Elect infants, and the imputation of Adam's sin

WCF Chapter 10, Paragraph 3 states:

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who work-eth when, and where, and how He pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.

Identical language is used in the 1689 LBCF.

One of the things I appreciate about this paragraph is the care that appears to have been taken in determining what not to say, as the framers were clearly intent on not going beyond what Scripture makes plain.

This paragraph clearly upholds the necessity of the new birth (John 3:3), and that there is no way for any member of Adam’s race to be saved apart from Christ. At the same time, it appears to uphold that there are those who are incapable of responding to the outward call, which I take to understand as meaning those who are incapable of hearing the gospel and responding in active, conscious faith. In this category, they appear to place infants (in or perhaps out of the womb), and those who are so mentally infirm that they cannot exercise basic human faculties of thought.

Notably, while affirming the necessity of regeneration, being saved by Christ, and this being through the Spirit, they appear to have deliberately left out the activity of faith from this sentence (in contrast to the surrounding paragraphs). This would seem to signal, I think, that the framers believed that while regeneration is necessary unto salvation for these specific person in view the conscious exercise of faith is not. The reason being for this is that these individuals do not have the basic human faculties necessary for the exercise of that faith.

My first question then is this: Do you believe that elect infants destined to die in the womb will exercise conscious faith so as to be saved?

A second question I have pertains to the reformed understanding of the imputation of Adam’s sin. This is a larger can of worms, I grant, but it is necessarily connected here.

When we speak of the imputed sin of Adam, we refer largely to Romans 5:12, “in Adam all sinned.” When Adam, as the federal head of our race, sinned and fell, the entire race fell with him. The consequence of sin, namely death, passed to all his race. All of his offspring after him are subject to death because of his sin. It’s not as though each new human being born has his own shot at the covenant of works. No, Adam blew it for all of us. This is why death reigned from Adam to Moses, “even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam” (Romans 5:14).

Moreover, we all have original sin from conception. Definitionally, all human beings – even the ones in the womb – are sinners. Our nature is corrupt from the beginning. We don’t become corrupt after a time.

What gets dicey to me when we start talking about to what extent the imputed sin of Adam is applied to every human being. While I understand that the entire race to be subject to the consequence of death for Adam’s sin, it seems clear to me throughout the Bible that at the final judgment, men are condemned to the lake of fire for their own actual sin. In other words, I understand the imputed sin of Adam as resulting in physical death and original sin for all his offspring, but final condemnation is on the basis of actual sin committed by individuals.

Ezekiel 18:20 - “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself."

Revelation 20:12-13 - “And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.”

Matthew 16:27 - “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”

Job 34:11 - “For according to the work of a man he will repay him, and according to his ways he will make it befall him.”

Jeremiah 32:19 - “One great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are on all the ways of the sons of men, to reward each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds.”

So my second question is: Given the full counsel of Scripture, do you believe that God would consign a human being to hell on the basis of Adam’s sin, alone, in the absence of any personally committed sin (e.g. the zygote in the mother’s womb)?

I am not disputing that the zygote in the womb is conceived in Adam. I am not disputing original sin. I am not trying to imagine a category of redemption that somehow comes apart from regeneration and the work of Christ. I want to make sure I understand what is meant by the historical reformed view on the imputed sin of Adam as relates to the final judgment.


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Interesting! - as this also touches on the situation of the elect who came before Christ; as in some way His saving work goes backwards in time to save them, even as it saves children, and not only the children of covenant parents. I will be most interested to see people’s thoughts on this, as I’ve tended to think of the salvation of those traditionally known as infans et amens, as tied up in something we can be sure of - the Mercy of God - even if the actual method might not be that clear.

Yes. God will judge us sinners because we are sons of Adam, and not just because we ourselves sinned. We sin because we’re sinners. We’re not sinners just because we sin. God’s servants have argued over how and when the unborn child inherits original sin, but there can be no imago dei personhood that is without guilt and death of Adam.

If Jesus was an embryo one day old, it was Jesus Who was a one day old embryo. That embryo was Divine. He was not a “thing.” He was not someone else. From conception we are “man” and being “man” we are guilty before God. In sin did our mother conceive us. Not in birth. This is my understanding. We talk about it in “Abortion and the Church.” Love,


Thank you for your reply.

