The underlying issue/debate that I am having is the reconciliation of God's omniscience (the foreknowledge part in particular) with free will (or lack of it, resulting in Fatalism).

In short: If God knows everything, including every future action I take before I was even born, how can I take responsibility for sin if I can't prove God wrong?

For example: @telion's unborn daughter will lie on 12.12.2050 (I ask this on 02.06.2024 without even having a girlfriend).

=> If that future sin is known then it follows (at least for me) that this sin is predetermined.

=> This contradicts the idea of human responsibility for their sins and the free will God provides. It also means that God is responsible for all human sin, which is probably the wrong conclusion.

One way to resolve this is to "redefine" the definition of God's omniscience or free will.

This is why this question is a follow-up of this one: What is the biblical concept/idea/meaning of Gods omniscience?

My personal solution would be to say that God has knowledge of the future but this knowledge is limited in such a way, that human free will is possible. I recently came to know that this position actually has a name which is Open Theism.

In the question Which verses in the Bible say that God is omniscient? the accepted answer features a defense against Open Theism that includes a lot of scripture, which comes to the conclusion that God has "exhaustive knowledge of the future".

However, I either don't understand the actual solution that is provided to the problem of predetermination provided by this defense, or I am simply unconvinced. I think the reason for that is the definition of "free will" or as John Frame puts it: "uncaused actions".

I don't think actions are uncaused but there is still a freedom of decision. Meaning if I have 2 options to choose from, then the "probability" of which one I will pick doesn't have to be 50/50. Let's say I have to decide which subject I should get a college degree in: Based on my interests, upbringing, and life goals, specific options are more likely than others so regardless of what I choose, the decision is not free of influence. Influence is not the same thing as predetermination, as I can choose to disregard a specific influence.

So how do I imagine the perspective of God on the future and free will?

I think it is similar to the perspective of the developer of the Game Detroit: Become Human. (To get a better feel for the concept behind the game, see this video; at 16.48 the player has to decide between lying or telling the truth.) In this game, the player plays through a story and is provided with various decisions that can greatly impact the overall storyline of the game. In this case, the developer knows and provides all possible options. So he is not particularly surprised by a specific event. The player in this case has limited free will, meaning he cannot decide to simply become a shopkeeper e.g., as that is not an option in the game. But the decisions provided to the player are free. I also think that based on God's almightiness, "forgetting" or "choosing to not know" which options people finally decide, should be in the realm of possibility.

The competing view/analogy is that of a movie, where the viewer is "beyond time" from the perspectives of the characters in the movie (as I can fast forward, go back, or replay the movie). In this case, though, I argue that the characters in the movie, don't have actual free will, or at least the "free will" in that case is illusionary. So if I as a movie creator make a story where a person commits a sin, then I can hardly blame the character for it.

So to summarize the question(s):

  • How do non-Open Theists argue for human free will?
  • How do non-Open Theists argue against predeterminism?
  • How do non-Open Theists finally conclude that humans are responsible for their sins?
  • 1
    "I argue that the characters in the movie, don't have actual free will, or at least the "free will" in that case is illusionary" — What if the movie is a home video? You watch your toddler run across the room and halfway there he does a face plant — did your watching the movie cause him to trip? did he have no "free will" in the matter? Commented Jun 3 at 2:57
  • @RayButterworth Obviously, every analogy has limits. The point of the movie analogy was the relationship between viewers of the movie who have complete control over the time of the movie and the characters in the movie, whose actions have been "frozen" so to speak. When recording the movie, it is a relationship between equally free humans in the same time dimension. In other words, you as recorder are not beyond time anymore.
    – telion
    Commented Jun 3 at 7:13

2 Answers 2


Excellent question. In order to answer thoroughly, first we ought to establish a couple of baseline facts:

  1. We have a limited capacity to understand everything. Christian doctrines regularly go well beyond the ability of human reason to conceive, most famously with the doctrines of the Trinity and of the Incarnation. So, whenever we ask a question about God or our faith, we must recognize that some truths are simply beyond comprehension.

  2. "Free will" is not a Biblical idea. (This doesn't mean that free will is false.) The Bible never uses the phrase "free will", so however we choose to define free will, we are necessarily bringing an extrabiblical concept to the Bible, and we shouldn't be surprised if it doesn't fit perfectly.

