Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
The Age of Accountability
(Is it a Biblical Doctrine)
by Tony Warren
he age of accountability is one of the many misleading terms that are often used in Christian circles. Most would agree that it basically means "a person who is young enough that he is not yet able to understand fully the results of his actions." It is theorized by some that these children are too young to be held accountable for the things that they do that are against God's law. For example, a eight year old child that might hit his sister over the head with a toy block in anger. Theoretically, this child is not held accountable by God because he had not yet reached an age where he was fully able to understand what he was doing. But honestly, is there any real biblical defense for the doctrine of an age of accountability? The only answer that I can come to (that is from the Bible) is no. The problem with these theories is that they are based upon the logical processes of our fallen human nature, and are really a perverse mistrust of God so as to twist His law for the sake of what seems right in our own eyes (Proverbs 3:5). Because there is nothing in God's word that declares, suggests or even implies that anyone must fully understand their sin before it is actually accounted to them as sin. On the contrary, sin is the violation of God's laws and we are all accountable. This is why God's word declares that there are none (Romans 3:10-12) that are good, none that are righteous, no not a single one. So clearly, to declare someone is, merely by right of age, is unbiblical and in many ways, self serving. This doctrine presupposes unrighteously that sin must first be recognized as sin before it is actually accountable as transgression to God. Nothing in scripture even suggests or implies such an untenable thesis.
There are no exceptions to either those who have sinned, or those held accountable by God for their sins. Christ either paid for our sins, unmerited by anything (including age), or He didn't. That is the only biblical position, which is a doctrine of grace.
- "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;"
Another theory is that all children are automatically guaranteed salvation because God loves children (as if God doesn't love adults). The texts most often quoted are verses like Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14 or Luke 18:16, where Jesus says things like "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." But they are really misapplying these scriptures and misunderstanding exactly what the children of the Kingdom are. For Christ is merely using children as an illustration of all Christians, as they are children of the Father God. He is making the analogy of how the believers are to be in humility as children to their earthly fathers. He taught that we are to walk meekly, accepting and receiving the word of our heavenly father as children would do with their earthly fathers. This has nothing to do with children being inherently righteous, without sin or unaccountable. In fact, that would actually be a heretical teaching. For all professing Christians should know that there are none who are without fault, and apart from Christ none unaccountable for their faults. Only God is without sin and His righteousness demands that all sin be paid for. His righteousness encompasses all those regenerated in His Spirit, that they are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. These alone are those who automatically have their sin unaccountable or not imputed to them and are guaranteed salvation. There are no others.
While these doctrines of automatic child un-accountability may serve to comfort bereaved parents who have lost children either through accidents, murder, miscarriage, abortion, or sickness, it is a misguided view. One that is contrary to all that God has declared of the definition of sin and the righteous judgment against all those who commit it. The plain truth is, this doctrine is simply a natural (carnal) humanistic sentimental response that is closely related to man thinking more of himself than is justified. In other words, we naturally all want to think nice things about our children because we are merely human. And often that is a good thing. But sentimentality does not govern how we are to understand God's word, it is the word itself that should do this. And God doesn't share the popular Church opinion that a child's sins are not to be accountable because of their age.
If all children were innocent or pure, this scripture becomes meaningless. And this is just one of the passages that knock down any concept of all the work or doings of children considered pure because of their age. The fact that this verse says explicitly that a child's doing can be known as impure, is a testimony in itself against the doctrine of all children being considered righteous. They can't be known by their doings "if" all children's doings are pure or right.
- "Even a Child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right."
The emotional argument (the one used by most people) in support of the age of accountability is that, "it just simply has to be true in order for God to be fair." In many cases they don't even realize that they are telling God what He has to do to be fair and what is not fair or just. That's like the pot telling the potter what is right and what is wrong about its construction. The assumption that small children cannot be held accountable for sin because they are not mature enough to understanding what they do is secular/humanistic reasoning, not the product of sound biblical exegesis. And the assumption of the lack of accountability is indeed the problem. When man does not of the Spirit acknowledge God's word as the ultimate authority, then he is standing upon his own understanding, rather than trusting God and following His path. Do we go our own way, reason it out in our own minds, or do we allow God to direct our steps?