To be clear, when I used the term zygote, I was not using the term to infer belief in a “sub-personhood” state in the womb, but rather just to refer to the earliest stage of bodily existence. I affirm personhood from conception, and I’m not intending to trigger any speculative debates about quickening/ensouling.

I certainly affirm that we sin because we are sinners, not the other way around. I understand that we are corrupt from conception. I believe I understand and affirm the imputed sin of Adam as relates to bringing the curse of death and original sin upon every member of our race. I don’t believe I am flirting with some form of pelagianism here. What I’m struggling to grasp is the concept of the imputed sin of Adam finding us guilty as relates to the final judgment, specifically.

My struggle doesn’t arise because I fail to affirm that God has every right and prerogative to deal with Adam’s cursed race as he pleases. I confess, of course he does. We are a race of vipers, and the Lord would be righteous to cast us all into hell. He would owe us no explanation. He is God, and we are clay. But while he could do that, it seems to me that in his word he tells us that he doesn’t do that. Rather, each human being will be judged, in the final analysis, on the basis of their own actual, personal works of unrighteousness (as in the texts I quoted above). When I stand before God, judgment will not be rendered to me according to the sins of my fathers (including Adam). I will be called to task for my own sins. Every careless word that I spoke, and every work of iniquity I committed in darkness.

Of course, for us who have life and breath and reason in us, and are reading this forum, this discussion is merely academic, isn’t it? All of us have personally accrued a mountain of sin to our account, and so any discussion about Adam’s sin being ascribed to us is moot. But I do want to rightly grasp the implications this has for those who die in the womb.

I understand that they are sinners, but do they commit sin in the womb? Romans 9:11 suggests to me that to that there is at least some point in the womb where a child for sure does not sin, otherwise Paul wouldn’t anchor his argument about election there. But if they don’t commit sin in the womb, by what grounds would the Lord cast them into hell at the final judgment, if it is true – as I think the Bible plainly teaches – that we will all be judged according to our own personal sin? Certainly, the infant in the womb does not possess righteousness, and he is in Adam. By grace alone would the child be saved. But can it be then be understood by necessary inference that all children perishing in the womb must therefore be elect, and are at some point regenerated and brought into Christ by the grace of God prior to their death?

Please understand (for those of you who are thinking, “what’s his angle in even bringing this up?”), I am not trying to fabricate some ethical case to justify the abomination of abortion, or create some theology of equivocation to satisfy the emotional grief of the mourning parents who have miscarried. I want to make sure I rightly represent the justice of God, and am correctly representing the doctrine of imputed sin.

Dear Jason, I think you misunderstand my response if you are worried about any of the things you disclaim above. I wasn’t thinking you were doing any of them. I think the question is a good one and hope others will join in. Two responses to this second missive.

First, the Bible does not lack statements of God’s judgement passing from generation to generation, as well as statements it will not pass thusly. This is a challenge of interpretation of God’s sovereign decrees which often comes up for which I have no answer to give, here. The most obvious example is Adam’s passingon original sin to us all, but this also is constantly said: " 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."

Second, to say that God surely judges us for our own sins committed is not to say God does not judge us for original sin. One thought that might be worth pursuing is what basis, if any, did God have for hating Esau when in the womb? Love,


@ Jander, I was just having this conversation a few weeks ago with a congregant. He asked the exact same question you’re asking and told me he’d learned this argument from Al Mohler. When I told him that I believed God can/does send infants to hell, he gasped and told me he’s never heard anyone say anything like that. I was shocked and realized a little more of the rock I’ve lived under.

One of the things that makes this position (eternal condemnation based on our own works) most monstrous is that every time your wife has a child is that you have to live with the miserable knowledge that at some point very early in the child’s life, he will forfeit eternal life because he finally committed a sin. What an awful thought for parents to bear. In the end, the argument is just a version of the age of accountability though it’s dressed up with some inferred applications from scripture.

Instead, I told the man that we should take King David’s statement in 2 Sam. 12:23, Luke’s testimony concerning John the Baptist in Luke 1:41 and Peter’s statement in Acts 2:39 to ground our thinking about this issue. From these passages we can conclude that salvation is possible for the pre-born and infants based on the promises of God, though we can’t say with certainty that all who die in those seasons of life are elect. We have to acknowledge the reality of Jacob and Esau. So salvation is possible for them and God is merciful. However, His eternal decree is hidden from us and without that knowledge, we have to trust His providence in those difficult situations where a young child dies.

