Does infant inability equal innocence? (Romans 3:10)

BORN SINNERS WHO SIN. According to the Bible, every person descended from Adam is a sinner from birth (Psalm 51:5) and has inherited Adam’s (original) sin (Romans 5:12-14). Thus the Bible can declare, “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). All the seed of Adam are born unrighteous without any ability to obtain righteousness by anything they can do or by any work they can work. All the descendants of Adam (that includes you and me) are born stained by sin and their only ability is to increase their sin. Sin can only increase, never decrease.

THE ABILITY FACTOR. Despite being born as sinners, however, our actual ability to commit sin takes time to develop. Consider the infant. The infant has no ability to sin simply because they have a little ability to do anything. The infant is unable to conceive of sins and thus to execute sins, not because the infant is not a sinner or because the infant does not have the potential to commit sins, but because the infant is physically and mentally undeveloped, because the infant’s “flesh” has not been trained, and because their knowledge and experience of life in general and of opportunities to sin in particular are extremely small. For example, an infant could not violate any of the Ten Commandments, even if they knew them and desired to violate them, because they have no ability to violate them. This inability does not render the infant innocent but is simply part of what it means to be an infant. Obedience is meaningful only when disobedience is an option. You are not obedient just because you are unable to sin. A person alone on a desert island who does not commit adultery is not a model of obedience. Rather, obedience is demonstrated when a person has both the ability to sin and an awareness of the opportunity to sin, and who nevertheless chooses not to sin. But, just as the infant possesses everything physically necessary for them to live to old age, so the infant possesses the potential to sin every sin. The only constraints are time and experience. As the infant ages and their ability to sin develops, their potential to sin is manifested in acts of sin. What existed in the root is borne in the fruit. The inherent evil that was veiled by inability is exposed with age and the “innocent” infant’s ugly ancestry is revealed.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and all means all.

SDG                 rmb                 8/19/2022                   #561

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