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|The Nashville Statement
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
My complete profile...
Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich
His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
- Rose Cole
[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
- David Kjos
Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
- Jonathan Moorhead
There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
| Are sinless, new-born babes "righteous"?
Consider the following verses:
Deuteronomy 24:16, "Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin" [NASB].
Ezekiel 18:4, "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die." [NASB]
Ezekiel 18:20, "The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself." [NASB]
If we summarize the common thread in these verses, what we get is that:
 God does not hold children guilty for their parents sins, and
 people are only held guilty for their own sins.
Yet there are other passages in the Old Testament, that seem to suggest that God does in fact hold children guilty for the sins of their parents:
Deuteronomy 5:9b, "...I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me," [NASB]
Exodus 34:7b, "yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations." [NASB]
Numbers 14:18, "The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations." [NASB]
Some see these texts as contradicting one another. In some places God refuses to find children guilty of their parent's sins, and in other places God visits the sins of the parents upon the children. Isn't that a contradiction?
It isn't. The first three verses are talking about who gets the death penalty for sins that require the death penalty, and the answer is that only the one who commits the sin gets the death penalty, no one else is to be put to death for that sin. The latter verses are not talking about how to apply the law of God, but are talking about the larger consequences of a person's sin. A father's sin will affect his descendants even to three or four generations. The alcoholic, the child/spouse abuser, etc. give clear testimony to such a truth.
It is right to reason therefore that Adam alone will be judged for the sin in the garden, and not us. But even as this is so, we (the children of Adam) bear the main consequence of Adam's sin: ...Death.
We tend to think of light and darkness as opposites, but they aren't. Light exists as a real, measurable thing, but darkness doesn't. What we think of darkness is actually just the lack of light. It isn't a thing, it is the absence of a thing.
Death is like that. Life is something, death is simply the lack of that something. Adam's sin did not "create" death as if death was some new thing. Adam's sin brought with it a separation from God (who alone is the source of all life). To be separated from God thus, is to be separated from life.
Adam alone will be judged for his sin, but one earthly consequence of Adam's sin was that Adam was driven out of God's presence, or said another way, Adam was separated from life eternal. Said a third way: death was brought into the world through Adam's sin.
This separation from life is the reality that every descendant of Adam is born into. We all experience it as a direct consequence of Adam's sin. We do not inherit this through our DNA (as some may imagine), or from our physical parents, because it isn't a "thing" and as such isn't passed on from father to son, it is the lack of a thing - a lack that defines everyone's reality. We are born into a vacuum that Adam's sin provoked, and we experience because this lack persists even to our day.
So when we speak of the judgment for our sins, we shouldn't be condemning anyone for Adam's sin, least of all sinless infants. They are no more culpable for Adam's sin than they are culpable for the sins of their immediate parents. They do however inherit the consequences of God's judgment against Adam because those consequences affect all of us. We are born into a world that has been already been severed from the life of God, as it were, and lacking a connection to this life, We are born incapable of expressing that righteousness which can only flow from the life of God.
In other words, every babe that has been born under Adam's curse, has been separated from the life (and therefore the righteousness) of God. Thus a new-born, sinless babe is a strange thing, since it lacks the righteousness that can only be found in God, and yet it also lacks any personal sin, having not yet rebelled against the rule of God by reason of being incapable of doing so.
Here we pause to order our thoughts as some readers may have an understanding of righteousness that doesn't lend itself well to the explanation I am giving above. So allow me a moment to expand the point a bit.
Sin is, at its core, an act of rebellion against the rule of God. A new born babe has not (yet) rebelled against God, and as such we can say that the new born infant is sinless. In order to be righteous, however, the new born babe would also have to be obedient to God, and that obedience would have to flow from the only source of righteousness (God Himself). The proverbial babe is as incapable of expressing a righteousness that he or she has been cut off from, as you or I would be. Thus a new born babe although sinless, is by no means righteous. Since there is no middle ground, a new born babe is thus, "unrighteous" - meaning, incapable of expressing the righteousness that can only be found in God.
Some readers may believe that it is possible for a fallen person to do something righteous, and this is likely because they think that deeds can be righteous in and of themselves - that if the devil Himself gave alms, it would be an act of righteousness, well, maybe not the devil because he is so sneaky, but an otherwise "nice" person would certainly be doing something "righteous" if he or she gave alms to the poor. Right? Isaiah answers that question for us, or rather God Himself does, through the writings of Isaiah when he records for us the fact that all of our righteousnesses (that is, all the "good" things we do) are as filthy rags to God. To put it plainly: every single act of righteousness we can do is in fact -not- righteous. What we do, we do to serve ourselves in some capacity or other.
An example I like to give of this is the kindly father who brings ice cream home one hot, summer day in order to treat his family. He daydreams about the joy on their faces as he buys it, and though no one is home when he gets home, he anticipates that they will all arrive home within moments, and so he heightens his own joy by thinking to surprise them, and sets out bowls all around, and setting the ice cream scooper at the ready on the table, right there beside the ice cream, and in this way commences to wait for the joy of giving this treat to his family!
