Q: Hi Pastor Peck! I have a couple of questions for you…I am curious as to what your thoughts are about the “age of accountability” and how we can know when our children are old and wise enough to need to be saved. I do not remember anything about this in the Bible and am concerned because I have 2 young children. Our just turned 4 year old talks about God and Jesus dying on the cross…sometimes he seems to understand, but sometimes he doesn’t seem to get it at all. Do young children who are not saved still go to Heaven? And what about mentally handicapped individuals? Thanks!
A: Thanks for your question. There are several important topics wrapped up in this question.
First, in our zeal and desire for our children to come to faith in Christ, we need to ask the Lord for lots of wisdom and discernment to know when they are really ready to ask Jesus to be their Savior. On one hand, we want to be faithful in sharing the gospel. On the other hand, we must never push them before they really are ready.
Second, what does the “age of accountability” mean? If you search for this phrase on your electronic Bible study, you will not find it. One of the places in Scripture that does reveal this principle in operation is Numbers 14: 29. The children of Israel rebelled at Kadesh Barnea. They rebelled against the Lord and wouldn’t be allowed to enter the land. God said that those who were twenty and over would wander for forty years in the wilderness. He actually was saying that those who were under twenty would not be held accountable for the sins of their parents and elders. This “age of accountability” seems to indicate a moral awareness that makes one responsible for responding to the following things:
- · Who God is
- · What sin is
- · How God views my sin
- · Why Jesus shed His blood, what that means, how He died, and rose again for me
- · Why I must be sorry for my sin and ask the Lord Jesus to come into my life to be my Savior
Please do not think that the age of accountability for a child’s salvation is twenty. That was a totally different situation with the children of Israel in the wilderness.
Third, I absolutely do believe that adults who are mentally incapacitated as well as children who die before reaching an age of personal accountability go Home to be with the Lord. I believe heartbroken mommies and daddies who love the Lord will one day be reunited with their child. Their youngster might not be an infant in Heaven, but there will nonetheless be a great reunion ahead.
While the Bible does not use the actual term “age of accountability,” there are some things that we can unequivocally see from the Scriptures.
- · It is important to remember that babies are born sinners because of their participation in Adam’s sin (Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12). Even though I have stated that I absolutely believe infants go home to be with the Lord when they die, this does not mean that I believe infants are born righteous. They are not.
- · In the death of the Lord Jesus, His supreme sacrifice covers infants who die before they reach an age where they understand the gospel. The Scriptures speak of the Lord’s death for us all (Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2; John 1:29). This certainly does not mean that everyone is saved. It does, however, indicate that His death is sufficient to cover those who are unable to respond to the demands of the gospel.
- · People are condemned because of their own sin. Though born a sinner because of participating in Adam’s sin, no one goes to Hell because of Adam’s sin. Sinners are condemned because they have not responded to the gracious offer of salvation (John 1:12).
- · People are without excuse because they have rejected the general revelation of God (Romans 1:18-20) and are old enough to understand the moral ramifications to “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Those who reach an accountable age understand what the consequences of sin are (Romans 6:23) and the tremendous opportunity of placing their faith in Christ‘s death, the shedding of His blood, and His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15: 1-5). When a person can comprehend this (and I do believe young children, if properly trained, can make a decision for Christ) and when that person greatly desires to receive the Lord into his or her life (John 1:12), then that person can be held accountable for sin. Before this, it seems to me, that infants as well as mentally handicapped people are unable to make these decisions which would result in their lack of personal accountability.
- · I firmly believe that our incredibly awesome Lord, who is the author of our salvation, acting in perfect conformity to His nature and plan (Genesis 18:25), makes provision for these who are incapable of personal decision either because of age or ability, and welcomes them home at their deaths. They wait for us who are redeemed.
Stay diligent in praying, teaching, witnessing to, and encouraging your very young children. Read God’s Word to them. Instill Biblical principles in them. Watch for opportunities that will allow you to share with your children what the Lord Jesus has done for them. But trust the Lord with each child. Know that the Lord loves your child more than you can ever.
Salvation is such a wonderful gift from the Lord, bought by His precious death and resurrection. How wonderful it is when our child is old enough to understand that this is the act of accepting His gift.
When our little son died, the Scripture David wrote as he speaks of the death of his son took on special meaning. David said, “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23.) I realize some teach that this is just David saying that his child has died and someday so shall he. But I think there is more here than a simple statement of the universality of death. David found comfort in the fact that he would go to his child someday. Hundreds of parents who experience the death of a child also find great comfort in the fact that because of salvation, we are going to Heaven. If David knew his child would be with him, and he would be with the Lord forever, then David was stating that he and his child would be together forever with the Lord. That, friends, works for me!