We don't have to construct man made rules in order to keep God seeming righteous, we have to but trust in the Lord at all times. When we go our own way, we are dealing in the flesh, in sentimentality, emotionalism, humanism or feelings. We are directing our own paths, rather than having our understanding directed by scripture. For the immutable God says that children are neither pure, nor righteous, nor good. The problem is not that this is not clearly seen throughout scripture, the problem is in man's natural tendency to not to want to receive it. Except God purge a child's sin from him sometime during his life, he will remain unsaved from birth to death. By the same token, if God purge it from us, we shall never see death no matter what his age. Perseverance of the saints assures that we simply cannot be saved as a child, and then be unsaved as an adult. No Reformed Christian should ever countenance this belief, as it is confusion.
- "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
- In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
This is the only way that a child can be sinless. Our sin nature is a result of the fall of Adam, and the wages of sin is death. If we say children have no sin, we are lying to ourselves. We can clearly see sin in children of every age "if" we dare look close enough. In some cases we even think it's cute, or we euphemistically call it mischievousness, or we call it being strong willed or some other label to avoid the obvious truth. But if even finite sinful humans like ourselves can see sin in children, think what a Holy Sinless God sees. If we looked at children honestly, we would see that they are simply small adults, sinning in every way just as you and I do. And any serious (read, honest) attempt to actually determine the age of wilful sin would automatically drive that age downward until it reached birth. At which point, we would then be in total agreement with the word of God. Selah!
- "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
- Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
- Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."
If the wicked go astray as soon as they are born, how then are they considered saved as children without the eternal redemption of Christ? It makes no sense! That is God's word confirming the age that God sees sin in children, and thus precisely when He holds them accountable for it. And what is God's judgment? Scripture declares, "Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth." Isn't it amazing how God doesn't portray or see all children as most of the Church today does. As conscientious Christians we need to understand that to a righteous God, our sinfulness makes us comparable to poisonous snakes or vipers. And whether we are a small viper or a large viper, we are still vipers. Children are neither born righteous, nor is their unrighteousness considered righteousness by right of age.
- "The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.
- Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear;
- Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely."
1st Corinthians 7:14
How can those who are not covenant children, that is to say children outside of God's household, be called unholy except that they are children that are unsaved? I challenge you to ask yourself honestly with no preconceived ideas about the answer, "If God saved all children, would God's word say that there were some children outside of believing parenting that are unclean?" Again, the only honest answer is no.
- "For the Unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the Husband: else were your children unclean, but now are they Holy."
These are the types of questions that those who fall prey to the doctrine of an 'age of accountability' trample under foot. All children are not automatically sanctified, set apart, nor justified. And verses like these prove it to any objective Bible student. But if we're indoctrinated by Church leaders to believe that all children are considered righteous so that they die saved, regardless of what God says, then no manner of logic, reason, or biblical evidence is likely to change that. Only a conscience grounded in Christ will receive the truth of His word. While a seared conscience will resist the testimony of scripture for more palatable secular humanism.
