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Thursday, April 29, 2010

How will my son be saved?

“For by grace you are saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The more I try to comprehend the sovereignty of God in salvation, the more I am astounded by His grace. That even the faith to believe is a gift given to those who deserve only His just wrath.

So the sovereign Lord gives us faith in His Son and we believe that Jesus came, lived a perfect life and died a sacrificial death for the payment of our sins. All the wrath of the Father justly reserved for us was cast upon His Son. All the righteousness of Jesus is transferred to us by grace through the work of the cross.

As one preacher so simply stated, “On the cross, God treated Jesus as if He had lived your life, so He could treat you as if you had lived His.” A profound paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 5:21

All of this is obtained by grace through faith. I understand that.

What I don’t understand is how this is applied, or better yet, how this works itself out in the life of an individual who cannot respond in faith, who cannot even speak, or who does not have the ability to comprehend the truth of the gospel.

I’m not thinking of the native in a far unreached part of the world that at least has a general revelation to point him towards more specific revelation.

I am thinking about my 17 year old son who has the mental capacity of a 2 year old.

I know Jake is a sinner—boy do I know. And I know that he is in desperate need of a Savior. I also know that salvation comes through repentance and faith, neither of which have I ever seen or could imagine seeing in my son’s life.

He does not understand the cross, or the sacrifice that was made. He knows nothing of his Adamic nature or fallen state. I’m not even sure that he treasures Christ above Jelly Belly’s or Santa Clause. So how can he be saved? How is the gift of faith applied to his lack of comprehension of the gospel?

I believe it all comes back to the main application of salvation for each of us—God’s undeserving grace. Yes, Jake is sinful. And yes, he is in desperate need of a savior. If he is saved from the just wrath of God, he will be saved by faith, but how that faith is gifted to him and in what capacity it is made manifest is still only through the mystery of God’s amazing grace.

I rest in that grace, not only for my own salvation, but for the salvation of my son.

I’m sure there is a lot of systematic theology that could be applied at this point, but I am not a theologian, I am a father. However, I do hope that no one mistakes my emotional parental response for a lack of searching the scriptures diligently for a solid answer to this important question.

I have poured over God’s promises like a doctor searching for a cure of the deadly disease in his own child, looking for hope and confidence in this grey area of my son’s life. There are many passages that give hints to the question I pose, but in the end I believe the passage in Ephesians 2 brings the most peace to my own soul—that Jake’s state is really no different from my own.

We are both separated from God by sin, in desperate need of a savior, and even if it is faith that appropriates our salvation, this faith is not our own doing—it is the gift of God. So that in the end our boast and our only hope is in the mysterious, amazing grace of God.

How will my son be saved?

“For by grace you are saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

I rest hopeful in God’s promises.


  1. Sounds like the perfect conclusion to me! His position before God is the same as ours.

    Beautiful words, you speak here. Thank you.

  2. I heard the quote you referenced in a sermon MacArthur preached on election. Profoundly thought-provoking. And well applied here. We have the same hope for a child who died preborn.

  3. I beleive God gives us the privelage of giving grace to the helpless. Thats the beauty of it.

  4. i never thought of it that way before - that his state is really no different from my own. i am blown away right now at this reminder that i could not have chosen God - at all. that what saved me was his amazing grace. thank you so much for that reminder.

  5. I think all believing parents, in regards to their children of whatever age or temperament, rest hopeful in God's promises. And in His mercy.

  6. This is very profound. I have been blessed by reading your posts. Thanks.

  7. Wow. What a special reminder this morning. I do not have a special needs child like you have.. but this has reminded me again that if any one is saved it is completely of grace. It gives me great hope in the salvation of my children, my neighbor, and the person I don't know who hears the gospel through a missionary or a tract or a bible in his own language. Thanks so much for glorifying God and edifying us by sharing your life.

  8. As a parent of an autistic son and a believer of Jesus who loves the Scriptures, I share you sentiment and this post is encouraging. Thanks.

  9. Amen and amen! Just as Jake may, of his own abilities, lack the capacity to have faith, so too do we all. Thanks so much for this wonderful reminder of the beauty of God's grace!

  10. Beautiful post. What an encouragement to know that God's grace in Jesus Christ is abounding.

  11. My heart aches for you and your wife. Never have I seen a greater refutation of Calvinism than this post. Your son is simply not accountable to God. He is, in short, not a sinner because he cannot know the law of God and thus cannot break it (1 John 3:4). He is not accountable for his actions because he cannot know the law or control himself to do God’s law. Of course, Calvin would say he is a sinner because he inherited Adam’s sin but this is simply not true. No one may inherit the sins of another - Rom 2:6; Ezek 18:1-4. Isaiah 59:2 says “Your sins have separated you from God” - what sin has your son ever committed?