How the Bible talks about responsibility and freedom

The Bible does make it clear that human beings have the ability to choose between good and evil, most clearly in Deuteronomy 30:11-15. And it is equally clear the God holds humans accountable for the choices we make (Deut. 30:16-20 and too many other passages to enumerate them all). Therefore we must believe that we are responsible for the choices we make.

However, the Bible never uses words "freedom" or "free" to describe the human capacity to do good or evil. Instead, the Christ saw doing evil as the antithesis of real freedom:

Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:34-36, ESV)

The apostles spoke similarly, contrasting slavery to sin with freedom in Romans 6-8, Galatians 5, or 1 Peter 2:16. They saw freedom from sin as equivalent to slavery to God. For this reason, I like to drop "free" from discussions of the human capacity to make choices, and simply speak of the will instead of free will. However, for the sake of the present discussion I shall use the phrase "free will", with the caveat that this usage of the word "free" is a different concept from the Biblical concept of freedom.

Defining Free Will

In order to ask whether free will exists, we must first define what we mean by it. This is a harder question than it appears at first. Let's crystalize the question to a single choice: You find yourself faced with a choice between A and B. Your selection between the two options is either:

  1. Determined by your existing beliefs, desires, habits, and perception of the situation, OR

  2. it is not determined by those things, but is made "on a whim" without reference to your already existing state of mind.

In case 1, the choice is predetermined. An observer who knows your state of mind and the situation can predict accurately what you will do in advance (and note that God does know your state of mind, Matt. 9:4 Matt. 12:25, Psalm 94:11, Psalm 139:2,23, etc.). In case 2, your choice is indistinguishable from purely random coin toss. In either a random event or in your choice between A and B, no-one can know the outcome in advance, nor can anyone tell what the reason for the choice was after the fact. Neither an automaton nor a flipping coin seem like they can properly be said to have free will.

I define free will like this: The ability to consciously make decisions that have a real effect on yourself and the world around you. Note that this definition is compatible with either choice-making scenario above. The difference between you and a robot or a flipping coin is that you have the conscious experience of making a choice, while neither a robot nor a coin does.

Under this definition, the Bible clearly teaches that human beings have free will. We make choices, and these choices have real consequences.

This definition is incompatible with fatalism, which is the idea that your decisions have no impact on your situation. The classic example of the fatalist paradox is this: If you are ill and fated to die of the illness, it will do you no good to call a doctor, since you will die either way. In the other hand, if you are fated to recover, it also doesn't matter whether you call a doctor, since you will get better either way. Therefore, the fatalist must say that your actions (calling a doctor or not) is irrelevant to your outcome. In fatalism, you do not have free will because your decisions do not have any effect on your situation.

Answering your particular questions

As I showed above, the Bible clearly teaches that human beings have free will (in some sense) and that we are responsible for our actions. It also clearly says that we cannot blame our sins on God in any way:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. (James 1:13-14)

I will leave the question of predeterminism for a little later down the line. But first, let me address the dilemma of your future daughter telling a lie in mid-December of 2050. If your two inferences are correct (i.e. that this means the sin is unavoidable and that your daughter is therefore not morally accountable for it), then it can never be the case that God knows about about a human sin in advance. However, the Bible gives many specific examples of God predicting specific people's sins. The two most famous examples are that God predicted Pharaoh would refuse to let the Hebrew slaves go (Exodus 3:19) and Jesus predicted exactly when and how many times Peter would deny him (Matt. 26:34). This means that it is not categorically unjust for God to hold people accountable for sins that he knew they would commit in advance. We can be sure of that even if we don't understand exactly how it works logically.

And God recognizes that this is very hard to understand. The book of Habakkuk is relevant to this question, and is well worth the read regardless. As a brief summary, the prophet Habakkuk complains to the Lord that the nation of Judah is perverting justice and neglecting righteousness with impunity (Hab. 1:1-4). God's response?

Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded.

For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.

(Hab. 1:5)

God goes on to describe how he is going to bring the Chaldeans, a nation far more wicked than Judah, to inflict punishment upon Judah. This is indeed something to wonder at, something astounding, and hard to believe! And God goes on to say that he will hold the Chaldeans accountable for their (future) cruelty to Judah in 2:6-20.