Another popular theory is that since 1st John 3:4 tells us that sin is the transgression of the law, and without knowledge of the law there is no sin, that when the Bible says that Adam had no knowledge of good and evil prior to his fall, he had no accountability. Therefore many surmise that man was separated from his God by the Knowledge of Good and Evil, just as Adam was. Their understanding being that where there is no such knowledge of the law, innocence exists. And there can be no separation between God and man regardless of the nature received from Adam's fall. However, this is a house of cards that is also built upon a false premise. If Adam and Eve had no knowledge of good and evil (making them unaccountable), then they would not have been accountable for eating from the tree of knowledge when they were commanded not to. And there is no reconciling this obvious contradiction. The truth is found in man being made in the image of God so that he had an inherent knowledge of good and evil, and that is why God held Adam and Eve accountable. Adam did not sin before he ate from the tree, but he most certainly had a rudimentary knowledge of good and evil. Not the experiential knowledge of good and evil which his disobedience gave him, but he was accountable for his sin--as his judgment by God proved. Very much like someone saying that he knew his wife, meaning intellectually. And someone saying he Knew his wife, meaning a physical union. In the same way, when Adam ate of the tree for the first time, he then 'knew' good and evil because he physically knew or experienced evil (sinned). He understood before that he shouldn't disobey God and eat of this tree because God commanded him not to, but after he ate, He then knew good and evil on another level. One is a knowledge of what is good and evil, and the other is knowing good and evil experientially. Which is also illustrated in Adam and Eve not knowing their nakedness as it "signified" sinfulness, until after they disobeyed. In other words, before he ate of the tree, they were naked and not ashamed to be that way because they had not experienced sin, and in this way had no sinful thoughts about their nakedness. After they ate, they gained knowledge of sin through their disobedience and thus saw themselves in their sin nakedness. This was the rise of pride (sin) wherein they saw themselves for what they were and desired to cover up to hide their sin/nakedness. A whole new experiential knowledge which they obtained 'through' disobedience. And God uses this as a spiritual example of how all stand naked in their sin (children included) and how we all must be clothed in the righteousness of Christ in order to restored to His image. This restoration in Christ was represented by the first sacrifice, the skins God made for Adam and Eve to clothe their nakedness. We too, when we gain knowledge of good and evil, see ourselves as naked before God in our sin, and recognize our need for a covering (Revelation 3:18). But I digress;
The truth is, this teaching that 'we must know the law first, or we have no sin,' leaves us with the obvious question. "If we had never read a Bible to know the law (as some in foreign countries), would that then mean that we could murder someone and not be accountable because there was no knowledge of law?" Immediately we understand this is not only a false thesis, but Biblically untenable. Therefore, by mere logic and consistency of scripture we must conclude that written or spoken law given by God, is on top of the law which we are born with. That is the reason all (regardless of reading or hearing the law) still stand accountable to God for sin or transgression of it. Because we were created in the likeness (image) of God inherently understanding on a basic level so that we have no excuse.
In other words, man doesn't need to have the written law in order to be held accountable by God for sins (ala Adam). He is without excuse when standing before God on judgment day. Again, PROOF that the written law didn't have to be given for man to be held accountable, and that Adam and Eve were accountable before the fall. So this idea of non-accountability based upon that theory has no basis in biblical truth. Scripture teaches us, that which may be known of God is manifest (made known) in us even if we had never read the book of God's law. And this so that not one of those on planet earth have any excuse for their sin, whether we have heard the written or spoken law or not.
- "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
- Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
- For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:"
I've given this example before, but it bears repeating. Any mother who is honest with herself can tell you that her baby sometimes tests her "knowing" that what they're doing is wrong (sin), and then turning to look at the mother to see what her reaction will be. That (whether we like to believe it or not) is the ability to both understand what's forbidden, and to willfully do it anyway. ..in a word, sin! We all have inherent knowledge of good and evil. But even when we rationalize away evil by claiming that it's not really evil, we are still held accountable according to God's word, because there are no escape clauses.
Yet another passage that some use to attempt to make children unaccountable is in Deuteronomy. There God declared that the little ones and the children of the people that came out of Egypt had no "Knowledge of Good and Evil." But careful examination of the text, in context, will show that this defense is also without merit.
God is saying that they had no knowledge of the "sins of their fathers," meaning experiential knowledge. In other words, they had no part in the previous rebellion of their fathers. Clearly that is what this is declaring when we consider the whole context carefully. He is not saying that being children they had no understanding of what was good and evil, He is saying that they had not the knowledge of that good and evil as their fathers who were there and rebelled did. They didn't take part in it, nor did they experience it. The same principle is at work here as in the Garden of Eden. Experiential knowledge in sin where they had not been the ones sinning this sin, or KNOWING the way of their fathers in that lawlessness. It quite obviously does not mean they did not know of the sin of their fathers, or that they didn't commit any sin, or that they didn't know what sin was, or that God gave them Canaan because they were somehow sinless. In other passages God clearly says they "were sinful," and He gave them the land not because of their righteousness, but because of the wickedness of the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 9:5). That whole idea that this passage means a lack of knowledge of sin illustrates they were sinless is without any solid foundation, considering the whole of scripture. It would make a mockery of God's word concerning the children of Israel if we were to apply such passages out of their context.