For the first ten minutes every noise heightens his joy, is that the key in the lock? No? Oh. But soon, and certain after twenty minutes, he begins to change - he is annoyed. Where are they? Shouldn't they be home by now. As the clock ticks, and the ice cream begins to soften, and then melt - the tension within him grows, and grows...
When they finally walk in (two hours later!), the man who greets them is not the joy filled man bent on some act of kindness - he is a simmering volcano, trying his best to let everyone know just how awful they are for spoiling his surprise. To the outside observer, his original scheme seemed selfless and kind, but time itself began to peel off this deception. The primary reason he did this was not to serve others, but to serve himself by serving others - to use the mask of selflessness to appease some selfish desire. Having been denied whatever satisfaction he hoped to gain in giving this gift - the truth comes out - even as the juice of the grape is expelled when you squeeze it. He wanted to be the hero, that's what this was about. He tried to produce this effect by doing something "selfless" - but you everything a person does, he or she does to please himself - that is what it means to be "fallen" - it means we are incapable (in and of ourselves) of being selfless. This is what it means to be in bondage to sin, but that is for another post...
You cannot come up with a scenario where anyone does anything that is entirely selfless because the truth of the matter is that we are utterly incapable of it. Anyone who denies this does not understand sin, and does not understand righteousness.
In truth there is no middle ground between righteous and unrighteous (and bear with me because I will repeat this) just as their is no middle ground between life and death, failure to be in one camp automatically means you are in the other camp.
So we have a funny situation with new born babes, they are "unrighteous" but they are at the same time "sinless". They are certainly not condemned on account of their own (or anyone else's) sin, but they are not by this fact made righteous. Even innocent babes are not yet fit to be in God's presence.
So we ask our selves, what would be the judgment should an innocent babe perish: eternal life, or hell?
Given that Christ said, "Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these" - we heartily conclude that children who perish gain eternal life, not because they are sinless, nor because they are (personally) righteous, but rather because the grace and mercy of God has granted that Christ saves those who die as children. I am going to unpack that thought a bit, but I warn you beforehand that this will be a "how" and not a "what" explanation. I could have it wrong, but I hold to something that strikes me as both rational, and doing no injury to the text.
Hearing the salvation of children described that way, (saved not because of sinlessness or personal righteousness) might cause someone to object: what would a sinless babe need to be saved from? If babes are not culpable for Adam's sin, or culpable for their own sin, then what charge could God bring against them? What do they need to be saved from??
Even a sinless babe lacks that righteousness flows from the life and person of God. The babe would still need to be saved from their own unrighteousness - even if the babe hasn't yet produced that personal rebellion against God (sin) that eventually condemn us all.
Did you see what I did there? I tied condemnation to personal culpability.
Okay it wasn't really an earth shattering revelation or anything, but I don't state it lightly either. There is some fear and trembling going on, lest I go to far, or not far enough.
Yet isn't that exactly what we see in the scriptures? Do you not know that a dozen Israelites were sent to spy out the promised land? They were gone forty days, and when they returned, ten of them gave a bad report saying that while the land was awesome and all that, the who people in it were so strong and big that they would surely wipe out Israel if Israel were dumb enough to go in and try take it. That was a monumental discouragement. They had just escaped from Egypt, and now it looked like God had saved from from the frying pan, only to toss them into the fire.
Only two gave a right report: Caleb and Joshua. These not only said that the land was awesome, but ripe for the taking, given that God Himself had given them the land, and would certainly see them take it. These, rather than giving a discouraging report, encouraged Israel to go in and get what God had promised them!
But the people didn't listen to Caleb and Joshua, and turned back in their hearts to Egypt.
So God judged them as unworthy of receiving promised land, and promised that their bodies would litter the wilderness rather than take up residence in the promised land. But not all of them. God made a distinction between those who were and those who were not culpable for this sin.
In Deuteronomy 1:39 we read, "Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it".
These little ones are described by age in Numbers 14:28-29, "Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. "
Do you see that God made a distinction between adults (aged 20 and up) and children whom God decided were not personally culpable for the sins of their parents (anyone aged 19 and under)?
There are at least to obvious things to pull from that, the first is that God made a distinction between culpable and not culpable, and the second is that this distinction was based on age. You can bet that a great many of the teens in that crew were screaming the same things their parents were saying - but God did not hold these ones as culpable for doing so... Let that sink in.
When, in the wilderness, God made a distinction in culpability between children and adults, I take this to heart. Is God the same today, yesterday, and forever? Is this act an isolated, one-timer? Does God abolish all distinctions before this, and every distinction after it?
I see in this, and you should also, not merely as a history of what has happened in Israel in the past, but I see this as the character of God put on vivid display to any with the eyes and ears to see and hear it. This is a reflection of God's character, an illumination of character that God -intended- to make known.