The fundamental paradox here is summed up in Genesis 50:20: "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good." God makes use of evil to accomplish good ends. Similarly, the Apostle Paul writes:

"We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

This does not mean that all things are good in themselves. There is undeniably a great deal of evil in this world. But they all work together for good, a fact which is accomplished by God. You might say that evil is so impotent that it cannot actually effectuate evil, at least not in the end. Consider for example the crucifixion of Christ: This was the greatest evil that any man has ever done. Judas and Pilate and Caiaphas conspired to kill Jesus, who was not only the man who uniquely did not deserve punishment of any kind, but also was and is God in the flesh. And yet, God used their evil deed to accomplish the greatest good in history: The redemption of mankind.

There is, of course, a paradox here: How can God hold human beings accountable for evil actions that God both knows about in advance and uses to accomplish good purposes? "Why not do evil that good may come?--as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just." (Romans 3:8) The apostle Paul addresses this question in Romans 3 not with a logical resolution, but rather with an appeal to God's righteousness (3:4,7). The first section of Romans, which wrestles with many questions similar to yours, concludes with these beautiful words:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?

Or who has given a gift to him, that he might be repaid?

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

~ Romans 11:33-36

In short, we do not conclude finally that humans are responsible for their sins. This is a premise, told to us expressly by God. We don't need to derive it logically. How is God's justice compatible with his foreknowledge? Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!


Within classical Christian thought, there are two basic streams of thought on this question: Calvinism and Arminianism. Neither view, in its usual form, is compatible with open theism. (Note: Properly speaking, these terms are only applicable to non-Lutheran Protestants. In answering the question of predeterminism, Lutherans are approximately Calvinist while Catholics and Orthodox are approximately Arminian.)

Calvinism essentially accepts predeterminism as a fact. It does not contradict the definition of free will I gave above, though, as your choices being predetermined does not undermine your conscious ability to make a choice, and the fact that that choice has a real effect on the world. The dilemma of how we can be held responsible for predetermined choices is a mystery (in the vein of the incarnation or the Trinity), but it may be partially explained in the framework of God's revealed will vs. his hidden will. His revealed will is his laws and instructions - the things he has told us to do and not to do. We are held accountable for whether we follow the revealed will of God. And this makes sense to do, because with our free will, when we choose evil, we did it because we wanted to. God's hidden will, on the other hand, is the predetermined sequence of events that God knows in advance.

The movie analogy that you bring up is a useful one here. (Though I might suggest perhaps it's better to imagine a novel, wherein the characters are not being played by actors.) The characters make real choices within the framework of the story, and they are held accountable for them within the framework of the story. I don't suppose, when reading a book, when the villain receives his comeuppance, you would think, "He didn't deserve that! After all, his actions were all cause by the author and not free." It would be far more absurd for the characters of the story to think that. If we are characters in God's story, then we exist on an ontologically lower "level", so to speak, than him. His choices and our choices don't collide because they happen at different levels of reality. Thus, within our experienced reality, we are totally responsible for our actions, even though from a God's eye view, those actions are not only predetermined but willed by Him. (This isn't a perfect analogy, obviously, but it's useful.)

Arminianism rejects predeterminism, and says that human beings make real choices that are not willed by God, so there is no mystery about why we are held accountable for them. The fact that he knows them in advance and uses them to accomplish his will without predetermining them is a mystery. It is helpful to recognize that God exists outside of time, so he can see the whole timeline of the world and of your life at once.

A useful analogy to understand Arminianism (which I owe to C.S. Lewis, see Miracles Appendix B):

"Suppose I find a piece of paper on which a black wavy line is already drawn, I can now sit down and draw other lines (say in red) so shaped as to combine with the black line into a pattern. Let us now suppose that the original black line is conscious. But it is not conscious along the whole length at once--only on each point on that length in turn."

In this analogy, the black line is the human will, and the red lines are God's creation, which have been built up in response to the human will in such a way that they align with it and accommodate it. Thus the human choices are all integrated into God's plan, and known "in advance", while still being totally free and not caused by God in any way. (This analogy, too, is flawed.)

