ARE CHILDREN REALLY SAVED?
BY GARY D. ERICKSON
Those who understand God’s nature as fair, loving, and compassionate assume that God will provide universal salvation for all children, regardless of their culture or his or her guardian’s religious beliefs
and practices. Making an assumption of this magnitude and severity, with its pervasive implications, will need strong biblical basis. Embracing this belief based upon the premise of what we believe to be God’s justice is easy enough; nevertheless, finding explicit biblical support is more difficult. There is a lack of clear biblical support for the universal salvation of young children.
At the crux of this issue is the spiritual condition of a child at conception. Are children conceived as sinners or do they just have a sinful nature that comes with an innate propensity to sin? The Calvinist view holds that the sins of Adam have been imputed upon the entire human family. This view holds that not only are we deprived but we are also guilty on account of the first transgression.’ The Pelagianistic view holds that the human race was unaffected by Adam’s sin. Every person born into the world is by nature just as pure as the first Adam.’ The Arminianism view holds that the entire human race has inherited from Adam a proneness to sin. This position is based on the premise that sin must be a voluntary transgression-a decision of the will.’ The Bible makes it clear that the entire human race was affected by Adam’s sin: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).’ The word “passed” was translated from the Greek word, dierchomai, which means “to come or go through.”‘ Adam was not just a bad example; his sin profoundly affected the human race bringing universal death spiritually and physically (Romans 6:23; 7:13). From
Romans chapter six we learn that “Death is universal (verses 12 and 14), all die: sinless infants, moral people, religious people, equally with the depraved.”6
Paul explains the reason death spread to all is that all sinned. The consequences of Adam’s sin is stated in Romans 5:19: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” Adam’s sin did not become
our personal sin, but his sin brought the universal state of sinfulness. God does not hold one responsible for another’s sins: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son” (Ezekiel 18:20). 7
Since personhood begins at conception, there are many months that a child, before birth and after, is not self-aware, has no volition, and has no knowledge of right and wrong. Therefore, it is impossible for
that child to sin. James defines sin with these words: “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).”
Nevertheless, every child has a sinful nature and in time will sin. The psalmist does not paint a glamorous picture of the human dilemma: “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (Psalm 58:3). He goes on to say, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Condemnation would not actually strike an individual until after
personal acts of disobedience. Jesus makes a profound declaration as pertaining to children: “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).
“These words unequivocally denote that little children, all the newly born, are innocent and uncondemned members of His divine kingdom. Their standing in that kingdom might not be altogether secure.”9
The Age of Accountability
The term “age of accountability” is used frequently by fundamentalists to denote the age in which a child becomes accountable to God for his or her moral and spiritual behavior. Even though “age of accountability” is not a biblical term, it is logical that at some stage in the maturation process a child learns right from wrong, understands the gospel, and develops the capacity to make important personal decisions. Due to diversity in the maturation process, no particular age can be set for such spiritual accountability. A child’s spiritual maturity will depend upon his or her exposure to religious training, intelligence, physical maturity, and that mysterious capacity to discern spiritual things.
Historically, the Jews have considered a boy reaching the age of puberty automatically considered a bona fide man. Among the Jews, starting with the final Second Temple period, what had formally been a
tribal rite of initiation took on a moral, spiritual concept, marking an important religious-social milestone in the life of every male Jew. A Mishnah elaboration, written during the first century C.E., makes
reference to thirteen years as being the appropriate age.”‘ Today the first Sabbath after the thirteenth birthday a Jewish boy celebrates his Bar Mitzvah. It is at this ceremony that the father releases his
personal responsibility for his son.”
It is interesting that the gospels record so little of Jesus’ childhood years. `After the first year of the nativity and infancy, the curtain on the scene of His life falls, and the evangelical narrative passes over twenty-six years, with the sole exception of one brief incident when the boy at the age of twelve visited the city of Jerusalem with His parents on the occasion of the Passover.”” 1 “Since Jewish lads assumed adult responsibilities in Judaism at the age of thirteen, this visit to the temple may have the purpose of preparing Jesus for those responsibilities.“ 14
Paul, while teaching about the law of sin, said, “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (Romans 7:9). This verse seems to be referring to a time of
accountability. “Evidently the apostle was speaking of his personal experience as a child and perhaps even a youth prior to his awareness and understanding of the full impact of God’s commandments.”” The words, “but when the commandment came,” is the dawning of the significance of the commandments. Once he understood, Paul says that sin “deceived me, and by it slew me” (Romans 7:11). Understanding brought accountability, and with accountability came death because of sin. He explains the transition from childhood to adulthood with these words: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (I Corinthians 13:11). Children develop moral consciousness early in life. The writer of the Book of Proverbs makes this clear: “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right” (Proverbs 20:11).