- "Moreover your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it."
In David's complete confession, we see illustrated Man's guilt is because of his inbred, native sinfulness that is there from conception (Job 14:4). The real problem of accepting this is of course the same old hindrance in man, which is almost as old as dirt. Man is "selective" in what scriptures he wants to receive as the truth, and which ones he wants to get around. The Bible says there is no one that does good, and that there are none who are righteous, and that all shall give an account in the day of judgment. But some choose to believe 'as if' these scriptures do not exist. If we choose to do this, then any person can make the Bible say anything that they want it to say. Because we cannot have "none" righteous, and also have "some" looked upon as righteous by reason of age. It makes no sense. The difference between being the faithful Christian, and the mere professing Christian, is taking the Bible seriously. And that means addressing all pertinent scriptures and taking into consideration all passages pertaining to the question. Children are not, and never have been, born righteous nor held unaccountable "as if" they were. Consider for example the children of Sodom and Gomorrah.
- "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me."
If there were but ten righteous children found here in Sodom, God (who cannot lie) would not have destroyed that city. But the fact is, God did destroy Sodom, didn't He? He destroyed unrighteous children right along with the adults. QED, the theory of righteous children, merely by being children, is completely Job 14:4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one. by scripture. Unless we choose to ignore God in favor of our own selective humanistic reasoning. Then we can form any doctrine we desire. Again, consider the witness of 2nd Kings 2:
- "And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake."
2nd Kings 2:23-24
Did the Lord actually love these little children so much that He had the man of God curse them "In His Name," that He personally sent two bears out of the woods to tear them to pieces? That would be ludicrous, would it not? Again, this whole idea of all children being good in God's sight is founded upon all sorts of exegetical and hermeneutical gymnastics that have nothing to do with the solid rock of the word. No matter what theologians support it, it is a bankrupt doctrine that is void of any semblance of scriptural continuity or harmony.
- "And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
- And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them."
There are some that agree that it really makes no sense, but they honestly cannot understand the meaning of passages like Romans chapter seven, where the Apostle Paul says he was alive without the law. Because some theologians use this verse as a proof text also.
But Paul is not talking about when he was a child, but before He became a Christian. He says he was alive without [choris] (which a Greek word that means 'apart' from) the law. In other words, being separated where he had little understanding of the law. He doesn't mean He didn't have the law ( As a member of Israel he most certainly did), but that he was separated from the law experientially, not yet experiencing regeneration. But when the command of God came, sin revived. In other words, he was then brought close to the law and sin became alive so that he then had knowledge (recognized it as sin), just as Adam and Eve did when they saw themselves naked and in need of a covering. He died in that he is no more 'apart' or separated from the law, but dead with Christ that the law and sin was made manifest or known to him. By the law, his eyes are opened where he now sees and recognizes sin for what it is. Read on:
- "For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died."
Clearly this has nothing to do with innocence before he understood law. It is declaring that by the commandment, he might 'recognize sin' as sinful, which he didn't do before, when he was alive apart from the law--being deceived. Not that his sin wasn't sin before, but that he didn't KNOW it before, being apart from the law. It is the law that shined the light upon his sin, working death in Him, to his good.
- "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
- Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful."
It all depends on how we understand being 'apart' from the law. If we define it as only the written law, then the passage I quoted before (Romans 1:18-20) again makes no sense. Because there we understand that man is going to be judged by God's law, even having never read that law. You see the point here? He doesn't need to have read God's word written in the Bible to be judged by God's word. A more open and shut case I cannot imagine. God's law extends beyond a baby or man having to physically hear it or read it. It's made known to us because we were instilled with the ability to recognize sin, and although the unsaved no longer conform to God's laws, these are still truths they know instinctively through creation. They have inherent knowledge of good and evil, that there is now no excuse for their lawlessness.