Recommended Reading

Within the Bible: I highly recommend you read Romans again. Try to read it in one sitting, to get the full sense of what Paul is saying. Then go back through more slowly and pay attention to the details of how he deals with this topic. Read Habakkuk as well, and Isaiah 45. Ephesians is also good for this topic.

Other books:

  • The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. I can recommend the translation by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnson, their introduction is also quite insightful. This book is pretty dense, but it is well worth the effort of reading. One of my all-time favorites.

  • "Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom" in Exhalation by Ted Chiang. Not a Christian author, but I think he has some good insight into the problem of free will. His "story notes" in the back of the book are also worth the read. Let me quote: "In discussions about free will, a lot of people say that for an action of yours to be freely chosen--for you to bear moral responsibility for that action--you must have had the ability to do something else under exactly the same circumstances...When Martin Luther defended his actions to the church in 1521, he reportedly said, 'here I stand, I can do no other,' i.e., he couldn't have done anything else. But does that mean we shouldn't give Luther credit for his actions? Surely we don't think he would be worthier of praise if he had said, 'I could have gone either way.'" (p.349)

  • The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis.

  • Miracles by C.S. Lewis.

  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. "Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"

  • On the Predestination of the Saints by Augustine. I haven't read the whole thing myself yet, but from what I have read I can heartily recommend it for a greater understanding. "What do you have that you did not receive?"

  • Thank you for this great answer. Follow up though: "Therefore we must conclude that we are responsible for the choices we make." You conclude that God holding humans accountable for sin. Alternative conclusions (which is the danger I see) are that God either gives Humans the free choice to (not) sin or he holds people accountable regardless of their ability to be responsible for their sin. Or differently, if the sin is predetermined, then holding humans accountable is unjust. Maybe the question is: Does responsibility for sin presuppose the freedom to choose sin?
    – telion
    Commented Jun 3 at 13:25
  • Regarding the definition of free will: I would say a decision is influenced by the factors laid out in 1. but is still decided "on a whim". Otherwise, you have Humanism in the first case or lack of reality in the second, because what decision isn't influenced by something? Being conscious of your decisions does not make you responsible for your decisions if the decision is predetermined and thus illusionary.
    – telion
    Commented Jun 3 at 13:34
  • "then it can never be the case that God knows about a human sin in advance." This is the strongest argument yet. So Exodus is a bit of a bad example because even Moses could have made that prediction. It's also important to know if it's a prediction or a final prophecy. Mathew is a bit more difficult, but I think the actual sin was Peters's arrogance in Vers 33, so Jesus humbles him afterward, by predetermining his denial. I also think its not about "never" but the important ones. E.g. IMO the choice to repent and follow God must be my own to be worth anything.
    – telion
    Commented Jun 3 at 13:42
  • 1
    @telion if God holds us accountable, then we are objectively accountable. God's actions and opinions are the objective standard. If your definition of justice makes God unjust, then your definition is wrong. That is why I first try to find out what the Bible says about sin, righteousness, and accountability, then come up with definitions after the fact. Commented Jun 3 at 15:11
  • If your decision is influenced but not completely determined by something, this is essentially saying you're flipping a biased coin. It doesn't change the analogy. Commented Jun 3 at 15:14

Jesus Christ took the responsibility for all of our sins (past, present, and future).

We are not sinners because we sin. We are born sinners and sin because of who we are, human descendants of Adam. Understanding this is the first step to realizing that we need a savior.

Jesus Christ crucified was the plan for salvation before the world began and because of our inability to be the righteousness that God requires on our own accord. We place our faith in Christ's shed blood for the forgiveness of all of our sin debt, his death for our death payment, and His resurrection for our justification (1 Cor 15:1-4). Christ was judged for us as the sufficient payment to God, and our sins remain buried in the ground with His shed blood. Believers are risen with Christ and away from both sin and death. We do not work (remove sin from our lives) for God's grace. We work from the grace He has already gifted us through Christ. We have a new position with God in Christ upon having faith alone and have been "made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor 5:21). It is by this truth that believers work from in their efforts to live more righteously for Him. In a word, it is the least we can do for Him because of what He did for us out of His love.

