could He hold that against us? The Lord is rich in Mercy. God is Mercy. Hell is for sinners. Unborn babies are not sinners, though they be born in a state of Original Sin; they have committed no personal sins. We leave them in God’s hands and we pray for them.

  2. Dan says:

    Great question, J.W. It’s one I’ve wrestled with quite a bit myself, not only with aborted infants, but also miscarriages. This is why it is imperative to answer questions like these pastorally, meaning the default answer is always “Why do you ask?” Since I know you are asking this purely as a theological question I will give such a response, but keep in mind that these sorts of answers ought to be tailored to the context in which you are delivering them.

    I think “I don’t know” is a cop-out answer on this one, namely because God’s Word has so much to say about it. I’ve already listed a bunch of Scripture passages that demonstrate infants possessing saving faith in the womb! Since there are so many examples, it is not a stretch to assert that infants can come to saving faith in the womb. But how does this happen?

    It seems we both agree that the Bible seems to indicate that from the moment of conception a child is sinful and worthy of death and damnation because of original sin. This is hard for Americans to swallow, as they don’t wish to grasp the magnitude of original sin nor do they wish to acknowledge that a baby could deserve hell. This is not an easy topic for many to discuss civilly, emotion and personal experience almost certainly become involved at some level and we must be cognizant of this. Offering an answer of “I don’t know” is equivalent to saying “God is indifferent to your infant’s eternal destiny.” It is important to understand that God would be perfectly justified in sending infants to hell. But that doesn’t mean that He does.

    So how do infants come to faith? The same way that adults do: by God working through the Holy Spirit to supernaturally create the gift of faith in their hearts. A reminder about what Romans 10:17 says about faith is in order: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” If the mother had read Scripture aloud during her pregnancy, or if the Word was being preached in church and the child “heard” it, then God can (and I believe does) create faith in that child’s heart. An infant offers no resistance to the seed of faith humbly planted in him, reasoning abilities do more to hinder our faith than help it in many ways, because our reason is fallen. We must keep in mind that faith is not a work of our own. It is the gift of God, not by works (Ephesians 2:8,9). The Holy Spirit draws the unbeliever to Christ through the Word and creates faith in his or her heart. The Bible clearly teaches that our salvation cannot come about by our own works; it is entirely the work of God. The Scriptures illustrate this by calling the faith of men a raising from the dead (Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 2:12), a being born of God (John 1:12-13), a new birth by the Gospel (1 Peter 1:23-25), and a work of God like the creation of light at the creation of the world (2 Corinthians 4:6).

    With all of this in mind, it is not difficult to understand that infants can and do come to faith in the womb. Now you could get crazy and argue that if an infant is aborted or miscarried prior to developing the physical ability to hear… but I think that’s besides the point. The main idea here is that faith is a supernatural gift. I insist that the greatest miracle Jesus ever did was to create faith in my stubborn heart, and He continues to repeat this miracle in the hearts of many people every day. Does this mean that all infants are saved? I don’t know. That’s not a cop-out, because I’ve explained how infants legitimately come to faith through God’s Word. Who knows if God does not choose to reveal Himself to infants whom He foreknows will be aborted or miscarried in His own way? We don’t. But we do know that God has provided means (plural) of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that are equally efficacious to both infants and adults.

    One also cannot discount the presence of the Holy Spirit in the mother. If the Holy Spirit lives within the mother, wouldn’t it not be in His nature to minister to and comfort the child in the womb? I don’t have any real theological basis for that idea (aside from perhaps 1 Cor. 7:14), but it’s just a thought. John the Baptist leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb when she was filled with the Holy Spirit… the effects of that filling seem to also affect the child.

    The Scripture passages I listed above are the key evidence of infant faith. I cannot stress them enough. They will invaluable to you as you explain this concept to a hurting mother who lost a child (you may even consider doing a small funeral to assist the family with closure).

    So my final answer: God would be perfectly justified in sending infants to hell, but that doesn’t mean that He always does (the same is true with adults). It is important not to distinguish how infants and adults come to faith, the means are the same. The Bible provides several instances of infants coming to saving faith by the Holy Spirit while still in the womb. Baptism is A means of applying the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection to an infant, but so are hearing the Word of God and other supernatural means described in Scripture (John the Baptist leapt in the womb because Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit at the recognition of Jesus in Mary’s womb).

    I wrote a series of five short posts on the Paradox of Salvation that I would highly recommend you read: http://prayeramedic.com/2009/09/revisiting-the-paradox-of-salvation-part-1

    I explained a lot of deep concepts related to justification in simplistic ways using non-theological language (which was tough for me), but it may help you understand my “big picture” view of salvation.

    • Disciple says:

      Hi, Dan. I found your series on salvation. I’ve read part of it and downloaded it to read more closely later. I like your blog. And the way you think. 🙂

    • J.W. Wartick says:

      Thanks for the awesome clarification here. Your discussion of the power of the Holy Spirit is particularly fresh and enlightening. Further, I agree that it is very important to figure out why people are asking this question. Thanks again for your insight.

  3. Dan says:

    I’m glad you’ve been enjoying it, Lee. I saw your comments on my blog and intend to reply soon. I’ve just been extremely busy due to a call-in at work recently.

    • Disciple says:

      I know how that is, Dan! Take your time, no rush. I’m at the library now, using the free wi-fi, or I wouldn’t even be able to check for messages and comments. No internet at home. Argh! 🙂

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