One thing we see for certain: culpability and condemnation go hand in hand. Where there was no culpability, there was no condemnation. Every believer ought to know that there is one (and only one) way for a culpable sinner to escape the damnation that awaits him or her, and that is through repentance towards, and faith in, Christ.
But we are concerning ourselves here with those who die before they become culpable in God's eyes. What of them?
These either have no sin (new born babes, for instance), or by reason of age or disability, lack the intellectual capacity to comprehend sin in such a way as to be held culpable for it. Does that mean that they righteous?
Before I answer that, let's remember together what we find in the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans. A man does not need to hear the gospel, to know that there is a God, and that they are beholden to Him. Our culpability is not linked to whether or not we have heard a doctrinally perfect explanation of how to become a Christian. Culpability is not linked to whether or not we know about Jesus, or the God of the scriptures. We do become culpable at some point in our life (that much is certain) For some this is earlier, for others it is later. But even if we could plumb with some hope of precision, the depths of exactly what must be understood before one becomes culpable,what would that gain us? if we allow Paul's explanation in Romans to be our teacher in the matter, we will conclude that at some point everyone capable of understanding that there is a God, is made culpable of their sin by that understanding. I would not want to venture further than the scriptures on that point.
Now back to the question of righteousness...
I have pretty much answered the question of whether sinless babes are righteous a few paragraphs back. These are no more righteous than anyone else, but if in case you are still troubled by the thought ask yourself this question: was Jesus righteous when He was born? Think it through, lest you say that Christ was at some point unrighteous...
Those who (by virtue of a works based righteousness) link the notion of righteousness to works, that is who think that righteousness is something you bring into being by doing good works, would have to conclude that Jesus became righteous by doing righteous things. That His righteousness flowed from what He did, rather than having what He did flow from the fact that He was righteous. If that were so, then Jesus was, for a time at least, un-righteous, since there is no middle ground. I hope the idea that Jesus was at one point lacking in righteousness strikes you as absurd (as it should). We only bother to ask the question because doing so will ferret out for some, an otherwise sleeping, but present (and quite wrong-headed) notions that righteousness can be produced by doing righteous things. That is nonsense. Righteous deeds flow from a righteous life. That is why all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags - because they do not flow from a righteous life, but from a life that is - by definition - lacking righteousness. That is what it means to be "fallen" - it means that we cannot produce righteousness, because we have righteousness in us, and have no connection to the righteousness of God, by virtue of being cut off from that life thanks to Adam's sin.
So Jesus did not become righteous by doing righteous deeds - rather the righteous deeds that Jesus performed in His life were a reflection of a righteousness that was there from the very beginning.
Babes are not born with this righteousness, because this righteousness is found only in the life Divine, that life is what we were cut off from when Adam sinned. Even though every baby is born without personal sin, that does not mean that they are righteous. The moment we uncouple the notion that righteousness can be produced by righteous deeds, we see clearly that a babe cannot be righteous, because righteousness isn't about what we do, it is about what we are - either we are righteous or we are not, the fruit betrays the tree. A life that does not partake of God's life, even if that life has not yet expressed itself in rebellion - is still an un-righteous life.
New born babes are not, and cannot be condemned by some personal sin (because they are incapable of generating any), but the same are likewise not commended to God for this reason, because this reason is by no means meritorious. That is what our Lord told us when he gave the story of the unprofitable servant. You recall the one. The servant is out in the field all day, working, and comes in, and sees that his master is seated and well fed before he dares to look after himself - and having done all these things perfectly, our Lord tells us that the servant has done NOTHING meritorious. He is a servant, and as such his service is expected. Failure to server would be a reason to fire him, but doing his job is not a reason to praise him. It is what he is paid to do.
In the same way a babe who has no sin is not to be praised - we are expected to be sinless (as hard a pill as that might be for some to swallow). If you lived your whole life to this day, having never sinned, you would still be unfit in the eyes of God, because all you will have done is what was expected of you. Doing what is expected of you is not meritorious, it does not commend you to God - it only stops you from being condemned for your rebellion.
In other words, being sinless does not mean you are righteous. Infants who perish in their innocence are "unrighteousness" even though they are sinless. They need the propitiating work of Christ in order to have eternal life, just like anyone else.
Ah, there is that big theological word: propitiation. Let me take a moment to explain it. To do that properly I shall have to explain expiation also. Propitiation for the sinner necessarily includes expiation, but propitiation for the sinless does not include expiation.
To propitiate means to create favor where there was none previously or to restore a favor that previously existed.
To expiate is to remove entirely the sting of an offense.
I am speaking in overly simple language here to try to avoid spending a lot of time defining what really are simple concepts.
