Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Children of Believers are Holy

"Since we are to judge of the will of God from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy [I Cor. 7:14], not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children, whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy." - Canons (I) A17.

Inquirer: "Is this passage saying that children of the elect are also automatically elect or just that Godly parents will raise their children in such a way as that they also believe?"

Dear Inquirer,

In answer to your question, the verse we are considering is I Cor. 7:14. You asked whether this speaks of the children of the elect being "automatically elect" or just that godly parents raise their children so that they believe. What is the correct interpretation here?

I'll quote the verse:

"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." - 1Co 7:14.

The immediate context is where Paul is answering some of the questions posed to him by a young predominantly Gentile church in Corinth, which was notorious even among the heathen for its rampant and particularly debauched and depraved fornication (they even coined the term, "to Corinthianize," meaning to fornicate). The situation was that some believers in the Corinthian church had been converted from heathendom, while their spouses had not been converted and remained unbelieving.

They had received the essential instruction not to have fellowship with unbelievers because they would be corrupted by such ungodly fellowship (which Paul refers to in I Cor. 5:9, and reiterates throughout that same chapter concerning their failure to discipline and excommunicate a man who was fornicating with his step-mother, and which he also reiterates in I Cor. 10:20; 15:33, and in the second letter to them; II Cor. 6:14-18). They already knew of his warnings not to have fellowship with unbelievers, and so it was natural for them, in godly concern, to ask him concerning their marriages with unbelievers, since ordinarily a marriage involves the greatest measure of fellowship (obviously the implication first of all, was that they should only marry in Lord--as Paul clarifies in verse 39--but here Paul considers the case of those who have been converted while their spouse has not been).

Their concern is that in this close fellowship of marriage, that they will be corrupted by their spouse, and they wonder if it is the will of God for them to divorce their unbelieving spouse. This was especially urgent because it was not a case that the Lord Jesus specifically addressed in his earthly ministry (or at least it is not recorded for us in the Gospels). Firstly, Paul reiterates Christ's command concerning divorce ("unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord" - v. 10), even though He did not specifically refer to this situation. This is helpful, because it teaches us to simply obey Christ, no matter how much we imagine our own situation to be a "special case". They must not leave their spouse, and if they do (for whatever reason, whether sinfully, or on account of fornication which is the only lawful ground for divorce), they must nevertheless remain unmarried or be reconciled to their spouse (v. 10, 11). Remarriage is forbidden because marriage is an unbreakable life-long bond. Even after divorce (whether lawful or not), it is only if the spouse dies that they are free to marry again--otherwise they are committing adultery, according to what Christ has clearly taught as recorded in the Gospels.

Secondly, he treats their specific situation. He teaches them not to divorce their unbelieving spouses (v.12, 13). And he gives to them comfort to assay their fears in this situation based upon authoritative apostolic doctrine, which he proves based upon what they know about their children (v.14). This is what we need to examine in more detail.

Thirdly, he explains to them what their calling is if the unbelieving spouse is not content to dwell with them, but deserts them (v. 15). In this case, they may allow their spouse to leave. They are not required to go after them according to the requirements of their marriage, e.g., the responsibility to dwell with their spouse and give them "due benevolence" (v. 3, 5; Gen. 2:24; I Pet. 3:7; etc). According to Paul's apostolic authority, the deserted believer "is not under bondage in such cases". He does not say that the deserted believer "is not bound" any longer to their spouse, but rather that they are not "under bondage" (these are completely different words and concepts in the Greek). Bondage refers to slavery, not the unbreakable life-long union of marriage. It refers to the terrible hardship that they would have if they had to go after such an ungodly spouse. Instead, "God hath called [them] to peace". He does not even suggest in any sense that the marriage bond is broken, but merely that they may in a good peaceful conscience allow the unbeliever to depart. And he certainly does not suggest anything either about remarriage. The command of the Lord that he just mentioned is very plain here: "if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband". There cannot be remarriage while the spouse is still living--not only because marriage is a life-long bond, but also because this would destroy any possibility of reconciliation. God hates divorce (Mal. 2:14-16), and allows it only on the ground of fornication--but even in this remarriage is absolutely forbidden and clearly repeatedly declared to be adultery (Matt. 19:9; Mark 10:11, 12; Luke 16:18; Rom. 7:2, 3).