    So Calvinism teaches that your son is lost - as you acknowledge - but he lacks the mentally capacity to exercise saving faith and so he cannot ever be saved! How can anyone ever believe in such a twisted and cruel theology? Friends, when the consequences of a doctrine violate plain scripture and impugn the very character of God then it is time to find a new doctrine!

    God wants (despite what Calvin said) all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4). Your son is safe in the arms of Jesus and will always be so because he is innocent and pure! How wonderful God is ... when He is seen without the warped glass of John Calvin’s unbiblical theology!

  12. Mark,

    You missed the point to the extent that all historic Christianity, whatever creeds, Calvinists or Arminians and so on, will disagree with you.

    On the contrary, the post is a beautiful praise of God's amazing love, grace and mercy. Everything that a Calvinist can lay claim to, both theologically and practically. It is everything that born-again Arminians do lay claim to practically, although denying them theologically. :P

    As Piper puts it, the means of grace are in themselves gifts of God's grace to us.

  13. Mark. Just stop. Not the time, nor the place. I'm a calvinist and my son died. John Piper's grand-daughter died and here is my response to some of his thoughts.

    Greg - My prayers go out to you. I was sitting in a hospital cafeteria just a few months ago after holding my son for the first and last time. All of a sudden a buddy of mine called and said that if the holy spirit entered John the Baptist while he was still in the womb then who knows how God could have revealed himself to my little boy. Do I cling to that passage? No. Do I cling to the passage where David says he will "go to" his son? No. I've got plenty of Bible education and I know that neither of those verses seal the issue.

    I cling to a loving God who not only saves through faith, but also saves by grace. That is something none of us deserves.

    Thanks for writing this piece. It brings back the sting, but it also reminds me of who my faith is in (by his gift alone).

  14. Like Kim K., I have been blessed by reading your posts. I know you say that you are “not a theologian”. Yet I have probably learned more about God’s grace and his love for us through your blog and your son than I have ever learned from any of the “intellectual” books I have read or “Theological” blogs I follow. Thank you!!

  15. My heart aches for your internal struggle, and I agree that this isn't about theology...it's about grace....but truly, I think God may be shaking His head in misery that you are worrying about your son's soul. A 2 year old, or a 17 year old disabled boy who is LIKE a 2 year old, cannot commit sin. 2 year olds do not sin--Jesus told us to be like little children, didn't He? Yes, they do "bad" things, but since they don't understand that it is bad, it isn't sin. Sin is knowingly and willfully turning away from God or natural law, if one hasn't been evangelized. I cannot imagine God would look at my 2 year old daughter, if she were to die today, and conclude that she is a sinner without saving faith that can redeem her. The idea is ridiculous...how can she knowingly do anything, really?

  16. Sorry for those who did not find comfort in this post. But you may have missed the point of the post, which is the point of my blog--that my son has taught me much about the grace of God.

    I know very little about John Calvin and his theology, remember Im not a theologian--just a cop fleshing out my emotions for the world to see. My understanding of original sin doesnt come from Calvin but from scripture (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:22; Psalm 51:5; 58:3).

    My comfort is not found in endless theological debates, it is found in the promises of God which point to the grace of God. If you have more promises from scripture I hope you will share them with me with a true encouraging spirit.

    The point I was trying to make here was, like Jake, we are all helpless to respond--unless God awakens our soul and gives life to our spiritually dead state (Ephesians 2:1-10)

    While I welcome all comments and views, please dont turn this site into a forum for theological arguements. It is not helpful to my son or my family. There are plenty of other places for that on the web.

    Instead I would ask that you withold any temptation to prove your view to be "right" and simply pray for my family that God would continue to lavish us with His amazing grace.

  17. You are on the right track. We took comfort in God's grace when our 2 year old died. We trust that God works through what He's given us, His word, to reach into our lives. It is His word that brings grace to us. We would read His word to her, and she did not understand it obviously, but we know that God is at work through His word. Faith is a gift, and grace is lavished upon us as undeserving and so we trusted our daughter into His hands when she died and have great peace in doing so.

    May God grant you His peace in trusting in His word and the grace that comes from trusting in Him.