As for whether God will or will not have mercy on any particular child, I completely trust that God is righteous in all His judgments and will bring to faith all for whom He has died. Children, the mentally challenged, the elderly and infirmed, all that it is His will to have chosen. He is fully able to do so without man's misguided notion of an age of accountability. And who or how many of those are His, that is not our business. It is God's Sovereign right to decide to have mercy on whom He will, or not to have mercy on whom He will, not ours. And being Sovereign God, He may in fact choose to save a great many children. But that is His call which will be based upon nothing but his unmerited favor. Not our humanistic sense of fairness or our sensibilities in thinking children are righteous and can't have sin unto death. God knows what we do not know. But one thing we do know, and that is that a child who will be wicked and unsaved as an adult, was wicked and unsaved as a child. Because you cannot go from being a saved child, to being an unsaved adult. You cannot lose eternal life, else it's not eternal. Therefore, if you were saved as a child, you will still be saved as an adult. Likewise, if you are never going to be saved as an adult, you could not have been saved or held unaccountable as a child. That would be confusion and tortuous of scripture. So if this person who will never be saved as an adult, had died as a child, he would have died unsaved. Obviously!
But rest assured, the true conscientious Christian should not loose any sleep over children being saved or not, because we know of a surety that God is "Just and Good" and always does what is righteous and true. We should be satisfied and comfortable in that knowledge that we have no desire to invent a doctrine to assure their salvation.
There are many who understand that this is true but who find it hard to take because of our view of children. I don't think there is one single Christian who finds it easy to take that some children may be under the wrath of God, but we trust that God is both just and His judgments righteous, and so whatever He does is moral, blameless and honorable. All we need to know is that we are to forsake going our own way, and judging by what seems right in our own eyes, and surrender to what God's word says about the matter. For His ways are not our ways. We are not asked to figure out the unsearchable mysteries of God or the secrets of the universe, but to 'trust' and obey His word. We can never go wrong in trusting and obeying authority of scripture. Those who go wrong are those who refuse to receive what God says, and who are always an adversary, fighting against the truth. God asks only that we simply forsake our thoughts, for His.
It is true that now we understand as looking through a dark glass, but God understands all. He is infinite, we are finite. So who are we to argue with Him about his calling cute little babies wicked, and likening them to snakes and baby lions? It is His sovereign right to do so, to have mercy on whosoever He chooses, and not to have mercy on whoever He chooses. We cannot pretend to know better than our Lord whom He must save in order to be righteous.
- "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
- For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
- For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."
The history of the age of accountability doctrine is that it is the offspring of the well oiled myth that man must Choose God in order to be saved. This doctrine of course clearly contradicts scripture that declares that God hath both called and chosen us unto Salvation. Unfortunately, some have distorted God's word claiming that it actually means that we must choose Him first. They theorize that only then will He choose us. This teaching is that we must first do our part in accepting Christ, and then He will accept us. Free will advocates are fond of saying, "You Choose God and he'll choose you." And therein lies the rub. Because infants or babies and toddlers cannot do this (which would make all children unsaved), and so they had to come up with an additional teaching to bridge this gaping hole in their teaching. Thus, "The age of accountability" was invented to cover those infants who couldn't choose Christ. Otherwise, they would have to drop the, "you must first accept Christ" doctrine and confess in truth that salvation is by Totally by God's Sovereign good will and pleasure. In other words, that salvation was totally by His sovereign choosing, and not by man's alleged free will. They would have to accept scripture that it's not man's free will, but God's sovereign will to say whoever He wants, just as scripture so plainly states:
So then, Salvation is of God's will, on whosoever He wants, not of man's (supposed) Free Will. Without this "age of accountability," then these theologians would be forced to believe in God's Sovereign right to save whosoever He chooses (as He said) and not be indebted or obligated to save "whoever chooses Him." Because let's be clear about it. If salvation is of man's free will to choose, then God cannot choose whoever He wants (such as children), he can only choose whoever wants him. Else salvation is not by man's free will and their doctrine is proven invalid. They can't have it both ways and so they teach that the exception is that children are saved automatically 'outside of their doctrine of free will' by this magical doctrine called 'age of accountability.' They do this even though it is confusion and clearly a contradiction to their own teachings that God 'doesn't' save by His own Sovereign choosing, but by man's Free will to choose.