I Corinthians 7:12-14
In I Corinthians 7:12-14, Paul deals with conflict that arises within a marriage when one mate becomes a Christian and the other remains a nonbeliever. Neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament sanctions marriage between believersand nonbelievers.’ Therefore, the question arose, “Should the Christian partner leave the unsaved partner upon conversion?” The second problem was that the marriage union was described as two becoming one flesh.” Since the new Christian was born again and was a new creature in Christ, perhaps some were asking how could they possibly remain within this strained unequal marriage. Paul emphasizes the sanctity of the marriage vows by urging the saved spouse to remain in the marriage with these words: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy” (I Corinthians 7:14). Since Paul says that the children are “holy,” some have assumed these words to be a promise that children are saved if one or more spouse is saved. Based on this interpretation, a careful look at this verse would mean that the nonbelieving spouse would also be saved. However, Paul is not addressing the salvation of
children, but simply saying that the children are not illegitimate or the product of an unwholesome marriage in such situations. One writer calls it a “uxorial sanctification.”” `Apparently Paul distinguishes
between the absence of contamination, and salvation.”” There could also be a recognition here of the positive spiritual influence of the believer upon the entire family. An entire family could ultimately be led into the Christian life by the saved spouse. There is no assurance that children of saved parents are also saved in this text.
1. “We conclude that the Bible simply does not say what happens to infants and the mentally incompetent.”20 Going beyond the bounds of Scripture would only be speculation. The ambiguities of Scripture concerning the destiny of children does not satisfy our desire to know: nevertheless, we must be satisfied that these matters are in the hands of a loving, merciful and just God (John 5:30; Psalm 103:17; and John 3:16).
2. Since the age of understanding or the age of accountability is a nebulous stage in a child’s mental and spiritual development, every effort should be made to evangelize children when they become open and
responsive to the gospel message.
3. Children are spiritual beings and are responsive to the Holy Spirit. They have been promised the gift of the Holy Spirit which is an obvious confirmation that we should provide for them opportunities to receive
this gift from God (Acts 2:39).
4. All of Scripture necessitates that there must be an age in childhood development in which the Lord holds a person responsible for his or her spiritual life. Although we may refer to it as the “age of accountability,” this age will vary from one child to another.
5. Since we have no explicit biblical assurance that our children are saved, we should not be cavalier about evangelizing them. Considering the serious possibility that God holds them responsible and they could
be lost, we should not only train children for future involvement in Christianity, but evangelize them as well.
6. Children should be respected with the dignity afforded to all human beings. The mistreatment of children brings stern rebukes from the Scripture. The ancient Jews placed high value upon children. “The
verse, `Be fruitful, and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28) was considered to be the first commandment in the Bible.”” The presence of children in the family was a sign of God’s favor.” To be childless was considered a curse.
7. Evaluating the spiritual status of children from Scripture and life’s experience, it appears possible that a child can believe the gospel, repent of his or her sins, be baptized and be filled with the Holy Spirit, even under the “age of accountability.” This early experience would bring no harm to the child, but it could spare him or her from many disconcerting scars of sin. It would also remove the uncertainty of their true standing with God.
8. Children are not responsible for the sins of their parents. `As the one who controls the lives of all humans, God decrees that children shall not die for their parents’ sin. Only the individual who sins
shall die.”23 “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Nevertheless, the Bible states that children can suffer for their parents’ sin to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 20:5). Children will benefit for their parents’ righteousness as well (Exodus 20:5-6). The conclusion is that children are greatly affected by their parent’s faith. Nevertheless, with a God-given volition, each person has a choice not to be influenced by his or her
parents or guardians.
1 Merrill F Unger and R.K. Harrison. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1988), p. 1198.
4 All biblical quotations in this article are taken from the King James Version unless otherwise noted.
5 Robert Young, LL.D., Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. EerdsmanPublishing Company, 1974), p. 733.
6 C.I. Scofield, D.D., The Scofield Reference Bible, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1945), p. 1197 (footnotes).
7 See also Deuteronomy 24:16, Job 19:4 and Jeremiah 31:30.
8 See also I John 3:4 and 5:17.
9 John McFarland, T. D.D., LL.D., The Encyclopedia of Sunday Schools and Religious Education, Vol. I. New (York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1915), p. 218.
10 Nathan Ausubel, The Book of Jewish Knowledge, (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1970), p. 31.
12 J.W. Shepherd, The Christ of the Gospels, (Grand Rapids, MI: WM B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1939), p. 44.
L3 See Luke 2:41-50.
14 Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), p. 218.
15 John F Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, (USA, Canada, England: Victor Books, 1988), p. 466.
16 See the following scriptures: Ezra 10:10 and II Corinthians 6:14.
17 See the following scriptures: Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5 and Ephesians 5:31.
18 Orr, E Williams and Walther, James Arthur, The Anchor Bible, I Corinthians, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1977) p. 213.
19 George Authur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume X, (New York, NY Abingdon Press, 1953), p. 80.
20 David Bernard, The New Birth, (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1984), p. 321.
21 Geoffrey Wigoder, The Encyclopedia of Judaism, (New York, NY Mac Millan Publishing Company, 1989), p. 158.
22 See the following: Genesisl5:2; 30:1; 1 Samuel 1:11, 20; Psalm 127:3; and Luke 1:7, 28.
23 James L. Mays, Harper’s Bible Commentary, (San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1988), p. 676.
THE ABOVE MATERAIL WAS PUBLISHED BY THE PENTECOSTAL HARALD, FEBRUARY 2003, PAGES 3, 5-7. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY AND RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.