For the sinner there are two problems - he has offended God by his sin, and there is nothing within him that commends him to God or can comment him to God. If I were at a restaurant and found that my chicken was only half cooked, and having eaten some I was made sick, etc. I probably would not eat at that restaurant again. If the restaurant offered to pay for my meal, I don't think that would suffice to make up for the fact that they -poisoned- me. If however, the restaurant paid not only for my meal, but for whatever health care was required, and even paid for any loss of work, and the like, and did so freely and without having to be sued - I would probably be satisfied that they had settled the debt incurred by their having poisoned me. Yet even if that had been done, I still wouldn't eat there again. Ew! Half cooked chicken? Yuck. No way pal. All these things would amount to nothing more than satisfying the debt that my poisoning created. To use the fancy word: These things would have expiated me; that is, they would settled their debt to my satisfaction. But doing that would by no means propitiate me - that is, it would not make me go there again to dine, and I certainly wouldn't encourage anyone else to go there either.
But let's say that the the owner visited me daily in the hospital, after having already settled the debt my poisoning put him under, and by his presence and interest began to demonstrate to me that what happened was by no means a reflection upon the way he does business or the way he thinks of customers. If in a short time I became convinced by a sincere and obvious regret in the man, and being aware that his concern was by no means a legal one, and not some publicity thing - but just a person letting me know that he was deeply sorry about what happened, and genuinely concerned about his role in my situation, I may well became inclined not only to attend his restaurant again, but perhaps even to order the chicken. In a word, such an effort on his part, if I gave into it, would be an example of propitiation. In order to get to the place of propitiation (the place where he finds favor in my sight), he would first have to make expiation (satisfy fully the offense he had given me in poisoning me).
For the sinner then, our death (in Christ) expiates our sin debt. Christ was the ark, and we were sinners within that ark. When the judgment of God fell upon us it took not only our lives, but the life of Christ with it. We died in Christ, and it was our death in Christ that expiated our sin (the penalty for sin is death and so our death in Christ expiates God's wrath against us personally. Our sin condemns us, our death in Christ satisfied that condemnation).
I differ from most of you reading in that I do see God as punishing Jesus in my place. While the language on this point borrows heavily from the language balancing accounts, I do not regard the debt of my own sin as something that can be satisfied by the death of another. If someone did something to someone I love that was worthy of the death penalty - I could never be satisfied that justice was done if they put someone other than the culprit to death - no matter how willing that culprit was. I don't view Christ as a substitute who stands in my place, I see Christ as the ark into which my life is placed, so that when God pours out His wrath on me personally, and I die I will not remain dead, because I am in Christ who sacrificed himself in this way: he became the living Ark who would carry me through the flood of God's wrath - that is, who would carry me through death. Not as a substitute, but rather as a Siamese twin, the one guilty, the other innocent, such that the same lethal solution that put the guilty twin to death took the life of the innocent one, even as the resuscitation of the innocent one restored the life of the guilty.
If you want to think of the death of Christ as an example of how angry God is with you, or if you want to think of God punishing an innocent man in your place - that is between you and God. But for me, I do not see those notions in the scriptures. I see myself baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, for the sake of taking me through death - it is the "how" of the atonement, I am atoned because God poured out His wrath upon me while I was in Christ. The soul that sinned has died, and the life that was raised was not my old dead life, restored, it was the life of Christ which has become my own. I have that life now, but I have also that old life - the one that was taken to the cross. My duty is to obey the one, and to deny the other, but this is a discussion for another time. I mention it only because doing so may help the reader, by way of seeing the greater theological context in which I couch these things, to understand more closely the way I see these things.
Back to thought that I interrupted there...
Having our sins expiated, by no means makes us acceptable to God. You could think of it this way, it excuses us from hell, but it in no way qualifies us for, or commends us to, life in paradise or (thereafter) upon the new earth under a new heaven - that is, it does not commend us to God. If all things ended there, such a one would escape eternal damnation, but would still lack eternal life.
Here the gospel itself explains the rest. Even as our own rebellion demanded our own death in Christ, such that Christ died with us even as we were in Him for this purpose, so being dead, but still united to Christ, who Himself retained the righteousness of His own unconquerable, irrepressible divine life, even in His death with us, so also this same righteousness demanded the resurrection of our Lord, and as we were no longer culpable for our sin (God's wrath having been spend on it already), and having been united to the life of Christ which God was raising from death - so we too were raised up with Christ, being bound to that righteous life, and more, being a partaker of it, so that the righteousness of Christ was our own by virtue of that union which was stronger than death - we inherited (or rather became partakers of) that same righteous which was found in Christ.
To put it another way, Christ's life was the Ark that believers were put into, so that when God poured His wrath out on them, and they died, yet they would pass through that death being found in the life of Christ, even as Noah passed through the wrath of God (in the form of a flood). In this way Christ expiated the sins of those sinners who called in the past, or call now, or will call in the future, on the name of the Lord. But it was the life of Christ itself - the righteousness of Christ, if you will, that all those who have been united to Christ by faith became partakers of that commends us to God. The righteousness (and really, the whole life) of Christ is what has made propitiation for us. Not the spending of it (that expiates), but our sharing in the perfection of it that propitiates.
