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Sin Is not Imputed Where There Is No Law Romans 5:13

Sin Is not Imputed Where There Is No Law (Romans 5:13)

One of the reasons babies go to heaven is sin is not imputed to them. Romans 5:13 says, “Sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not imputed where there is no law.” The law brings sin, and sin brings death. If there is no law, there should be no sin. There was no law between Adam and Moses, but people still died because of original sin: “Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam” (Romans 5:14). Babies die in the womb because of original sin.

Babies Have Not Disqualified Themselves

By disqualifying, I mean disqualifying from heaven. Babies haven’t committed sins that disqualify them from heaven, such as those in Romans 1:20-21. We will start at Romans 1:18 for context.

Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron’s Way of the Master’s strategy involves helping people recognize their sinfulness, so they see their need for the Gospel. Paul takes this approach in Romans. He explains the Gospel in Romans 3 and 4, but before that he shows us our need for the gospel by convincing us of our sinfulness:

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

This helps us understand what the gospel does: it delivers us from the wrath of God. The end of the verse says people “suppress the truth.” People can only suppress truth that is known to them. If they were ignorant of the truth, they would not be able to suppress it. The truth they suppress is that that there is a Creator. They deny that God exists.

Romans 1:19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.

The truth that God exists “is plain” or obvious. It is not difficult or complicated to believe that God exists. Instead, it is difficult or complicated to believe that God does NOT exist. God plainly revealed his existence through creation:

Romans 1:20a For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

“Have been clearly perceived” is similar to “is plain to them” (verse 19). Creation makes the evidence for God overwhelming:

  • The painting is evidence there is a painter.
  • The building is evidence there is a builder.
  • The invention is evidence there is an inventor.

Similarly, creation is evidence there is a Creator. Because of the greatness and majesty of creation, it is evidence that the Creator is great and majestic. The verse identifies two things we can learn about God from his creation: he has “eternal power and [a] divine nature,” because only a being with these qualities could create a universe like ours.

Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

The universe gives God’s glory. Creation is the display case for his beauty and attributes. When Isaiah received his famous vision of the throne room of God immediately before his commissioning, he described what the angels were saying:

Isaiah 6:3 One [Angel] called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; THE WHOLE EARTH IS FULL OF HIS GLORY!”

The angels recognize that creation itself reveals God’s glory and they worship him for it.

Babies Are Not “Without Excuse”

Because the evidence for God is so strong, when people deny it, they [have no] excuse:

Romans 1:20b So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

The verse says “they knew God” because creation revealed it to them. There are no atheists. The problem is not that man does NOT know God. The problem is that man does know God, but as verse 18 says, he “[suppresses] that truth.” He pushes it down and tries to deny it.

Man does this because he does not want to give God two things in verse 21 that he deserves.

  • First, he because of God’s greatness he deserves to be honored, or worshiped.
  • Second, because of what God has done for us, he deserves to be [given] thanks. It is unbelievable that people are not thankful to God. He has given us life, families, children, a beautiful world to live in, and most importantly, a Son who will take the punishment we deserve. Ingratitude is one of our worst sins.

When man rejects God, he becomes futile in [his] thinking. He believes absurd things like we came from fish and apes and/or the universe created itself through an explosion. This is futile, or [foolish], thinking:

Romans 1:22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,

I recently watched Evolution Versus God. One of the common themes with many individuals who were interviewed who claim to be atheists is they also “[claim] to be wise.” But in the process, they revealed their [foolishness].

In Romans 1:20-21 man is condemned if he doesn’t recognize creation has a Creator, honor or worship God, and give him thanks. But it’s hard to argue that babies could do these things, especially while they’re still in the womb! Babies don’t move around in the amniotic fluid thinking, “Wow this is amazing. Somehow I was created and that Creator must be amazing!”

“These People Will Not Inherit the Kingdom of God”

Numerous places in Scripture reveal people don’t inherit the Kingdom of God because of sins they commit. For example, this verse describes people in hell:1

Revelation 21:8 The cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

Similarly:

1 Corinthians 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

We Have Committed the Listed Sins

Just like the people in 1 Corinthians do not inherit the Kingdom of God because of the sins they committed, these people find themselves in the lake of fire because of the sins they committed. This is pretty concerning considering all of us, if we are honest, recognize we have committed many of these sins. We are the people described in these verses. That means if we don’t repent and stop being these people then we also will not inherit the kingdom of God. We also will find ourselves in the lake of fire. That’s why 1 Corinthians 6:11 goes on to say:

1 Corinthians 6:11 And SUCH WERE SOME OF YOU. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Through repentance and faith in Christ, we stopped being these people. We were born again. As the verse says, we were washed, sanctified, and justified. We have become new creations:

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Babies Have Not Committed the Listed Sins

The verses in 1 Corinthians 6 and Revelation 21 are not just saying these people DID these things. They are saying these people ARE these things. God sends people to hell not just for committing these sins, but for being these sinners. But I can’t imagine anyone arguing that a baby IS one of these sinners.