One final part of my conversation that was shocking to my congregant was that I didn’t have the same hope for children of unbelievers. I told Him that God is still merciful and may treat them the same as children of believers but that I didn’t see anything in Scripture to indicate that.

Everything I’ve said presumes that Adam’s sin is enough to condemn all mankind to physical and spiritual death. I know that’s the question you’re asking but I don’t know how the two can be separated. The tragedy of death in utero or in early life confirms that Adam’s sin is potent enough to bring physical death. I think we have to conclude based on that fact, that spiritual death has occurred as well.



I don’t know that I’ve met anyone who would hold to such a view. I’ve never met a Christian who believed their child possessed some sort of original righteousness from the womb, only to forfeit that righteousness at the moment of their first committed sin (whenever that is). But I also don’t think such a view would be as monstrous and difficult to bear as you depict. I mean, the notion of original righteousness is monstrous and wrong, I affirm, but I think there are more consequentially monstrous views.

I am a father of ten, with another on the way. I don’t dare speculate at what age my children begin sinning, but as far as I think I can observe, it’s somewhere around age one. It’s at about this time that the clash between the child’s will and the parent’s will become evident. When I see my toddler throw a fit when he or she rebels against their first, “No,” I’ve never had any inclination in my heart to mourn their fall from righteousness. Instead, I actually rejoice, for in that moment, it is glaringly obvious to me what they are, and all the clear truth of God’s word in that instant shines bright. In that moment, all theoretical conversations about innocence and original sin and imputed sin cease. When I witness that child sin, with my own two eyes, I know beyond any doubt that this child needs to repent and believe the gospel. Providence has demonstrated that it was the will of God that my child should rise up and let their sinfulness manifest in visible, personal deeds of unrighteousness. And should that child die before they come to faith in Christ, and the Lord judges them to hell on the basis of their deeds, I will be able to stand by the Lord and give my Amen, for the Lord has done according to his word. Books will have been opened, and judgment will have been given according to that child’s personal sin. That child shall have been repaid by the Lord according to his or her deeds, just as the Lord has promised.

In a strange way, therefore, I am relieved to see my children sinning.

The view that is more monstrous to me is as follows.

A child is conceived in the womb. The sperm and egg have come together, and a living soul has taken on human flesh. This human being, an eternal soul now encased in the frame of a single-celled human zygote – conceived in Adam, subject to death, bearing in his being the nature of original sin, yet lacking anything resembling faculties to manifest desires, thoughts, or faculties of action – fails to attach to his mother’s womb, and dies immediately.

This child then awakens, as it were, in the presence of God at the great judgment throne. This is his first experience of consciousness – standing before the Lord of heaven. Books are opened for judgment. The Lord tells this child, “I never knew you; depart from me, you worker of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23)

Worker of lawlessness? The child is stunned, and has no understanding of what is being said. What does he mean? What have I done? What deeds are contained on the pages of this book from which I am being judged?

“Your father Adam sinned, and in Adam you sinned.”

The child is then cast into hell, to be condemned in conscious torment for all eternity. Not for any deeds he committed, but for the deeds of his father Adam.

Now, some of you may be OK with that, but I must confess that I find that view monstrous. I find it monstrous not because I don’t believe God has a right to do with his creation whatever he wills, but because it seems to go against what God has revealed in his word about his own perfect justice. It is the worker of lawlessness that he condemns on the last day, not the son of the worker of lawlessness.

Psalm 51:5 is quoted often to highlight original sin, as is fitting. But David says much more than that.

Psalm 51:3-4 - " For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment."

Is it not clear, even in this psalm, that David’s actual sinning – not his conceived state of original sin – is the thing which is attached to the justice of God? “God, my deeds of unrighteousness prove that you are just to condemn me.” He then goes on about being conceived in sin, but his point there is merely highlighting that his depravity is total. But judgment itself is anchored in his actual sin.

I appreciate the discussion.

I believe if sin is foremost a matter of the heart, a child begins sinning much sooner than that.

How often does an infant cry for attention when nothing is really wrong? Lacks contentment? Is irritable? Is selfish?