So while a sinner needs to be both expiated and propitiated, one who is either sinless by virtue of having died in infancy, or who is not yet culpable by virtue of immaturity (whether by reason of age or infirmity), needs only to be propitiated by the life of Christ.
One might think of it this way, elect sinners who were saved by grace through faith, are united with the life of Christ so that they partake of both His death and resurrection. The scriptures are given for such as these. Elect innocents however are united with the life of Christ but only partake of His resurrection, and not His death, and as these are saved in their ignorance, the scriptures do not describe the process, because the scriptures were not written to inform these (or anyone else for that matter) of this things.
Having said that, I am obviously not standing on a set of proof texts. My assertions do no injury to the scriptures, or the character of God, but they are not pulled from plain texts that announce these things. The outcome is clear and few would dispute it (children who die do not go to hell), so what I am guessing at isn't the "what" it is the "how".
To be sure, most theologians are wiser than myself in that they stop short of trying to present an explanation of the how, and likely because they realize that we don't need to understand how a car works to drive it, and that even if we could take the thing apart perfectly, and put it back together soundly, we would add nothing to its functionality. There is a danger we face in pulling apart such a thing, and we weight the satisfaction of our curiosity against the possibility that we foul the whole thing up by taking it apart in our ignorance.
I think it is for this reason that better persons than myself have stopped short of actually putting on the table the requisite pieces that necessarily attend the conclusions they draw. We all want to protect the gospel, and leave no room for anyone to suggest that there is more than one way for a person to be saved. Introducing the notion that not everyone needs to be saved, could open up a can of worms that few men want to spend the rest of their lives defending.
There are none who are righteous, not even one. Righteousness is more than a lack of guilt. Nor is it something that can be earned by effort, as though it could be had by works of the flesh. It is partaking of the divine life - Adam and Eve were righteous until they sinned, at that point they were cut off from the life of God (and subsequently, from the source of all righteousness).
The good deeds that flowed from Adam and Eve prior to the fall, flowed from the life of Christ because they were yet partakers of that life, they ate freely, and were encouraged to do so, from the Tree of Life which stood at the very center of that garden. This righteousness ceased to flow from them in that instance that they sinned, because in doing so they cut themselves off from the life of God, and the righteousness that flows from it.
They became unrighteous, not because they did bad things, but because they were no longer conduits of God's righteousness. Doing "good" things could no more produce genuine righteousness, than animating a corpse like a puppet could produce life.
Every descendant of Adam shares in this fatal flaw - none of us are righteous, that is, no one is born a partaker of the life of God, we are born apart from this life. Some describe this as being born with a "sin nature" but I think that is a clunky way of looking at it, and one that is based upon the presumption that sin is inherited genetically - a theory that should have been regarded as immature even in Augustine's day, but which once it was accepted has only increased in gravity with age. It is true that none are righteous, but not because we are born corrupt in our flesh, it is because we are born into a life that is severed from the life of Christ in which is righteousness. We are unrighteous, not because unrighteousness is passed down in the flesh, but because righteousness is linked to the life of God, and we are born detached from that life.
Jesus did not inherit Mary's "sin nature" because the notion of a sin nature is a little off, in that it assumes that something is passed along from parent to child in either the flesh or the spirit. If you want to think that the sin nature is passed along from parent to child, you have to deal with the fact that Mary was a sinner and Jesus was not.
The Catholics had to invent the idea that Mary, in a special act of God's grace, was neither conceived in sin, nor partook of sin (at least until after Christ was born), in order that Jesus could be born without the "taint" of Adam's sin - which is bound up (thanks to Augustine) in this common notion of a sin nature. The protestants don't even bother to explain it, other than to wave a vague hand at the whole matter and say that the flesh of Christ was special and different than everyone else's flesh because he was conceived of the Holy Spirit. In this way, Jesus avoided inheriting Mary's "sin nature" because Jesus was not conceived by her flesh, but put into it pre-conceived. She was just chosen to be the human incubator. Of course that would void all the prophesies that said that the Messiah would be from the seed of David - since He would be decidedly -not- from the seed of David. But that can be got around by making the "Seed" a spiritual thing - a spiritual son of David, rather than one who was actually descended from David.
Either way, the notion of a sin nature tends to snag, either a little or a lot, when you plug Christ into the equation. In order to accommodate Christ, one has to provide a way for our Lord to avoid it - either to invent a scenario where there is no sin nature to inherit (Catholicism, via the immaculate conception of Mary), or through suggesting that Jesus wasn't physically the Son of Mary (some evangelicals believe this), or by ignore it as a "mystery" we will never understand, etc. (other evangelicals).
But we do not need to invent a nature that is passed along from parent to parent. If I turn off the light, and my child is born in the dark, he hasn't inherited this darkness through my flesh, but as a consequence of my action. In the same way, we inherit the consequence of Adam's action: a separation from God, and from the life and righteousness that exist in Him. We are all born lacking these, and this explains fully why everyone sins as soon as they are able - because there is no righteousness apart from God, and to be severed from God means that there is no connection between us and God. We cannot therefore do "good" things to become righteous, anymore than a mother can become a virgin by abstaining from sex. What we do does not produce the life of Christ in us, rather it is the life of Christ in a person that can produce genuine acts of (His) righteousness.