When babies scream and keep us up all night, we might be tempted to look at them and say they are lots of things, such as difficult, trying, exhausting, wearying, draining, and fatiguing. But nobody ever looks at babies and says they are fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, drunkards, sorcerers, extortioners, or revilers. In other words, babies haven’t committed sins disqualifying them from inheriting the kingdom of God.

And these verses complement Jesus’s words well. These verses are about people who will NOT inherit the kingdom of God. But Jesus said babies WILL inherit the kingdom of God:

Luke 18:16 “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

The kingdom of God belongs to babies and those like them.

Babies Would Not Know Why They Were in Hell

If an infant went to hell for no other reason than original sin…it would know suffering but it would have no understanding of the reason for its suffering…the whole meaning and significance of its suffering would be to [the baby] a conscious mystery…Such an infant would know it was in hell, but it would not be able to explain why it was there.

R.A. Webb, The Theology of Infant Salvation, p. 42.

R.A. Webb’s point is because an infant hasn’t consciously engaged in sin, there would be no understanding of having disobeyed God; therefore, there would be no understanding of God’s judgment and why it’s in hell.

What About Original Sin?

R.A. Webb mentioned original sin, because it is so important to the discussion of babies going to heaven. Even if babies in the womb have not sinned, they still have a sin nature.

Original sin refers to the original sin Adam committed that gave all of us sin natures. It is the moral corruption we possess that produces a disposition toward habitually sinful behavior. It is what God was talking about when he said:

Genesis 8:21 The intention of man’s heart is evil FROM HIS YOUTH.

We see it with our children. We don’t have to teach them to sin. We must teach them NOT to sin. We don’t have to teach our children not to lie, make excuses, get upset, or mistreat each other. They do this all on their own without any instruction.

Sin Nature Is Different than Sinning

Having a sin nature, or propensity toward sin, is different from sinning. We have sin natures, but it doesn’t mean we sin every second. Let’s consider the strongest verses about our sin natures:

Psalm 51:5 [David said,] “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

David was lamenting being conceived with a sin nature, versus confessing sin he committed in the womb. Another psalm David wrote substantiates this:

Psalm 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.

In two ways David says the same thing about wicked people:

  • They are estranged from (or after) the womb.
  • They go astray from (or after) birth.

The crucial point is that even wicked people are not estranged IN the womb. They do not go astray until AFTER they are born.

Sin Is Not Imputed to Babies

But it begs the question: What happens AFTER the womb? If babies go astray when they are born, could they go to hell? No, because sin is not imputed to them. This is part of why babies are innocent.

Let me briefly explain imputation because it’s not a word we commonly use. Impute means to credit or charge an action to someone else. We have already talked about one of the most common examples in Scripture. Adam’s sin was imputed, or credited, to all his descendants. His sin is reckoned to us as though we did it. Adam’s sin became our sin. This does not mean that we committed Adam’s sin ourselves, but it does mean we are as guilty as Adam. Because Adam’s sin is imputed to us, we receive the same penalty Adam received: death.

One example of imputation occurs with Paul when he wants Philemon to receive Onesimus. Onesimus wronged Philemon, and listen to the way Paul wrote to Philemon:

Philemon 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, CHARGE THAT TO MY ACCOUNT…19b will repay it.

This is imputation! Paul says, “Charge me whatever he owes. Put that to my account. I will repay whatever he owes. You can put that to his account”

This resembles the double imputation that occurs with Christ:

  • Our sin is imputed, or put, to his account.
  • His righteousness is imputed, or put, to our account.

This is the heart of the gospel:

2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God.

Sin Is Imputed When People Have Knowledge of Sin

Romans 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The law Paul is referring to is the Old Covenant Law that was given to Moses on Sinai. The law reveals sin and tells us what we are doing is wrong.

Sin is NOT Imputed When People Lack Knowledge of Sin

The other side of this is that without the law there is no sin:

Romans 4:15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

The law brings wrath in that the law reveals sin, and when there is sin, God’s wrath is against it. But where there is no law, there is no transgression, or no sin.

Sin Is Not Imputed Where There Is No Law

This is the first of two times Paul said something that can’t be as literal as it sounds. We know there was sin when there was no law, or there was sin before the law was given. It was sinful when Cain murdered Abel, Noah got drunk, and Sodom and Gomorrah engaged in homosexuality.

So, what exactly does it mean when it says where there is no law there is no transgression? It means sin is not imputed where there is no law; sin is not counted without the law:

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned

This refers to Adam’s sin that brought death to all men.

Romans 5:13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but SIN IS NOT COUNTED WHERE THERE IS NO LAW.

This is what it means in Romans 4:15 when it says “where there is no law there is no transgression.” It means sin is not counted where there is no law. There was sin in the world before God gave the law. But sin is not imputed when there is no law, or as the verse says, “sin is not counted [against people] where there is no law.”