  18. What a touching post, Greg. And I have to draw the same conclusions that you do - your son was born a sinner, just like everybody else. His lack of ability really is no greater than any of us. Ephesians 2 fits beautifully in this situation.

    My wife and I have also lost two precious babies before they were born. I trust that they are safe with Jesus. Not because they were innocent. Not because they hadn't manifested their sin nature in actual disobedience, not because my wife and I are believers, but because of the grace of Jesus.

    I'm like you in that I can't understand exactly how that grace is conveyed to babies or handicapped people, but consider one implication of Romans 1:18-20. Paul seems to suggest that guilt is universal (even among those who have never heard the gospel), and that the reason guilt is universal and that all are without excuse is because they can "clearly perceive" the attributes of God from general revelation. So Paul connects guilt with an ability to comprehend.

    Very young children and mentally handicapped people are not able to "clearly perceive", so I think one thing we can draw from this is that while all (even babies and the disabled) are born sinful and deserve God's wrath, they are saved by Jesus in a way that we maybe can't fully grasp by virtue of the fact that they are unable to perceive even general revelation. How that works itself out, I don't know.

    I do, however, think that we can trust your son is under the redemptive love and grace of Jesus Christ.

    Blessings, brother.

  19. Well said Matt. Very encouraging and helpful. Thank you.

  20. You never love anyone like you love your own child. I learned this when my 2 year old was in the emergency room with a high fever. In hind sight, it was a "momentary and light" affliction, but at the time, it consumed my soul. When as a parent you can not protect or comfort your child, you feel helpless if not derelict. In the final analysis, only God can help my child. Only God can help me. Abraham asks the question, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" The answer -- a simple "yes". He will do right. He will show mercy and grant grace and faith, even when we do not know how.

    Salvation is impossible, for every person, but for God's kind intervention.

  21. Wonderful post. When I look at Jake, I think of how wonderful Jesus is, and how much He loves Jake, and all of us. Thank you.

  22. Flinging ourselves on God's grace - that's the idea. As a Lutheran I'd look to the certain hope in two areas. First, God's Word does not return to him void. People of all ages and developmental levels are sinners, and the proclamation of the Gospel does bear fruit in them. It's fruit that is appropriate to the sinner's age and developmental level. The Gospel is actually the power of God to salvation. I'd also look to the efficacy of baptism. If in fact God does accomplish something through His word of promise associated with His claiming a person who is baptized into His Name, we would expect His baptized children to be just that, children of God. Again, we may not understand it. The developmental fruit will differ. But again it will be appropriate to the developmental level of the child.

    Jesus loves your son far more than you ever can. Be bold. Delight in that. Your son is absolutely not unknown to our Lord and Savior.

  23. Amen! and this includes our children who have other kinds of mental illness/damage.
    Praising God that He is merciful and a Covenant keeping God!

  24. Came here through Amy's Humble Musings.

    I was speaking with one of our pastors last Sunday about a related topic. We had just attended a confirmation service for the son of some friends. We have a 7 year old daughter with Down syndrome, and I've been wrestling with the idea of how she will study the scriptures and make her own confession of faith as a young adult.

    As her parents, my husband and I will diligently lead her to Christ and the scriptures, we will live out our sanctification to the best of our abilities and we will pray, pray, pray for our daughter of Eve, but ultimately it will be by God's grace that she will saved.

    That said, sometimes as I'm kneeling next to her, helping her learn the Lord's prayer, I wonder when it will make sense to her, when will she realize what those words mean? Will she ever know? My heart squeezes tight and I just have to hand over the pain to God. Trust and obey, right?

    Thank you for 'talking this out' in this post.


  25. Sarah,

    Good words. I teach all four of my children on different levels depending on their understanding (or lack of it). But like you I pray the same prayer of grace for them all--that God would do a work in their hearts and grant them saving faith.

    "Trust and obey" is a good combination. We obey by teaching, praying, modeling, and leading our kids to God's word, but in the end we trust in the Father and the saving work of His Son as we cast our pain on the cross and fall on the mercy of His grace.

    Like you said, "ultimately, it will be by grace that she will be saved." That is truth for each of us. If you think about it, we are all mentally handicapped before God.

  26. Greg, please, please, please do not be put off writing by some of the responses. God has given you a wonderful gift of insight and expression which is edifying and nourishing the faith of most of your readers. I would miss your blog so much if you were discouraged into silence.