Finally, he gives them hope concerning their unbelieving spouse, that they don't know whether or not God may yet save them, and even use their witness in bringing their spouse to conversion (v. 16; I Pet. 3:1, 2).

But what exactly is the comfort for those who must dwell with unbelievers who are enemies of God and His Christ? Will believers not be utterly corrupted and destroyed by such a close relationship with such profane and ungodly people? Paul answers no, "for the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband". This doesn't mean that they are saved, because they are nevertheless "unbelieving," and this is also why the term "sanctified" is not qualified as "sanctified in Christ", as Paul addresses the Corinthian church at the beginning of the letter (I Cor. 1:2). In fact, this verse is the only place in the entire New Testament that this particular form of the Greek word translated here "sanctified" is used: ηγιασται. From the context, and considering that the husband or wife are nevertheless "unbelieving" we must understand it not to refer them being personally holy by union with Jesus Christ as if they have received the Holy Spirit and are also cleansed by His blood. Rather it can only refer to them being set apart in such a way that the believing spouse is not corrupted by their wickedness in the marriage, this is the sense in which they are "sanctified", on account of, and for the sake of, the believing spouse. Therefore the believer need not be concerned, because God sanctifies their unbelieving spouse, for their sakes to keep them from their uncleanness (even though He does not save them). Needless to say, every other instance of the forms of the Greek word upon which this word is based, always refers to true spiritual holiness, in devotion to God in Christ, washed in His blood and filled by His Spirit. Only because here it qualifies them as "unbelieving" (and later adds the question "what knowest thou, o wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband?") can we conclude (and we must conclude), that it does not refer to this true holiness with respect to God.

But in order that this doctrine may be of great comfort to those in such situations, Paul grounds it and proves it to them based upon something even more incontrovertible and obvious: "else were your children unclean; but now are they holy."

Their children are holy. This is a word that is frequently used in the New Testament, and when used in reference to people, it always only refers to them being actually saved, washed in Christ's blood and Spirit. It is a true inner holiness, according to which the heart (and thereby the whole person) is consecrated unto God in loving fellowship with Him and in truly willing obedience. Along with this, it is also a true spiritual separation from the world and the devil, and every corruption. God makes His people holy, and therefore calls us "saints", which means "holy [ones]". In the same sense therefore that all God's graciously elect people are holy, the children referred to in this verse are "holy". It is very important that we first understand exactly and are entirely convinced about what this holiness is, before I answer your specific questions. In this verse, he is not merely saying "your children are elect," or "your children will be saved," or "your children belong to Christ." He is saying that they are being saved right now, they are "holy", they have been born again (are regenerate) since they have the Holy Spirit without which they cannot be holy, they are united with Christ the Holy One, they are now in holy fellowship with the Holy God, they are no longer unclean, but seperate from the world, they have been effectually called out of darkness into this holy light, and are necessarily members of Christ's holy church and His holy covenant, along with all His saints (i.e., His "holy ones").

