I hope you’ve all benefited as much as I have from Jesse’s posts over the last few days regarding the eternal destiny of infants who die before they reach maturity. The persistently biblical emphasis—i.e., getting into the texts—has been a breath of fresh air regarding an extremely sensitive topic that is supercharged with emotion. The “cumulative case” approach to this issue is wise, because, even as he said, if you disagree with a particular interpretation of a particular verse, there are certainly others that are unmistakable. And the weight of all the biblical data bears on your conclusion.
However, the implications of this issue are so broad that not even three consecutive blog posts full of comments on twenty-six particular passages of Scripture from both Testaments proves exhaustive. There are other questions to be answered. One of our commenters asked one of these questions, broaching an issue that he himself deemed “an elephant in the room.” I want to take some time today to address his question, not at all because I want to give him a hard time but because I think having a clarifying answer to this question can be helpful for all of us—not only as we consider the topic of infant salvation but also the doctrine of salvation in general. He asks:
“If we truly believe that all infants who die are with the Lord, and at the same time we believe that at a certain age all will become accountable and that those who don’t know the Lord are condemned to hell, then wouldn’t the most loving response be to kill all infants so that all are saved and none perish? Clearly I could never believe this, but wouldn’t it be the logical outcome if we really, truly believed what you are saying?”
Now, I’m not accusing our commenter of holding this position, but I’ve actually engaged in conversations with people who use this argument as they argue that Christians shouldn’t be as concerned about abortion as we are. Since all aborted babies go to Heaven, the argument goes, Christians should focus our energies on combating other social evils that don’t result in the salvation of each and every victim.
In any case, the argument boils down to, “Hey, they go to Heaven anyway. And since the most loving thing to do for someone is to ensure their salvation, let’s mercifully kill all those who have not met the condition of accountability. Or, if not kill them outright, let’s calm down about abortion since it basically saves millions of souls.”
Granted, few people are going to take it there—even as our commenter himself acknowledged, saying, “Clearly, I could never believe this.” But the argument forces us to ask: Can the doctrine of infant salvation be true if it entails such an undesirable implication; namely, that murdering infants would be the most loving action?
We Don’t Kill Christians
There are a few ways to respond to that objection. First, assuming our questioner is a Christian, we might also glibly ask him whether we should feel at liberty to lovingly kill him. After all, it is “far better” for the Christian to die and be with Christ (Phil 1:23). With all the pain and suffering this life affords, why not ensure his trip to glory by euthanizing him right now, along with every other Christian?
Murder is Sin
If that sounds plausible to you, be sure to pay attention to this second reason that this conclusion is absurd on its face: Scripture is categorically clear that murder is sin (Gen 9:6; Exod 20:13; cf. Rom 13:9). Even if God mercifully saves infants and others who die before reaching a condition of accountability, it doesn’t change the fact that murder is an abomination, and that any individual or society that tolerates that is storing up wrath for itself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God (Rom 2:5).
Putting God to the Test
Now, I must grant that, technically, if it’s true that every infant who dies is elect and we killed every infant, we would in fact be giving evidence that God had already decreed their early death and subsequent salvation, because whatever God has decreed will surely come to pass (Pss 115:3; 135:6; Job 42:2; Isa 46:10; Eph 1:11). But I must also observe that such an action is almost the definition of putting the Lord to the test (cf. Deut 6:16; Luke 4:12), just as Satan did when he wrested Psalm 91:11–12 from its context and tempted Jesus to back the Father into a corner and force Him to act in demonstration of His protection of His Son (Luke 4:9–11). Such a temptation was not loving. It’s the kind of sinister twisting of Scripture that characterizes Satan as the murderous liar and distorter of truth that he is (John 8:44).
Thus, not only does this proposition of killing infants expressly defy commands to not murder, it is also Satanic. It does not express faith in God to save according to the means He’s ordained. It expresses a decided lack of faith in His goodness, and a desire to force His hand—whether out of unwarranted insecurity, or just outright pride in being clever enough to figure out better than God how to get more people saved.
But this objection fails for a reason that goes deeper than all of the previous reasons. Namely, this line of argumentation comes from a failure to understand the nature of divine election. Stated plainly, the assumption is that one “becomes elect” by virtue of some external criteria taking place in time—in this case, death in infancy—rather than by the sovereignly free decision of God which takes place before the foundation of the world.
In other words, the question rightly grants that all infants who die are elect of God and are thus saved. But then it assumes that if those infants had not died, but aged to maturity, there would be some risk of their dying in unbelief. But if the infant was elect when he would have died, he must also be elect even after he matures. One cannot be elect at one point of his life and then not elect at another point in his life. And if he is one of God’s chosen, he can never be lost (John 6:37, 39; 10:28–29).
I suspect that large sections of the church understand salvation as “goats” becoming “sheep” upon repentance and faith. But this is not a biblical understanding of election. Jesus tells the Pharisees that they fail to believe because they are not of His sheep (John 10:26). In other words, faith and salvation are the evidence—not the cause—of one’s election. The sheep are God’s elect, those whom He has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). They are those who are being saved (1 Cor 1:18b; 2 Cor 2:15), the called (Rom 1:6; 1 Cor 1:24; Jude 1:1; Rev 17:14). And the goats are those whom God, in His justice and righteous wisdom, has passed over and left to perish in their corruption. They are those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18a; 2 Cor 2:15; 4:3), the world (John 17:9). When a person gets saved, a goat does not become a sheep; a lost sheep is called home into his Shepherd’s fold (John 10:16).
So, God does not elect people according to some conditions they must meet—whether those conditions be infancy, mental incapacity, or even faith itself. Rather, He has predestined His own to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself according to the good pleasure of His will (Eph 1:5). To kill an elect infant in the hopes of saving him from the “risk” of unbelief and hell presupposes that the infant’s passing from “innocence” to “accountability” has any affect on his election. Yet the Bible is clear that it doesn’t, for that determination was settled in God’s counsel before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4, 11). While we must admit it’s silly to speak about what would be (since God’s decree is what it is and isn’t what it isn’t), an elect infant, if he survived, would grow into an elect adult, and would be saved.
Therefore, you’d not be saving an infant from the risk of unbelief and eternal punishment by killing him in his infancy. You’d simply be denying him the opportunity to make much of God in his life and would be murderously shedding the blood of an image-bearer of God Himself.
Therefore, believing that all infants who die are elect and thus are saved does not entail that killing babies in infancy is the most loving thing to do for them. To do so would be to expressly violate one of God’s clearest commands in Scripture: not to murder. Further, to act in such a way is to put God to the test, and is to thus follow in the footsteps of Satan, the father of lies and the murderer from the beginning. Finally, such murder would not ensure the infant’s salvation by any means; only God’s election in eternity past is sufficient to ensure salvation. So let us hold the conclusion that, as the past three posts have demonstrated, the Bible calls us to hold, without fear of reproach from such an objection. And let us rejoice that the ground of our election rests in nothing in ourselves, but on the sovereign freedom of God.