Hold On to the God Who Holds You: How He Comforts Us with Election

This article first appeared on DesiringGod.org.

Desiring God water pic

As a pastor, I had visited church members in the psych ward before, but this time the church member was our dear friend Sarah (her name has been changed for privacy). She had no family nearby, but lived just a few miles from us. When Sarah was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, my wife began to bring her meals. We would visit her whenever we could. One of the treatments had taken a horrible turn. Dark side effects landed Sarah in the psych ward.

She looked at me that afternoon from her hospital bed, almost without recognition, with deep pain in her eyes. I reminded her of the care of her church family and the love of Christ for her. A tear rolled down her cheek and she whispered, “Guilty.”

I knew that Sarah needed bedrock gospel truth under her feet, so I turned to Romans 8 and began to read to her, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Her eyes flashed with recognition. I continued to read until I got to verse 30, and then an amazing thing happened. Sarah was crying out the words of Romans 8:30 with me, like a drowning woman holding on to a life preserver.

We both exclaimed those precious promises out loud in the stark and sterile room, tears streaming down our faces: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). At that moment, neither of us was arguing for the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty over salvation. We were exulting in our election. Sarah could not hold on to God in her darkest hour, but she knew that he was still holding on to her.

Comfort of God’s Choice

“God didn’t give us insight into the great mysteries of his sovereign grace to confuse us, but to comfort us.”

I used to experience election merely as theoretical. Too often I saw the doctrine through the lens of debate rather than through the lens of worship and trust. Sarah changed that for me. Seeing election anchor Sarah in the psych ward gave me a fresh perspective on why God has revealed to us that we were chosen by him before he formed the world. God didn’t give us insight into the great mysteries of his sovereign grace to confuse us, but to comfort us with his unstoppable, eternal love for us.

Being reminded of God’s choice to love her in eternity past was a comfort for Sarah on that bleak afternoon. She knew that nothing could separate her from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

Our salvation did not start with us, is not sustained by us, and will not be completed by our strength. The domino effects leading to our salvation did not begin at birth, or even at Christ’s birth, but in eternity past when God foreknew us. Unconditional election knocks the wind out of our pride, but it also buoys us up when we feel like we’re drowning.

When the clouds seem to be blocking our Father’s face, when all of our relationships are being dragged through a valley, when we hear of a relative diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, we need the security of electing grace. And when the sun is shining, our spouse loves us, our kids are well-behaved, and work is going better than we ever expected, God’s electing love reminds us that every gift is a gift of grace.

Holding On, Being Held

When I visited Sarah a few days later, she was doing better. The medications were being balanced and the side effects had diminished, although she was still being kept and monitored. As we sang “In Christ Alone” together, our voices rose loudest when we sang, “From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand.”

There is something profoundly stabilizing about knowing that the most powerful One in the universe holds you (John 10:28–29). He knew everything about our frailties and even our sins, but he chose us, came for us, and redeemed us anyway.

“Unconditional election knocks the wind out of our pride, but it also buoys us up when we feel like we’re drowning.”

That stay in the psych ward was not the end of the story for my sister in Christ. Just as God makes each of us more than conquerors, he empowered Sarah to conquer. She is not a conqueror because she overcame her depression immediately, or because the cancer stopped spreading. In fact, she died a couple of years later. Sarah is more than a conqueror because the God who predestined her also promised that she would be glorified.

That was the promise she was holding on to the last time I saw her, and it is the promise that she will be praising Christ for the next time I see her.

“Is My Baby In Heaven?” Why I Believe God’s Word Assures Us We Can Say, “Yes.”

TMS baby picThis post first appeared on The Master’s Seminary blog.

When my wife first showed me the positive pregnancy test, we were overjoyed. Ecstatic. It was hard to believe that in 7 1/2 short months we would be holding our baby. A little person who looked like both of us, who would soon be calling us “Mama” and “Dada.”

Since I was a pastor several states away from family, we wanted to make this announcement really special for them. That Friday, we bought the books What Grandparents Do Best and What Aunts and Uncles Do Best to send in the mail. We planned to write notes to accompany the books over the weekend so they would be ready to mail on Monday. But Saturday morning, we were in the E.R. We were having a miscarriage.

If you received a call from a grieving husband like me, what would you say to the question: “Is my baby in heaven?” Too many Christians, and even some theologians, believe we need to be agnostics when it comes to this question.

In other words, it may be true that God saves babies. They say the attributes of God point us in that direction, but they believe Scripture is silent on the issue. Many parents are left to wonder where their baby is—not believing they can know for sure until they enter heaven themselves.

God does not want us to be agnostics on the eternal destiny of babies. Shouldn’t we expect that He would give us an answer to something that affects so many? I believe that God is clear in Scripture that He welcomes into heaven each baby who dies, born or unborn (Ps 139). And this extends to young children and the mentally disabled who die before they are able to understand salvation. God is not silent on this question.