I wasn’t intending to trigger a speculative discussion about exactly when a child first sins, and I think it’s immaterial to the topic at hand. I was merely commenting on the time when I think it becomes clearly perceivable. I can’t see the desires of an infant’s heart, but I can perceive when desire has given birth to visible sin (James 1:14-15).

For what it’s worth, I don’t think an infant’s crying ought be studied closely to determine whether it’s a “sinful” one. What an adult interprets as “nothing is really wrong” and what the helpless infant interprets as something wrong can be wildly different things. I think such estimations speak more about the sinful impatience and lack of compassion on the part of parents than they do about the sinfulness of infants, but now I’m really straying off topic. :slight_smile:

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Dear brother,

Here you strike at the heart of the imputation of Christ’s work of redemption which flows through the free imputation to us of His foreign righteousness by striking at the condemnation of us based upon the free imputation to us of Adam’s sin. Interestingly, you almost exactly quote this by Pascal:

For it is beyond doubt that there is nothing which more shocks our reason than to say that the sin of the first man has rendered guilty those who, being so removed from this source, seem incapable of participation in it. This transmission does not only seem to us impossible, it seems also very unjust. For what is more contrary to the rules of our miserable justice than to damn eternally an infant incapable of will, for a sin wherein he seems to have so little a share that it was committed six thousand years before he was in existence? Certainly nothing offends us more rudely than this doctrine; and yet without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we remain incomprehensible to ourselves. -Blaise Pascal, Pensees ; vii. 434, W.F. Trotter, trans.

“Our miserable justice.”



PS: We should concentrate on this direct statement and leave speculation to the side:

Romans 5

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

I sincerely hope Al Mohler is not teaching this false doctrine, but as The Grace of Shame demonstrates, such heterodoxy is nothing new for him, and he certainly does love the limelight (which this too will get him).

Dear brother Jason, I’d be very careful calling the Biblical doctrine of Original Sin and condemnation “monstrous,” if I’m understanding you rightly. The eternal judgment of infants and the unborn is an area close to our hearts if we believe in fruitfulness, let alone if we are a father or mother of multiple miscarriages, but the Bible is largely silent on it other than the passage above and a few others. So where Scripture is silent, let’s content ourselves by trusting God and being silent. We can say we hope and we trust God and we don’t know, and that’s a godly standing place. Deuteronomy 29:29.



Yes, amen. And thank you. I do not believe the doctrine monstrous if it is in fact true. Whate’er my God ordains is right, His holy will abideth. But I do want to be thoroughly convinced that it is true.

That Pascal quote is remarkable, and I don’t know if I’ve read it before, but yes, it speaks precisely to the heart of my quandary.

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Dear Jason,

Since I first read it, I’ve never forgotten that rebuke to my “miserable justice.” And loved that “and yet, without this mystery… we remain incomprehensible to ourselves.” What a balm of Gilead that’s always been for me!

One more thing: I think it’s part of the weakness and vulnerability to which fruitfulness exposes us to dwell overmuch on the nature of God’s redemptive work through, for instance, limbo (the Roman Catholic error which addresses your concern directly) or the sacraments or the covenant of grace as they do and don’t apply to our beloved seed—delimiting how it all works at times beyond what Scripture reveals.

Men can deny it, but the church of the Reformers across the centuries condemns paedocommunion just as it condemns the New England Puritans’ halfway covenant for being attempts to control the destiny of coming generations beyond what Scripture commands (or allows). Yes, as Cotton Mather puts it, we came to this place (New England) because of our desire to protect the souls of “our lambs,” but the lambs belong to God before and after they are entrusted to us for a time by Him, and we need to remind ourselves of this constantly. Yes, it’s a knife to our jugular to have this terrible vulnerability to God’s decrees, and even more for our children’s mothers, but this is the heart of the faith on display in being fruitful and multiplying. Next to the eternal destiny of our little ones born and unborn—and trusting God right there; all the chattering about “good educations” and money and time and bedrooms and fifteen-passenger vans dissipates to inconsequentiality.

We can rejoice at the seed God has blessed us with through the toil and suffering of our wives while yet recognizing our need for humble appeal to God that He fulfill His covenant to our children, that He make us faithful fathers, and that He give us trust in His sovereign will and providence. Along with humble submission where we see our children rebel or depart from our most holy faith, whether in childhood or adulthood.