Sin Is Not Imputed Where There Is No Law

Babies are the picture of selfishness. They think only about themselves. They never pity their parents whom they keep up all night. They don’t feel bad about the messes they make. They throw fits, yell, and scream when they don’t get what they want.

There’s no denying that this behavior is wrong. We would not look at what babies do and say that it is acceptable. Why aren’t babies held accountable for their behavior? For lack of a better way to say it: How do we explain babies acting so terribly, but it not being held against them?

The law allows sin to be imputed, but babies don’t have the law. This is why their sin is not imputed to them.

Did God Really Not Impute People’s Sin Where There Is no Law?

Romans 5:13 this is the second thing Paul said that can’t be as literal as it sounds, because God DID count people’s sin against them prior to the law. He judged Cain for murdering Abel, and he judged Sodom and Gomorrah for engaging in homosexuality. God could judge people who didn’t have the law, because they still had their consciences, which served as a law to them:

Romans 2:14 Gentiles, who do not have the law…ARE A LAW TO THEMSELVES, even though they do not have the law. 15…THEIR CONSCIENCE also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

Their consciences serve as a law, telling them right from wrong, but they still choose wrong. Romans 4:15 says the law brings wrath and their conscience serves as a law bringing wrath against them just as much as the Mosaic law brings wrath against its violators.

There Should Have Been No Death

Now, John MacArthur said, “Romans 5:12-14 is often overlooked because of its complexity.” Much of the complexity comes from Paul saying things that aren’t literal:

  • We know in Romans 5:12 that it’s not literal that there is no sin without the law, because there was sin before the law was given to Moses.
  • We know in Romans 5:13 that it’s not literal that sin is not imputed where there is no law, because God did impute sin before the law was given to Moses.

Paul wrote two things that don’t mean what they sound like they mean, because he has a point he wants to make. He must make the non-literal statements to set up that point. Follow this logic:

  1. Romans 3:20 teaches the law brings sin (or at least reveals it).
  2. Romans 6:23 and James 1:15 teach sin brings death.
  3. If there is no law, there is no sin, and if there is no sin, there should be no death.

There should have been no death from Adam (around 4,000BC) until the law was given to Moses at Sinai (1,500 BC). Why was there still death during these 2,500 years from Adam to Moses? That is exactly the question Paul answers:

Romans 5:14a Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam (which simply means those who didn’t sin like Adam sinned)

Death existed (“death reigned”) from Adam to Moses, until the law was given even though all these people did not sin like Adam sinned. When Adam sinned, he disobeyed a direct command (law of God), and the people who sinned after the law was given sinned by disobeying the law. All the people from Adam to Moses didn’t disobey any law because there wasn’t one yet. They still died because of original sin. They died, not only because of their own personal sin, but because they were Adam’s descendants.

Hypothetically, even if people didn’t sin, they would still die because of original sin. This also explains why Jesus, born of a woman, but not of a man, did NOT have to die. If Jesus had been born of a woman AND A MAN, he would have had to die because of original sin. But because of the virgin birth he was able to avoid original sin. And because he then lived a sinless life, he did not deserve to die.

Babies Die Because of Original Sin

You could have been wondering, “What in the world does this have to do with babies going to heaven?” This has much to do with babies going to heaven! I have said that babies haven’t sinned. You know your Bible, so you ask, ““Sin brings death. If babies haven’t sinned, then why do they die?”

Babies die, even in the womb, not because of their own personal sin, but because of original sin. Babies die because they are Adam’s descendants. They die for the same reason people died from Adam to Moses.

Three Ways Adam Is a Type of Jesus

Romans 5:14b [Adam] who was a type of the one who was to come (referring to Jesus).

  1. Adam and Jesus were the only two people created without a sin nature, making them completely unique to the rest of mankind.
  2. Through one act Adam and Jesus both introduced unimaginable consequences for all mankind…in fact, nobody has affected all of humanity more than these two men:
    • Adam, by one act brought death to everyone.
    • Jesus, by one act brought life to all who believe in him.
  3. Third, Adam and Jesus both freely “gave something” to all of us:
    • Adam’s sin nature is freely given or imputed to us.
    • Jesus’ righteousness CAN be freely given or imputed to us by faith.

Even though Adam and Jesus both give us something, what they give us is completely different:

Romans 5:15 But the free gift (what Jesus gave us) is not like the trespass (the sin Adam committed). For if many died through one man’s trespass (Adam’s sin), much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

The gift of eternal life Jesus gives is the opposite of the sin producing death that Adam gave us.

  • To receive the sin nature Adam gave you, you didn’t have to do anything except be born.
  • But to receive the gift Jesus of eternal life Jesus offers, you must repent and believe. Then you can be born again.

Footnotes

  1. See also:

    Ephesians 5:5 Everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

    Galatians 5:19 sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do[b] such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

4 Responses

  1. So, to summarize, you are saying that babies die because of original sin, but go to heaven because they haven’t actually sinned yet?

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