  27. I agree with so many of these comments: this is the perfect conclusion, reached with grace and truth. It's what we can truly know from God's Word--maybe all we can truly know concerning this--and it gives me hope centered on the only thing that can give us hope: God's grace. It's the same for you, me, or Jake.

  28. Greg, I believe John Pipers commentary on the salvation of infants (and, we presume, those with infant-like intellect, or close) would be of help. It can be found here:


    Spurgeon was so sure of infant salvation that he was known to encourage the unsaved that if they had decease infants or young children that they'd be in Heaven likewise encouraging their unsaved parents to choose Christ. A Spurgeon sermon dedicated to infant salvation can be found here:


  29. David Murray,

    Thank you much for the encouragement.

    The controversy (maybe not the best word) of this post actually moves me to communicate more clearly the greatness of God's mercy in our helpless state of sin as it reveals so many still in bondage to the deception of their own strength and will.

    Perhaps that is one of the greatest lessons my son has taught me on this journey. That every breath, every step, every blink and every second of existence is a gift of complete undeserved grace.

    Because my Father has lavished me (and my son) with this gift of grace and life, when I deserved nothing but judgment and death, I will preach it till I die.

  30. Just arrived via Tim Challies site.

    Wonderful, wonderful post Greg.

    I appreciate your honesty, humility and openness to discuss such a tender-hearted subject, your son.

    The peace of the Lord to you Greg.

  31. Greg - thank you for your blog. May I recommend a short, yet profound book by John MacArthur, "Safe in the Arms of God." It addresses these very issues and provides strong, Biblical support for salvation extended to children such as Jake. You or I may not be theologians, but Dr. MacArthur is, and he has searched the Scriptures deeply to support his position.

  32. Thank you! I've been working with young people with special needs for a few years now. Only a few months after I became a Christian I had to stop working with this boy, Mark, who has a very young mental age, but is (like all of us) very definitely a sinner. I was distraught that I had to leave him, and that there would now be nobody to talk to him about God. But I have this huge hope that I will see him again in the new creation! I'm so grateful that people are talking about this! Thank you for sharing parts of your life with the world.

  33. All I can do is echo the sentiments of those who have already commented with encouragement and thanks for your writing. To engage the realities of life with gospel-saturated motives and a desire to truly know God through what He has given you and your family is proving to bless so many people beyond what you will ever be aware of. I came acorss your blog a few weeks ago and have truly benefitted from it. Be encouraged as you continue to seek what God has for you each day and be encouraged to keep sharing it. The realities of the gospel truly hit home for all of us when life truly hits us. That's a blessing.

  34. Thanks, Greg. My daughter has special needs, Battens disease, where she reached a four-year-old level and now has regressed to an infant. Thanks for expressing the amazing grace that we and our children experience. At what age can someone have faith? John the Baptist leapt in the womb! You're right that God's grace is such a mystery, but Jesus did not hinder the little ones and I think that includes our kids. Feel free to meet Macayla at our blog smoaksignal.blogspot.com

  35. Hey Brother,
    Thanks for your honesty in this struggle. I have a daughter who has Down Syndrome and a rare type of seizure disorder called infantile spasms. I wonder the same things. but I have to trust that God will not abandon us to our own devices in saving our kids. I have just spent some time studying the passage in 1 Cor. 7:14. That says, "for the unbvelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, BUT NOW THEY ARE HOLY." This says to me that somehow through our godly example we can be a sanctifying force to our Children. Brother I believe that you are godly man that will be a sanctifying force for your family. Hope this helps. Stay strong in the grace and power of the Lord Jesus!

  36. Something that always has amazed me is how people like your son allow us to take a step back. I have 2 cousins that are autistic, one more serious than the other, but both lack the ability to judge others, or to purposely hurt someone. It is inspiring to see this, because this is how I wish I could live. It's like they their disability is in some ways made whole in God's eyes, since they can live without some of the issues that a lot of people face. Surely God has made their weakness into His strength.

    Finally, isn't it interesting how we can see a bit of ourselves in your son? We are all entirely dependent on God as he is dependent on those around him. And it is only due to His power, His love, and His unmerited favor (grace), that we are made whole.

    Your blog has been truly inspiring, and as a college student at a secular school, there are times that I feel that I can't take it anymore. But your story allows me to see how not only is my situation not as bad as it seems, but that by dealing with the difficulties in a Godly manner, others can be changed as well. So my goal each day is to live in a way that changes other people, whether for a moment that makes them smile, or calling them to Christ, just as your daily life does the same to so many of us.