But I hear your objection, and where your question is coming from. What about those children of believers who grow up and manifest themselves to be wicked unbelievers, hypocrites, and thoroughly reprobate, self-condemned, and are in the end damned to hell, to which dreadful end they were appointed? We need to be careful not to misunderstand Paul's language here. When he addresses the Corinthian church at the beginning of the letter, as "sanctified in Christ Jesus" and "saints," he was not denying there were no doubt hypocrites in their congregation. In fact he says as much in I Cor. 11:17-19, and urges them to purge out the old leaven of wicked unconverted members in chapter 5. Likewise when he refers to the children as "holy," he is not saying that every single child is necessarily holy. It is understood that there will no doubt be some exceptions, some reprobates among the children of God--just as there are tares in a wheat field. But we still call it a wheat field, and say that it is a field of wheat, and that we are growing wheat in that field, and this is the purpose of the field. If asked specifically, we certainly admit that there may be some tares in there among the wheat, but we view the field according to the wheat, not according to the tares, and we treat the field according to the wheat, not according to the possible presence of tares. And the tares and the wheat must grow up together and first bear fruit before any can be uprooted. This is the principle taught in the parable of the wheat field as Christ is explaining the kingdom of God. Since Christ is teaching the parable in order to explain the kingdom of God, He is speaking primarily about the church, and it is therefore entirely proper that the same principle applies to children in the church. This priniciple is also spoken of in II Tim. 2:19-21, explaining to a young pastor how it can be that those who seem to have been faithful members of the church can so suddenly manifest themselves to be rotten heretics and wolves seeking to destroy the church.

And this is not simply inference (though that would be enough, even if slightly less clear immediately), rather it is the clear and specific teaching of Scripture especially in Romans 9. Here the apostle Paul meets this very question head on, and explains it most fully. After explaining the glorious Gospel truth of justification by faith alone in Christ alone without works, and salvation for totally depraved sinners entirely by the sovereign grace of God by which He works all things for the good of His beloved elect (Rom. 8:28ff), Paul turns to answer some objections. What about the Jews? If what you're saying is true, that salvation is by grace alone and Christ has fully accomplished our redemption by Himself in His atoning substitutionary death on the cross paying for all our sins, how is it that so many Jews who were first of all promised this salvation in father Abraham, do not believe in Christ, and remain unconverted? He answers that his heart is heavy for them, and that he could even wish if it were possible, that he could be cut off from Christ (that is damned eternally), for their sakes, that they might be received in Christ. But he knows this is impossible. And he begins his answer, not by saying that God's promise has failed, or that salvation does not rely solely upon God's promise, but upon their free will or other works, or by denying the Old Testament which records the promises made to them, or by saying that the promises made to the Jews were merely earthly and carnal rather than spiritual; but rather, he asserts the Old Testament and all the things given to them, including the promises, and proclaims that it is not that God's word to them has failed.

This leads us to be all the more flabbergasted! How so, Paul? Can't you see the direct contradiction here?! But he answers:

"Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed." - Rom 9:6-8.

And he goes on to give concrete examples, of Isaac, and especially of Jacob and Esau (v. 9-13). According to God's sovereign election, He does maintain His covenant with us and our children, and truly saves our children, but he does not save every single one, because there are those who are merely children of the flesh, who are merely "of Israel", and not truly "Israel". Not every single child of believing parents is actually in the everlasting unconditional covenant of grace which was first declared in Paradise (Gen. 3:15), and revealed again to Noah (Gen. 9:8-9), and also to Abraham (Gen. 17:7), and which God has confirmed by Jesus Christ. Abraham is especially important, because he is considered the father of the Jewish people, and the New Testament explains that he is the father of the faithful, and it was especially to him, that God revealed His promise to save the Gentiles in Christ. The New Testament is very clear about this (Gal. 3:6-9). So the promises made to Abraham are exactly the promises made to every one who believes in Jesus Christ who is united to Him by true faith, that living spiritual bond worked in us by the Spirit of God. And God promises, "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." - Gen. 17:7.

So, as it was with the children of true believers in the Old Testament, so it is in the New Testament. God's covenant is with us and our seed "in their generations for an everlasting covenant." And it consists in this, "to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee". He is our God, and the God of our children in their generations. As Paul also teaches in Rom. 11:16, "For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches." This is why Abraham was required to administer the sign of circumcision, and why Moses was nearly killed by God for not giving the sign of the covenant to his child. And this is why the children of believers are baptised, not because we believe that God saves every single child, but because we believe in His covenant of grace with us and our children according to election.