If we accept therefore that righteousness cannot be had apart from the life of God, it becomes very easy to understand why everyone sins - we sin because we lack the life of God, and not because our parents passed down some sort of thing that "makes" us do bad things. Sin isn't defined as doing bad things, it is defined as ruling yourself when God is the only one who has a right to rule over you. If you are cut off the life that sustains God's rule, you will rule yourself, regardless of who your parents were, because you didn't inherit the absence of God's life from your parents, it came into being through Adam's sin, and you are no different than your parents were in that you came into this world, just as they did, with the lights already out when you got there.
While this mild digression into the nature of our sinfulness may seem a capricious detour, I mention it because our understanding of what happens to children when they die will be influenced to the extent to which the same understands where our sin comes from. The notion that we are born "bad" people is necessarily flawed. We are born unrighteous, and fall into sin as soon as we are able because there is no other option available to us - we have been born into a vacuum wherein no righteousness can be found within us - certainly not the righteousness required to surrender one's life and heart to God in repentance and faith. These things are the things of life, and they cannot be produced by that which has no life in it. We are dead in our trespasses and sin.
So when I write that an innocent who dies is not yet a sinner, and therefore does not need the death of Christ to expiate his or her sins, I am not suggesting that such a one does not need Christ - I am only saying that the gospel is not for that one, for this one was sovereignly taken by our Lord before he or she became guilty by committing some culpable act of sin. They are not condemned for God finds nothing culpable in them, yet these still need Christ to reconcile themselves to the life of God - that is, they still require propitiation in the life of Christ, even as an expiated sinner requires the same in the (resurrected) life of Christ - that is both the elect sinner and the elect innocent must be united to the life of Christ - the one by grace alone expressed in their having perished before they committed some culpable sin, and the other by grace alone expressed through by the imparting of faith and repentance into the breast of an elect sinner.
It isn't that there are two ways for sinners to be saved, it is that God has elected persons from every nation and kingdom, and has sovereignly ordained to reconcile these to Himself by and through the life of Christ. In the case of those elect innocents who die before they commit some culpable sin, these are saved by God's grace apart from faith, because  they are necessarily incapable of faith, and  being inculpable, they do not require the expiation that is acquired through faith, but receive only the propitiation that is bound up in the life of Christ which they become partakers of.
In the case of those elect and culpable sinners whom God saves, He likewise saves these by grace, but imparts to these (as an expression of this same grace) a faith by which these may come to be expiated by and through receiving the wrath of God culminating in their (spiritual) death in Christ, and consequently being the manner in which their sin is expiated, whereafter, being bound to the life of Christ, they are likewise raised from the dead with Him, and become partakers of that life which is itself their reconciliation to God.
Sinless babes, and those who (by virtue of inability) are not held by God to be culpable for any sin, are -not- righteous, but need (nevertheless) Christ in order to be reconciled to God.
These innocents do not apprehend Christ by faith.. or rather, God does not apprehend these innocent ones through faith, He apprehends them before they become sinners, and thus before the necessity of faith - which is the avenue reserved for those who are elect but culpable sinners. These elect culpable sinners God apprehends by way of faith.
I word it that way because some readers are offended by the idea of individual election. They cannot accept the notion that salvation depends on God, they want salvation to depend on man. They accept Hebrews 9:27 - that it is appointed for men to die once, but they either reject that there is an Intelligence that makes these appointments, or they simply refuse to think about it. But the sense we get from the scriptures is that God Himself allots to every conceived life, a number of days. That means that when an infant dies, God has ordained their death, or said more positively, God has ordained only so much life for them. None of us deserves more life than God grants us, and so if we die in old age, or in the womb, our death is not a robbery of something we were owed, it is the full expression of all that we were given - some are given more, some less. that is the way it is. The only people who have trouble with that are people who are so blinded by their own sense of sinful entitlement, that they actually believe life is owed to them in some way.
I say, some readers are offended by the idea that God elects individuals to salvation, and as such they want election to be something empty - something that means something other than election. They want God to elect whole nations, to elect everyone, so that when a person fails to come to faith, they cannot "blame" God for failing to elect that sinner, but can only blame the sinner for failing to accept God. Their heart is in the right place, in that they want to defend the character of God - He would never be mean or unfair! To that I say, tell it to those people whom God condemned to the slaughter, men, women, children, the old, their pets, their livestock. The severity of God, to such as these, is a boogey-man. That was judgment they say, they were especially wicked. They fail to reason themselves and every person around them as equally deserving of the same fate. Some of these even rail against God, saying He was all mean in the Old Testament, but by the time Jesus came, God was better.