When our miscarriage happened during our first pregnancy, I dove into the Scriptures to find comfort for my wife. But I had already found biblical answers for my mind years earlier. When I was a young associate pastor, while the senior pastor was on vacation, a new couple in our church went into the hospital to deliver conjoined twins. The babies died in their mother’s arms within a minute. When I went into the hospital room to pray with the parents and saw those tiny faces, I knew I needed to be more biblically sure of the destination of those babies’ souls.

That night I went home and read an entire book that I received at a Shepherd’s Conference, John MacArthur’s Safe In The Arms of God. It confirmed what I already knew from Scripture, but also gave me great confidence in the eternal destiny of infants, young children, and the mentally disabled who are unable to understand salvation.

Why do I agree with what Calvin stated in his Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, “It would be too cruel to exclude that age from the grace of redemption”? What Scripture passages can give you this kind of confidence?

GOD’S VIEW OF CHILDREN

God has special care for all babies, even the babies of unbelieving idol worshipers. As MacArthur explains, “God considers all babies to be His.” God condemns sinful child-sacrificing Israel in Ezekiel 16:21, “You slaughtered My children and offered them up to idols by causing them to pass through the fire.”

Some may object that this only applies to children who are part of God’s covenant people. However, Jonah 4:11 explains God’s mercy even on the children of a pagan nation: “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand…”

This would include both children and the mentally disabled who were unable to understand facts such as this. God takes ownership of these “innocents” (Jer 19:4), those who do not yet “know enough to refuse evil and choose good” (Isa 7:15-16).

JESUS’ LOVE FOR CHILDREN

If you want to see God’s heart for children, you need to look no further than Jesus, who is God incarnate. In Mark 10:13-16Luke 18:15-17, and Matthew 19:13-15 we see Jesus hugging little children (and even infants!). But these passages teach more than Christ’s tenderness or the fact that He wanted children to be cared for within the church and trained in His ways.

It would be inconsistent if little children who die before they can understand law and grace and sin and salvation go to hell. There is no other instance in Scripture of Jesus specifically blessing those who are destined for hell. William Hendriksen, in his Gospel of Mark commentary, writes that it is significant that Christ did not view them as “little heathen,” but rather saw them as being in the kingdom.

DAVID’S BELIEF

When David’s infant son dies, his servants are surprised that David gets up from his fasting and weeping once the child is dead. David answers, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Sam 12:22-23)

Some have said that David simply meant he would join his son in the grave. But that is no comfort! He was not just shrugging off the fact that his child had died, ready to move on. He was encouraged enough to want to worship, clean up, and eat! David knew that he would be in heaven forever after death (Ps 23:6). David also knew that this was the eternal destiny of his baby.

THEOLOGICAL REASONS

One major theological argument in favor of heaven as the eternal home of infants is that we are saved by grace, but damned by works. Whenever Scripture describes those who will inhabit hell, the emphasis is on their willful sin and rebellion against God (1 Cor 6:9-10Eph 5:5, etc.). Listen to the account of the Great White Throne Judgment: “And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books…And they were judged, each one according to his works.” (Rev 20:12-13) Infants, young children, and the mentally handicapped who have the capacity of children do not fully understand the difference between right and wrong, between God’s law and God’s grace, so they do not have willful sin.

This brief overview has given us just some of the main reasons to believe that a baby who dies goes to Heaven. The flip side of the debate—that babies who die go to hell—has very few people willing to explain their position and little if any biblical support. Spurgeon explained this in his sermon Expositions of the Doctrines of Grace in a way that only Spurgeon can…

There may have existed somewhere in some corner of the earth a miscreant who would dare to say that there were infants in hell, but I have never met with him, nor have I met with a man who ever saw such a person…we hold that all infants [who die] are elect of God and are therefore saved, and we look to this as being the means by which Christ shall see of the travail of His soul to a great degree, and we do sometimes hope that thus the multitude of the saved shall be made to exceed the multitude of the lost…I believe that the Lord Jesus, who said ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven,’ doth daily and constantly receive into His loving arms those tender ones who are only shown and then snatched away to heaven.

A week after I prayed with the parents of the conjoined twins, I received a phone call from their father who was preparing for their funeral. He asked, “Can you show me the verse that says that babies who die go to heaven?” I brought him to 2 Samuel and we talked about David’s hope of seeing his son in heaven. I brought him to Revelation 20 and we talked about how we are saved by grace but condemned by our sinful works. We talked about the fact that his babies had never done neither good nor evil but were saved by Christ’s great and quiet grace, because of His blood.

But I mostly talked with him about Jesus’ love for children and that He said that the Kingdom of God belongs to them. That is what he spoke about a few days later as he stood next to their tiny coffin: that he and his wife knew they would see their twins again because they knew that Jesus loved their babies. They were and are in Christ’s Kingdom.

If you are reading this because your arms are empty today, remember that Jesus loves the little children. If you trust in Jesus, part of the glory you will experience on the day you enter heaven will be meeting your little one again.

Oh, praise our Savior, because “little ones to Him belong!” Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves my baby. The Bible tells me so.