Imagine you were sick with the flu and I gave you this set of rules: Thou shalt not run a temperature, have the chills, sneeze, have a headache, or feel nauseated.
With every new command not to have symptoms, I’m just multiplying the ways you fall short. At some point you’ll say, “I get it! I can’t keep these! I’m sick!”
That’s what the Old Testament Law did: It didn’t create sin in us; it just revealed it.
Romans 5:13 says, “In fact, sin was in the world before the law, but sin is not charged to a person’s account when there is no law” (CSB).
Even before the law, sin was always in our hearts. When we have the knowledge of right and wrong, that’s when it becomes more sinful, and so the law just made us more sinful by giving us more commands that we couldn’t—or wouldn’t—obey.
The phrase, “Sin is not charged to a person’s account when there is no law” has implications for a question many people have: Do babies go to heaven when they die?
I’ve gotten this question countless times throughout my years of ministry. Usually, it’s not just a theological question. It’s personal.
For many reading these words, I know even asking this question calls to mind a part of your story you wish you could hide. You may have lost a child through illness or a tragic accident. You may have suffered the loss of a miscarriage. You may have made the heartbreaking choice to pursue abortion. And chances are, even if you haven’t walked this road, you are close to someone who has.
I cannot take away the sting of loss that these experiences bring. But I can offer a ray of hope from Romans 5:13. According to Paul, if someone doesn’t know the law, then they are not held accountable for it.
Romans 1:18 says that God’s wrath is against sinners because they suppressed the truth in unrighteousness. In other words, they knowingly suppress the truth about God. Where there is no awareness of knowledge, there can be no suppression.
Jesus was once arguing with the Pharisees, who claimed to be the light of Israel. At one point in the argument, they said, “Are you calling us sinners?”
Jesus responded, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains” (John 9:41).
The point? If we have no way to understand our sin, God does not hold us accountable for it.
When all of Israel sinned and was kept from the Promised Land as a punishment, God allowed the children to go in because “they [did not] yet know good from evil” (Deuteronomy 1:39). He didn’t hold them accountable for their generation’s sin since they didn’t have the capacity to choose it.
Babies are not held guilty of sin because they have no perception of the law in their hearts. As such, if they are to die prematurely, we can be confident they will go to heaven. We don’t need to compound our grief and loss with fears about their eternal destination. They are covered under Christ’s blood as an act of God’s grace.
If you are grieving for a child, God is near to you. He hears your cries of distress. He walks the road of suffering with you. And he wants you to know that death is not the end.
As a believer, you have the hope of heaven, and you will see your child again.