At the heart of this kind of thinking is the notion of unfairness. It isn't fair for a father, having four equally undeserving children, to come home one hot summer day and give one of these a frozen ice cream treat, and leave the others to continue to suffer in the heat. If the father gives one, he must give to all, or he is wicked! But if this is how your heart see that, you are blind, and woefully so. The father does not owe any of his children any treats whatsoever. He is not obligated, by one act of grace, to perform another. The children who do not receive the ice cream are no worse off than they were before. Yet their unbridled sense of entitlement may well cause these to imagine that their father "owes" them an ice cream because he gave one to their sibling.
When we apply this sort of blind selfishness, dressed up as "unfairness" to the person of God, we end up with a God who cannot show grace to anyone, unless He shows the same grace to everyone. In other words, they redefine grace as obligatory, if God only gives grace to certain individuals, and this grace is handed out, not according to merit, but arbitrarily (from the view of those either receiving or failing to receive it), that makes God "unfair" - but not according to actual justice, but rather according to the notion of social justice. If a man earns a thing, he deserves it - that is just, or "fair". If a man does not earn a thing, he does not deserve it - that is equally just, or "fair" Likewise the man who is denied his wage is being treated "unfair", and the man who is given a wage he has not earned, is receiving an "unfair" wage - though no one would want to see it that way.
In the case of the father who gives only one of his children an ice cream on a hot day, it may well be said that he is being unfair - but not to the other three children, they are getting what they have earned - nothing. The child who receives the ice cream he has not earned has in fact received something that is "unfair" - since he did not earn it.
We don't think of a gifts as "unfair" because we understand that no one is offended if they are given something they haven't earned. They will certainly be offended if they have earned something they haven't received, or received something (like a punishment) that they haven't earned - but to receive a gift? That isn't seen as "unfair" - it is seen as a gift, a kindness etc.
The man in the scriptures who came to the square and accepted the wage of a worker (one Denarius for one days work) and who went out and worked, and at the end of the day came in and saw the generosity of his employer expressed in supply those who had not worked the full day receiving a full day's wage. Seeing this, he immediately regarded the generosity of the employer as his due, so that when it came time to receive his wage, he was offended that he did not receive the same generosity, but only received what was owed him. Do you see what is wrong with that man's heart? He looked at the generosity of his employer as something owed, and not as an act of kindness. He had no ground whatsoever to complain against his employer for the wage he received, because the wage was both just and agreed upon. Yet the kindness of that employer to others, struck this man as a fault, rather than as a virtue - not because the employer was wicked, but because the man was so wicked, he couldn't see his own greed as the only wicked thing in that whole exchange.
So also there are some who think themselves to be defending the character of God, when they are offended by the notion that God chooses to save some individuals and not others. This they cannot abide because they honestly believe that to withhold salvation from any person would be wicked. Why do they believe that? Because deep down something is wrong with their understanding of God. Maybe they believe that God owes salvation to men, or that men deserve eternal life. Whatever they believe for others, likely finds its origin in what they believe is owed to them. Maybe such a one rightly sees that he or she is unworthy of salvation, and for this reason is unable to accept the thought that God has chosen such an unworthy person, when He has apparently overlooked much better people. Having begun with their own worth, their theology ends on the same. God saves those who have to one degree or another, done something that made it possible for God to save them. God supplies the possibility of salvation to all (they reason), but only those who do what is required to be saved, end up being saved. God didn't choose them - He just knew beforehand that they would chose Him, and so He chose them first.
Of course that is absurd.
God created all of time and space in the same act of creation. He doesn't look forward or backward in time, He sees the whole of it in every glance (if I can so personify the Eternal Father contemplating His finite creation). Each moment we live was created in the same act of creation as brought the stars into being. God's sovereignty envelopes creation - He doesn't live in the present, looking ahead at what is to come, and doing things now that will end up making sense later (such as electing people to salvation). He ordained as many as will be saved to salvation, and orchestrated creation to produce them. Period.
Coming back to the infant who dies while innocent. God allotted a very short life to that child - a life free from sin, and a life that would be propitiated by the life of Christ - for in ordaining that this child would die before becoming culpable for sin, God has revealed that this child was indeed chosen by God. We may look to adults who claim to be believers, and wonder at whether or not they are genuine in their faith, and thus genuine children of God - but such uncertainty is not afforded us when it comes to the life of an infant that comes to end in innocence. This life was certainly the life of one of God's elect.
In closing, this become a great source of comfort to grieving parents, but it is also can inform those who hate that image of God that is really just a popular caricature - the one where they ask, not because they are interested in the answer, but because they already hate God, and want to use this opportunity to vent their hatred at the expense of the believer, I say, when they ask how it is that a good God can take the life of an innocent child.
My answer is that God doesn't take anyone's life, but gives a number of days of life freely to all those whom He has created. For some this amounts to many days, to some few - but all life is a gift, and when that gift is spent, it is no less a gift because it was smaller on this side of eternity than what was allotted to some other person. To be sure, those who die thus, are given the greater gift, because they never know sin, and are hastened immediately into the presence of God, to begin the life that they were born to life.