Romans 12:1

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

2 Corinthians 5:21

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

Acts 2:23

Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:

It is by God's foreknowledge of our free-will choice of having faith in Him that His "elect" is made. Our free-will and God's foreknowledge both remain intact in this light.

Titus 1:1

Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness;

1 Peter 1:2

Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.

How is it that we are condemned at birth when we are incapable of sin until later in life?

It is our human nature to please ourselves in the flesh (thus disobeying God) that makes us the sinners that we are. It was through Adam that sin first entered the world. Satan certainly tempted Eve and deceived her, but it was by her own fleshly desires to go through with taking that which was forbidden, as it was also Adam's by choice (see verse 6 below regarding the fruit being pleasing to the eyes, and desirous for wisdom).

Genesis 3:1-6

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. 4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. 6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

Eve was deceived by Satan and in the transgression but Adam knew exactly what he was doing when he also partook.

1 Timothy 2:14

And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

All descendants of Adam and Eve became separated from God through this transgression.

Genesis 3:22-24

And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: 23 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. 24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

Faith can be defined as believing God, or to take God at His word.

Romans 3:3-10

For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? 4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged. 5 But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) 6 God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world? 7 For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? 8 And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just. 9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; 10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

The law of Moses was given to Israel, but for us all, to see that we are incapable as humans to attain the righteousness that God requires.

Romans 3:19-26

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

God loves us so much that He sent Jesus Christ to not only be our righteousness, but to pay our sin debt in full.

We believe (have faith in) this truth of God and then desire to remove sin from our lives and live as righteously as possible for God. We err with the belief that we must first stop sinning to attain the righteousness of God. God's righteousness is imputed to us upon having faith in Christ's shed blood for this purpose.

Romans 4:1-8

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. 6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, 7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

Anyone who has placed this faith in Christ and His shed blood for them is justified before God and no longer condemned.

It will be lack of faith (not sins) that unbelievers will be judged by, as the world's sins were forgiven by God through Christ on the cross and covered by His blood.

Romans 5:6-21

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. 11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. 12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: 13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. 15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. 16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. 17 For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) 18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. 20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: 21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

What about children (or anyone else) prior to coming to an understanding of the gospel of God's grace?

The requirement for salvation is to first "hear" the gospel (or to otherwise come to the knowledge of it), and then "believe" the gospel.

Ephesians 1:11-14

In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. 13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

Anyone who has not "heard the gospel" would then not be judged on their lack of "belief" in it, also before their conscience may bear them any witness (Rom 2:15).

God's ultimate judgement is His own. We cannot see all that God sees, or know all that He knows. However, His proclaimed love for us (as can be seen on the cross) should comfort us in knowing that His sovereignty and righteous judgement can be trusted.

Romans 9:16-24

So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. 17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. 18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. 19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? 20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? 21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: 23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, 24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

2 Corinthians 5:18-21

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. 20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. 21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

1 Corinthians 2:9

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

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    “We are not sinners because we sin”. What? Are murderers not murderers because they murder? Such a strange thing to say, doesn’t seem to be necessary for the underlying argument.
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Jun 3 at 2:07
  • @LukeHill In regard to the concern of the daughter being held accountable for their yet uncommitted sin, the point you did not catch is that their daughter was a sinner before she commits the sin...as are all humans. We sin because of who we are. It is therefore not our sins that make us the sinners that we are at birth. We are all of Adam before we are of Christ (whether we sin or not). Does God not see the murderer as such before he commits the crime, or must he first go through with it to be a murderer in God's eyes? Commented Jun 3 at 2:49
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    @MarkVestal I think it would be helpful to expand your answer by defending the idea that humans are sinners due to human nature rather than human actions. The reason is that this might be quite a slippery slope. e.g. What about unborn babies? How can they be sinners when they haven't done anything? Can/Have they repented/accepted God as their savior? Are they saved? Also what about people before Christ? IMO committing sin is what makes a sinner, otherwise, God punishes humans because they are human. This would paint a quite unjust God if you ask me.
    – telion
    Commented Jun 3 at 12:01
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    @MarkVestal the daughter is a sinner in the sense that she possess original sin. That’s why we have guilt.
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Jun 3 at 14:44
  • @telion It is a good idea and I will do that. I will attempt to complete it soon. Thank you! Commented Jun 3 at 15:45

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