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I’m thankful for your replies, and as always, for your pastoral acumen as you navigate these matters, and your care for men like me who raise them. There is much comfort in your words.

As you suggested, I would like to discuss Romans 5. Maybe for starters, verse 18:

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

Does the use of the term “resulted” here (or “led to” as some translations put it) necessitate the understanding that the transgression itself directly imputed condemnation upon all men, or could it merely mean that the transgression set all men down the road to condemnation?

It seems to me that if we read it to mean the former, then we can’t ascribe the same meaning to the second use of the term in the second part of the verse, because it is plain to us that the atoning work of Christ does not, in fact, result in the imputation of justification (righteousness) for all men. It results only in the justification of the elect. So it seems to me that “resulted” in this verse has to mean something more general.

Could the meaning here be, “Through Adam’s sin, the entire human race was plunged toward condemnation. All of his progeny are conceived with original sin, the outcome of which – when followed to its only inevitable conclusion – is condemnation, for each and every one of them, individually. The road ends in the same place for every single one of Adam’s sinful race: condemnation.”

The road begins with original sin. It’s followed by actual, personal sin. Then finally, condemnation for that personal sin.

This view would seem more consistent with the texts which speak of the final judgment as being for man’s personal sin, perhaps?


Except its not at all general, its very specific. The transgression applies to all men in the first Adam, and the act of rightousness to all men in the second Adam. This is why the cross and resurrection apply to the elect (as opposed to some other people), because the application is specific rather than general. If this isn’t true, original sin isn’t true, at least not really. It only applies to some men, generally. And salvation only applies to some men, generally. Neither apply to any specific men.

John Gill lays it out clearly in his commentary, and James White defends it clearly and at length in this program (skip to 9 minutes to miss his unrelated preamble) if an audio would be helpful.

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Or, to paraphrase Pascal:

… nothing more shocks our reason than to say that the merit of a single man has rendered righteous those who, being so removed from this righteousness, seem incapable of participation in it. This transmission does not only seem to us impossible, it seems also very unjust. For what is more contrary to the rules of our miserable justice than to justify eternally an infant incapable of will, for a meritorious deed wherein he seems to have so little a share that it was committed six thousand years before him or two thousand years after that righteous man’s existence? Certainly nothing offends us more rudely than this doctrine; and yet without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we remain incomprehensible to ourselves Blaise Pascal, Pensees ; vii. 434, W.F. Trotter, trans., speculatively paraphrased by Fr. Bill Mouser.


Thanks for this. The James White excerpt was helpful.

So, the “all men” in both halves of the verse refer to two specific humanities. That makes sense. But I still don’t know that direct imputation is necessarily in view by the term “resulted” or “led to” (eis, I believe).

The one act of Christ certainly results in the justification of the elect, but that justification – work with me here – was not realized for the elect at the moment of the act. Rather, justification is realized later, through faith (Romans 5:1). That justification is as good as done for the elect from the foundation of the world, but it is realized in time.

In the same way then, the condemnation for all men in Adam is realized not at the moment of their conception, but at the culmination of the judgment, where they will be judged for their deeds done in the body (2 Cor. 5:10). They are as good as condemned while they remain in Adam, because condemnation is the only possible outcome (the result of the one act of Adam). But it is still their own deeds done in the flesh which precipitate that condemnation.

Yes? No?

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No. Justification is an interruption of the status quo, a change, a new birth. We are dead in our trespasses and sins, and are made alive (Ephesians 2:1-5). “And you were dead…”

What you’ve laid out is a misunderstanding of both federal headship and penal substitionary atonement. Romans 6:3-8

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self[a] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free[b] from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

Christ is our federal head. When Christ died, we died. When Christ was raised to new life, we were raised to new life. His obedience is our obedience. This is why our justification is just.

Likewise, when Adam was our federal head, his sin is ours. When he ate the fruit, we ate the fruit. In that day, we truly died. No “as good as…” This is why our original condemnation is just. This is why men die, as well as endure suffering, many times from the moment of conception. It’s judgment, and this is just because all have sinned, and they did when Adam sinned.

This all applies to infants from the moment of conception. To deny it is to indirectly deny the gospel, because our salvation comes in the same way.