And this is why it was so obvious to the Corinthians that their children were not unclean, but holy--because baptism is a sign and seal of our cleansing from sin by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ. The whole idea of baptism is seen in that it involves water, and therefore it symbolises washing, not physical washing, but spiritual (I Pet. 3:21). Not that their children were made holy by the outward sign of baptism (which the reprobate and hypocrites also receive, yet only to their condemnation), but rather, they were baptised because they were already holy. They must receive the sign which corresponds to the reality which they have already received. Our children are not made holy by receiving baptism; they receive baptism because they are holy, as this verse (I Cor. 7:14) tells us most plainly and clearly. They do not become members of Christ's church and covenant by baptism, rather, they receive baptism because they are already members. That there may be reprobate among them according to the purpose of God makes no difference, in as much as it makes no difference that there may be hypocrites among adult who profess faith. Esau had to be circumcised, even though his parents were told he was reprobate, and even the apostles themselves occasionally baptised hypocrites, such as Simon Magus. Again, we treat the wheat field according to the wheat, not according to the possible presence of tares. In that the Corinthians knew that their children were baptised according to God's gracious covenant and were holy not by nature (since we are all born by nature totally depraved and dead in trespasses and sins, cf. Eph. 2:1-5; Rom. 3:10-18; 8:7-8), but by virtue of His everlasting unconditional covenant with us and our children in Christ; they knew that their children were not unclean but holy, and therefore their spouse was certainly sanctified to them in the sense that they would not be corrupted by this close fellowship with an unbeliever, in as much as their children were not polluted either.

The other alternative interpretation which you offer for this text is quite impossible. A totally depraved sinner cannot be brought to faith in Christ simply by the faithful nurture and instruction of parents. Regeneration is a sovereign work of God's grace (John 3:3-8). God uses such faithful nurture and instruction of parents for the good of His children (and casts away children in the way of the unfaithfulness of parents; Hos. 4:6), but such instruction cannot be of any value to one who is unregenerate. In fact, that God promises to use the faithful instruction of parents for the good of His children is further proof to us that in general, our children are regenerate from infancy (apart from the possible exception of those who are perhaps regenerated much later in life, but even then there is no proof that they were not regenerate at all earlier, and of course in particular the exception of those reprobate who remain unregenerate). If you think it is impossible that a child can be regenerate from infancy, then consider that how early an age David had faith (which is the infallible fruit of regeneration): "thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts." - Psa 22:9. And even more strongly, consider John the Baptist who leaped for joy in his mother's womb when she was in the presence of Christ (Luke 1:41), of whom it says "he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). Therefore we need not worry if our feeble minds can't comprehend the mysterious and effectual work of God's grace in a baby who is still in her mother's womb, since God's ways are infinitely higher than our ways, and He has given us clear examples in His word of this gracious work.

And so it is when we understand God's everlasting covenant of grace, and therefore the real holiness of our children (with the exception of some reprobate children), we understand why the Canons of Dordt say that godly parents have no reason to doubt the salvation of their children who die in infancy. Indeed we ought not to doubt their salvation, as much as we ought not to doubt the salvation of any member of the church, and perhaps even more so, since such infants have given us no reason to doubt their salvation, whereas we can more easily see the sins of our fellow church members (though even then, and even when they are under discipline, we ought to give them the judgment of charity). And further, the Bible gives no example of any child of a believer who died in infancy who was reprobate, but the pattern with reprobate children in the Bible is always that God allows them to grow up and manifest their wickedness and develop in it (e.g., Cain, or Esau). So, we perhaps have even more confidence in the salvation of the children of godly parents whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy, than the many adult members in the church who perhaps boldly and loudly profess their faith. But we ought not to doubt the salvation of any member.

In Christ,



covnitkepr1 said...

Preach on brother...preach on. I really liked your post on singing.

I write and maintain a spiritual blog which I have titled “AccordingtotheBook” and I’d like to invite you to follow it.

messias maronetti said...

se o batismo não for como esta em atos,2,38.
é invalido as palavras devem ser
e não em nome do pai do filho e do espirito santo como muitos estupidos achão que é por que.
em MATEUS esta escrito pra ensinar e não pra batizar