What Happens to Infants and Unborn Children Who Die?

In my last article, I defended the Augustinian doctrine of the fall and sinfulness of man. The Bible teaches that man is conceived in sin and by nature under the sentence of God’s wrath (Ps 51:5; Rom 5:19; 1 Cor 15:22; Eph 2:3). This is in contrast to the popular concept of an age of accountability where Adam’s sin and guilt are not imputed to his descendants. I would now like to give an explanation for how all infants who die are saved even though they are fallen and condemned in Adam with the rest of mankind.

1. Christ has died for Adam’s sin which was imputed to them. If infants and unborn children who die are saved, it is only because Christ has died for Adam’s sin so that the sin and guilt of Adam which are imputed to them is forgiven because no sin for which Christ died can bring condemnation (Rom 8:32-34). I am working within the framework of Calvinism which states that Christ perfectly satisfied the justice and wrath of God for the sins for which he died making it impossible for Christ to fail to save anyone for whose sin he died. Since the only sin that is imputed to infants is the sin of Adam and not their own sin since they have never sinned personally, Adam’s sin alone cannot condemn them because Christ died for it. The proof that Christ died for the sins of Adam and Eve is seen in the account of God clothing them in animal skins which required the shedding of blood in an animal sacrifice pointing to the cross (Gen 3:21). Only particular redemption provides this possible solution to the question of whether dying infants are saved because only definite atonement states that Christ has secured the salvation of all those whose sins were imputed to him on Calvary.

I am not saying that dying infants go to heaven simply because they are sinless, but because they are saved by Christ who died for the sin of Adam that would have condemned them to hell. They too are among the crowd in Revelation 5:9 and 7:9 who are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Their salvation may be analogous to that of John the Baptist who was filled with the Holy Spirit before birth and before he ever sinned personally (Luke 1:15). The application of the redemptive benefits of the atonement are not applied to dying infants until the moment before death. Until then, the infant is still by nature under the sentence of God’s wrath deserving of condemnation for Adam’s sin imputed to him.

To summarize, since the only sin for which they could be condemned to hell is that of Adam, the payment of Adam’s sin guarantees that they will not be condemned for it. If they were condemned for Adam’s sin, then that would be double jeopardy which is contrary to God’s perfect justice. On the other hand, those who die with their own sins are condemned to hell for them rather than for the sin of Adam which was paid for.

2. Dying infants do not match the descriptions of those who are in hell. Revelation 22:15 says concerning those who are in hell: “Outside are the dogs [male prostitutes] and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” Hell is made up of those who love and practice falsehood and infants cannot fit this description. Every vice list in the Bible is relevant here, but I will just add one more: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10). Hell is a place of eternal regret and grief for sin. Those who die without sin could never experience this. Loving and practicing falsehood is a necessary precondition for going to hell. Because an infant does not fit into any of the categories of people who will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, this is strong evidence for their salvation.

3. An infant has never committed personal sins and therefore would never recognize the justice of God’s condemnation of him or her because they have no sins over which to regret while in hell if any do go there. They cannot be judged according to their works because they have never sinned. But Revelation 20:11-12 says, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” Every passage in the Bible related to the final judgment of the wicked on the basis of their works demonstrates the same truth. Another example is 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” Infant children who are killed are referred to as “innocents” (Jer 19:4) and hands that shed innocent blood are an abomination in God’s eyes (Prov 6:16-17). They are innocent with respect to personal sin in God’s eyes because they have never sinned and therefore could never be condemned for their sins or recognize the justice of God in condemning them. Adam’s sin alone cannot condemn them because it was paid for by Christ.

4. Romans 1:20 says, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” But on the basis of Paul’s logic for the condemnation of pagan idolaters who have never heard the gospel message, dying infants would have an excuse because they have never perceived God through natural revelation.

5. David in 2 Samuel 12:23 says that “I will go to him” alluding to a future reunion with his dead son when he dies rooted in the concept of Sheol. While it does not logically follow that because David affirms the salvation of his son all infants who have ever died are saved, believers can use this passage as a model for having hope in the midst of the death of their own children.

The common objection to this view is that if all infants who die in infancy are saved, then why try to stop abortion? Many women who are contemplating having an abortion use infant salvation as a rationale for killing their child. They ask, “Why not have an abortion to guarantee the salvation of my child?” But those who use this logic are not deserving of the truth. The truth is not owed to those who would use it to twist God’s Word and harm others. Just as a Nazi soldier is not deserving of the truth concerning whether or not you are hiding Jews in your house or Pharaoh is not deserving of the truth about the birth of Jewish children (Exod 1:17-21), a woman who is contemplating an abortion is not deserving of the truth of infant salvation lest she use it as an excuse for her sin. Infant salvation is a truth for Christians alone because they are the only ones who can be trusted to not abuse this doctrine.

The Bible is intentionally unexplicit on this subject because God knows the evil that is in man’s heart. Proverbs 24:11 commands us to, “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.” We don’t obey God by disobeying him. The idea of killing an innocent child is unthinkable to those who have the indwelling Holy Spirit. We don’t twist Scripture or put God to the test. We don’t murder Christians so they can go to heaven now or encourage them to commit suicide. If abortion is good because it sends children to heaven, then those who argue such should not stop at abortion but move on to infanticide and murder children who are already born. I commend to you Randy Alcorn’s response to the argument for abortion on the basis of infant salvation. To those who say that infant salvation cannot be true because of the reality of abortion, I say that if it is hard to stomach the idea of murder sending children to heaven, it is even more difficult to comprehend people spending eternity in hell who have never committed any sin.

But what about people who are mentally handicapped? If someone has the mental capacity of a six-month-old, then God will treat that person the same way he would treat a six-month-old child who dies because both of them are without personal sin. For those mentally disabled people who have sinned, they must believe the gospel to be saved. The gospel message is simple enough that even a child can understand and believe it. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3). We must become like children to be saved by humbly trusting the words of Jesus. If a five-year-old can believe the gospel and be saved, then certainly someone who is disabled with the mental capacity of a five-year-old can believe and be saved as well. We have an obligation to proclaim the gospel to all men regardless of age because all men are fallen in Adam (Deut 6:7).

But what about small children who are older than infants who have sinned? Because these children are sinners, anything written on their salvation apart from belief in the gospel is entering into the realm of speculative theology. Perhaps one could argue on the basis of Romans 1:20 that small children have not adequately perceived God through the created order and therefore will not be condemned for their sins. But we could easily create a dangerous slippery slope here that contradicts the Bible’s teaching in Romans 10:9-17 that belief in the gospel is necessary for the salvation of sinners. Our final appeal must be to the grace and mercy of God as Abraham appealed to God, “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen 18:25). We must believe by faith that everyone who is in hell deserves to be there. Certainly, not all children who die are saved. I can’t imagine that the youths of 2 Kings 2:23-24 who mocked Elisha went to heaven after being put to death by the Lord. Their actions revealed the condition of their heart.

There is nothing explicitly mentioned in Scripture about an age of accountability. It may be better to speak of a principle of accountability instead. It is a good thing God has not given us an age of accountability in Scripture or else many parents would kill their children before they reached that age. The silence of Scripture here is for our good so that we would not use an age of accountability as an excuse to neglect teaching our children the gospel. They must hear it because they are by nature under the sentence of God’s wrath and later sinners by choice (Eph 2:2-5).

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One thought on “What Happens to Infants and Unborn Children Who Die?

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