When it comes to infants who die young, the Bible doesn’t go into great detail. This is why Deuteronomy 29:29 (as @tbbayly pointed you too) is important to remember. We shouldn’t be overly speculative about what happens, and how infants could have faith. But, there’s another important verse to remember when considering this, Genesis 18:25. Let us say with Abraham

Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right

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There’s another section that applies here, in the SLBC 1689, chapter 5, paragraph 5:

The corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and the first motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.

The Westminster has a similar paragraph, and adds another:

Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.

That pretty clearly teaches that the sin nature alone would condemn to hell. That said, I have leaned towards taking exception to this point along the lines of what @jander has suggested - holding that the sin nature received from Adam does not condemn us to hell in itself, but bends us inexorably to sin so that everyone who receives a sin nature sins. Regarding infants, I’ve thought that they too are guilty by reason of their own sin. While what does on the brain or consciousness of a tiny developing baby will always be a mystery to us, I would see them following into the sin with the first motion of their consciousness.

Romans 9:11 seems the biggest issue with this view, as they are told of the children in Rebekah’s womb, “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil…” I’m not sure how to reconcile this with other verses which talk about everyone being judged for their deeds, perhaps Romans isn’t excluding sins of omission (like not worshiping and submitting to God in the mind,) or it’s speaking about actions rather than thoughts.

I’m not settled in these positions, and I appreciate the discussion.

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When Paul says “you were dead,” he is affirming that there was a time when the believer – though his justification was fixed from the foundation of the world – walked on this earth as being yet in Adam. This demonstrates the sense I am referring to. Justification was of course purchased for the elect before the foundation of the world, but that isn’t the same as saying the elect are born into this world having already taken hold of that justification. We are all born in Adam, and the elect are later, at some point in their temporal life, regenerated and brought into Christ. Our justification is realized, or made manifest, within the framework of time, through the Spirit of God bring about the effectual call in our lives.

I understand our hesitation to adopt terms like “as good as.” I am not denying that Christ decisively purchased justification for the elect. But that justification comes to manifest in a particular way, and it doesn’t bypass our having actually been in Adam.

Yes, I affirm men die because of Adam. Romans 5:14 makes it plain that every man experiences death and suffering and corruption because of Adam’s sin, not their own. And I affirm that this is all judgment. To this extent I readily affirm the imputed sin of Adam. And of course this includes infants at the moment of conception.

What’s in question is whether this imputation applies to the judicial analysis of the final judgment. It’s one thing to face the first death in connection with the sins of our fathers (which Scripture and history in general are filled with examples of). It’s another to be judged to the second death in connection with the sins of our fathers, which is what I am tripping over. It seems to me that the Scriptures dealing with the final judgment are so deliberately and consistently explicit as having to do with the sins of the individual – the actual deeds of the sinner himself (2 Cor. 5:10, John 5:29, Mat. 7:23, 12:36, 16:27, Luke 13:27, Rom. 2:6, Rev. 20:12-15, 21:8, Job 34:11, Jer. 32:19, Ezek. 18:20, Ps. 51:3-4, cf. 51:5).

Is the reformed position simply to say, “Well yes, but you have to understand, the deed of Adam is counted among the personal deeds of every sinner?” I’m struggling to find that compelling given the explicit nature of how the Bible speaks of personal sin, and the places where clear distinctions are made between between the sins of the one and the sins of the father – again, as relates to the final judgment.

I do affirm Deut. 29:29, and cite it all the time when I speak to people concerning these topics. But in my view, as far as I can tell right now, I’m not the one who goes beyond what is written when I try to maintain that God judges men for their own sin. To the contrary, I think I’m the one holding the plainly biblical, Gospel 101 position when I say that. When we evangelize, we don’t tell people to repent of their father’s sins, we tell them to repent of their sins, for this is what the Bible says God will hold them guilty of on the last day. I don’t think I’m off the beaten path here.

Indeed, the judge of the earth will do right. And not by my standard of what is right, but by his own. And in his word, which cannot be broken, it seems that he has mercifully constrained himself to judge the sons of men on the basis of their own personal iniquity, and not their fathers.

In the end, I don’t want to be found misrepresenting God by overstating either the vastness of his mercy or the fierceness of his justice. In that James White podcast, he said something to the effect, “to the extent that our beliefs are sub-biblical, we will fail to glorify God.” I think that warning flows in all directions.