Can Infants and Mentally Disabled Individuals Go to Heaven?

Can infants and mentally disabled individuals be saved and go to heaven? To answer that question, we must go back to Adam in the garden of Eden. The Bible affirms humanity's physical and spiritual connection to Adam; he sinned, therefore, "all sinned" (Romans 5:12). Without God's gracious inter­vention, all humanity-including infants, born and unborn-would be condemned forever.

The Bible upholds this view with the words of King David, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5 NIV). After his newborn son died, David also said, "Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me" (2 Samuel 12:23 NIV). David's words go beyond affirming the permanence of death to show his expectation of future fellowship with his son. David revealed that although babies are sinful from the womb, God has a place for them in heaven. But how?

Scripture doesn't explicitly teach an "age of accountability," a time when children become responsible to actively repent and receive the gift of salva­tion. Rather, Scripture indicates that only those who have a knowledge of good and evil—regardless of age—have the responsibility to repent (Genesis 2:17; Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 7:15).

As Christians, we know that Christ's death paid for all sins and that God extends forgiveness to all who believe in His Son. But what about infants and mentally disabled individuals who cannot believe in Jesus? God's merciful and compassionate character suggests that grace is applied to them as well (Matthew 18:14; Romans 5:18–19). In fact, Jesus called the children to Himself, actively taking a role in their well-being (Matthew 19:14).

With these factors in mind, we can affirm that an infant's or mentally disabled person's inability to articulate faith in Jesus does not prevent God from saving him or her. And God, in His compassion and mercy, would draw these individuals to Himself in heaven based on the sacrifice of Christ for all sins.

The issue of God saving infants and mentally disabled individuals takes us to the heart of God's char­acter and to the meaning of salvation. The apostle Paul taught that salva­tion comes by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Salvation is not a gift we give ourselves but a gift we receive from God. Prior to conversion to Christ, most people go through a process of illumination regarding the ugliness of sin and the contrasting beauty of God's redemptive work in Jesus.

However, for those who cannot go through such a process because of their limited mental faculties, the character of God suggests that He would make provision for them. As a result, while we recognize that most saved people have at least some understanding of sin, repentance, redemption through Christ, and eternal life, we also recognize that those of limited mental capacity—such as infants and individuals who are mentally disabled—may be saved by grace without such understanding.

Excerpted from Insight for Living Ministries, Understanding Heaven Passport (Plano, TX: IFL Publishing House, 2013). All rights are reserved worldwide.

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Insight for Living Ministries

Written by Insight for Living Ministries staff members.

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