    Your son and your family will be in my prayers as you transition into something very new, and that both your family's life and your son's will continue to be a ray of hope as it silently shares the Gospel.

  37. I am very careful how and where I share this; because I've never found anyone else who thinks what I think about this passage..I am reformed (with a lower case "r")...and there are many mountains upon which I won't die...and yet this speaks volumes to me...I won't editorilize, but simply ask you and others to read John 9.35-41, and thus to read verse 41 in context. Blessings on you and your family...you are teaching me much

  38. Hi Greg, If you can get hold of a copy of an out of print book by the respected Teacher and Preacher Sidlow Baxter called 'Awake my heart' you will find on page 255 under the heading 'Death between Adam and Moses' a presentation from Scripture as to how the atonement of Christ covers all infants and others who are un-responsible.
    He say's in part " no man will ever perish for Adam's sin alone. What we are by heredity is not our fault; and no man will be finally condemned on that ground, but on the basis of his own wrong-doing. Twice we are told in John's solemn forepicture of the final judgment, that it is "according to their work's" (Rev 20). The atonement of Christ covers infants and others who are un-responsible. Pat Sullivan

  39. I've had questions on this subject for years about my now 27 yr old son with Down Syndrome. Not "worry", because I know my Father is just and gracious and has a bigger plan than I can see, and He teaches that I can only have peace through trust.
    I did read the MacArther and Piper books and found comfort. Even though I think I will always wonder if my son comes under those descriptions of innocence, I will never wonder if God knows what He doing in the life of my son.
    I haven't realized the verse that Jack Hager brought to your attention, and it likewise brought me some comfort.
    Thank you for your insight on this tender subject.

  40. Thanks for writing, Greg. It really hit home for me. Resting with you in the magnificent promises of God...

  41. Writings From
    The Book of Concord
    The Large Catechism
    Dr. Martin Luther

    Holy Baptism
    Further, we say that we are not so much concerned to know whether the person baptized believes or not; for on that account Baptism does not become invalid; but everything depends upon the Word and command of God. 53] This now is perhaps somewhat acute, but it rests entirely upon what I have said, that Baptism is nothing else than water and the Word of God in and with each other, that is, when the Word is added to the water, Baptism is valid, even though faith be wanting. For my faith does not make Baptism, but receives it. Now, Baptism does not become invalid even though it be wrongly received or employed; since it is not bound (as stated) to our faith, but to the Word.

    Matthew 18
    1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
    2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3 and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.
    Jesus Warns of Offenses

    6 “Whoever causes one of these little ones WHO BELIEVE IN ME to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!

  42. Thank you for you insightful post. I was discussing this with a family on Sunday at church. We have 4 special needs kids and about to adopt another. This family has an 11 year old severely autistic. Of course, we have several friends with special needs kids and this would be a valuable post for them. May I repost this on our our family blog citing you as the author and link to your blog?
    Chris Malone

  43. Chris,
    Absolutely. Use anything you can find to give more grace to those who need it. Thank you!

  44. Here's the repost...

  45. Thank you for this, Greg. I know you gave permission to Chris & Mary above to repost this with attribution to you, but I didn't want to presume that meant it would be okay for me too. So would you mind if I re-post it on my special needs ministry blog (of course, with credit given to you and link back here)?

    Also, I wanted to let you know that I recommended your book on the blog last week. Here's the link: http://www.theworksofgoddisplayed.com/2011/06/must-must-must-read-wrestling-with.html

    Thank you for sharing what God has been teaching you and your family.

  46. Shannon, thank you for recommending my book. Feel free to share anything on this site with anyone. Thank you again!


  47. I am a couple of years behind on commenting.. I have just discovered your blog this evening and three posts in, I have already ordered your book. I am incredibly blessed and privileged to be Mom to a beautiful little boy (almost 5) who fights autism every day. He has a lion-heart and more courage than most adults I know. I have sat beside my sleeping boy and wept for God's Grace for him. Like you, I am NO theologian. I am simply a sinner who needs Jesus more with each passing moment. I am also a nurse who has had the profound privilege of holding the hands of many people as they pass from this life into the next... and I KNOW one thing: His Grace is given freely. If He loved ME enough to give His life for me...? I am going to leave my son in His arms and (try) and rest secure. I hear your heart so incredibly loud and clear... your words and your questions are my own... I have taken great comfort from your words. At the end of the day it's all about Love. Bottom line. And if nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus...? I am so looking forward to delving into the rest of your blog and reading your book. Thank you for your transparency and brutal honesty.