Likewise, if someone asks where God's mercy was for all the natives living in North America before the gospel came here, or for all the people who live in countries where the gospel is not being preached - where is God's mercy for these people, and for these nations? If God is the true God, why is His mercy limited to "Christian" nations? The answer is obvious, wherever a person dies in innocence, whether due to age, or infirmity, there the grace and mercy of God is found - for such an elect child was conceived, and departed to be with the God who gave them that life.
In this way many committed atheists and devout person of various false religions, have filled the halls of paradise with the elect of God, no matter the year, no matter the location on the globe, no matter whether the gospel has been made known here or there. Such is the grace of God, to save for Himself a people from amongst all nations, and epochs.
Now, this has been a long, and at times meandering post. I hope you followed it, but if I have raised more questions than I have answered, or if I said something that seems to make no sense, I am happy to either be corrected, or again, to explain my meaning if it is unclear on some point. Just drop me a line in the meta.
posted by Daniel @
Just a hair over 9000 words.
I really should have split it up into sixteen bite sized posts, but that is so much work.
I hope there aren't too many typos, I have tried to get rid of the ones I saw, but you know how it goes - I end up changing a sentence here, and thought there, and pretty soon I have added another thousand words.
So I gave up proofreading, lest this post join the hundreds of others I have written but didn't find time to post.
Nine divisions would have been sufficient. Beyond that, I'll refrain from any wise remarks about long-windedness (this time).
Brother, this is the first argument I've read that makes universal salvation of infants who die plausible. Though I'm not sure I can agree with your conclusion, I'm impressed with how thoroughly you've thought this through.
I am just glad someone actually read it.
The notion that God allows infants to enter into life eternal after they die is certainly problematic for anyone who believes that every descendant of Adam is necessarily pre-condemned on the grounds that they are all culpable individually for Adam's "original" sin. They often go so far as to define their "sin nature" in terms of this presumed culpability.
So right off the hop there are going to be some readers whose theological framework will never allow them to even consider the possibility of a "condemned" babe entering into life apart from a faith that they are incapable of rendering.
I get that.
There are some also who, are willing to allow the possibility that some children (typically Catholic, Presbyterian, and Lutheran children) who have been baptized, and are therefore either part of the "covenant" family of God, or are saved by their membership in the church, and for these they are willing, to allow (at the very least) new born babes to enter into eternal life on the grounds that the parents were members of the either a covenant community or the right church.
But for these there is the problem of two ways of entering into life - and in justifying even a single child, it is next to impossible, to do so in a way that justifies, their own children, but damns the children of everyone else.
Nevertheless, these are not fluffy things, and few people (I suspect) give them anything more than a passing glance. In my case, this is just the record of how I would answer such a question based on what I already believe from the scriptures.
One thing I should say, it is exponentially - nay, logarithmically easier to say that either all children are damned, or all children are saved, than it would be to make a case for the salvation/damnation of only a portion.
I say this because it is a simple thing to damn all children - you just need to invent, and apply the notion that all people are culpable for the sins of their parents, and voila! Everyone is pre-damned.
Likewise, the person who rejects the notion that God puts children to death for the sins of their parent (Adam), it follows that children who die in infancy are not condemned by their own sin, because they either have none, or are not culpable. So how does a just God condemn one innocent child, and give eternal life to another? With sinners we are culpable for our own sin, but with innocent babes, you can't make only some of them culpable.
So it is a lot easier to damn or save all, but difficult indeed, I think to damn only some of them.
I am not saying it can't be done or anything like that - I am just saying it would reuqire a lot more presumption than the other two options, and both the likelihood of error, and the complexity of the model, will increase as we build new precepts upon existing precepts.
How do you factor election into this?
My math tells me that if God chose all whom he would redeem before the foundation of the world and pre-ordained all that comes to pass, and all who die in infancy are redeemed, then only the elect ever die in infancy.
That being necessarily true, I find universal infant salvation hard to swallow, since there are peoples who have never heard the gospel whose infants die just like ours do. Since salvation is always through faith, and faith always comes through hearing the gospel, it seems impossible that God would not send the gospel to a people among which his elect are found.
How about that - I wrote a reply that was promptly eaten.
Your math is right, it is my own math too.
If babes who die in infancy are the elect (and we agree they would have to be under this scheme), it wouldn't mean that only the graveyards in pagan lands would abound in the corpses of the elect. The culture would remain ignorant.
I don't see -that- as overly problematic. What stops me cold in my tracks is a much bigger thought: if God saves anyone like this - why bother with the cross?
I mean seriously - if God saves some of the elect by granting them only enough life to avoid committing a culpable sin- why not save all the elect thus?
The answer I think is because God was doing more than simply redeeming the elect - He was overcoming sin; not simply side-stepping it.
One thing is certain, on that great day we will all stand amazed at how infinitely larger God's grace actually is.