- "For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
- So then it is Not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy."
"inconsistency is the hallmark of error. -WiseManSay"
It's just another dried branch in the disjointed and fragmented tree of 'Free will.' These doctrines notwithstanding, God is sovereign and can save or not save any child, and He may do it regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, work, parents, or level of understanding. Man has no right to institute a law that God hasn't instituted. And to arbitrarily pick an age and make the claim that anyone under it cannot understand and thus is free of the guilt or judgment of sin, is pure imagination. I can tell you honestly that the eight year old son of a faithful Pastor might have a better understanding of the gospel than an 18 year old who had lived a life of complete paganism and was only today converted. But some would deem the eight year old unaccountable, but the 18 year old guilty simply because that is their humanistic idea of morality or fairness? The truth is much simpler, because in true Salvation, God will supply the measure of faith required. Judgment doesn't require a certain age, nor does salvation. And that's the beauty of sovereignty, not its drawback. Salvation doesn't require our understanding, it requires the faithfulness of Christ. That is how children are saved, not by right of their age.
Let us next take an honest look at the pertinent scriptures dealing with this question. For this ill-conceived but popular doctrine has multiple and irreconcilable Problems!
(1.) There is absolutely no solid Biblical support for the doctrine!
This is the first and foremost problem with this doctrine. The passages that are frequently used in an attempt to support this view falls miserably short of doing so. This is because it is a doctrine which was first formulated, and then a search was made to try and justify it scripturally. It was reverse engineered and thus is the product of Backward Exegesis. Doctrines should originate from within the Bible, not from man's private interpretations to justify their own beliefs.
One verses often used in justification is found in 2nd Samuel.
2nd Samuel 12:23.
This verse neither says, nor alludes to the idea that because this was a child it was automatically saved. At best we might conclude that because David was a man of God (a saved man), He believed that God in His sovereignty would save his child also. And many believe that all David was saying was that, "the baby has died, and someday, I will die as he did." Nothing more earth shattering than a simple statement that he cannot come back to life, but that David shall die as he did. But this is hardly Biblical validation or justification to teach that unsaved parents have any basis for expecting that their children will be saved. Which is not to say their children won't be, it is to say if they are, it will be by the sovereign right of God to do so. It's called His unmerited mercy or favor upon them, not because of any obligation to because of age or because they are unaccountable.
- "But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he shall not return to me."
If this were true, then what of a mentally impaired man who is over the (supposed) age of accountability, and yet cannot understand fully his actions? Do we then invent another humanistic law and call it "Mental Non Accountability" to bridge that gap also? The truth is, we don't have to do these things because if any person will be saved, they will be saved the exact same way a baby will be, or the same way that you will or that I will. Not by any human thesis, but by God's sovereign right to have compassion on who-so-ever He will. Whether it is a baby, a mentally deficient man, or a sinner who is unworthy to lift up his head.
It can't get any plainer than that. God will not have mercy because someone is below the age of twelve, nor reject someone because they are twelve years and a day. That just doesn't make sense. We aren't saved because of age, or because we are a better preacher, or a better worker in the Church. We are saved by Grace, by God's own sovereign will and purposes. And there is no need to fret, because that is precisely why a child can be saved, or that a mentally deficient man man can be Saved. Not because of our man made traditions of accountability, but because of God's sovereign right to save whoever them regardless of any merit, work, age, knowledge or mental fitness.
- "For He saith unto Moses, I will have Mercy on whom I will have Mercy, and I will have Compassion on whom I will have Compassion!
- So then, is is Not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of GOD who showeth Mercy."
(2.) We are all Born in Trespass and sin!
The second problem of the "age of accountability" teaching is the issue of man's inherent wickedness. We are all sinful (in violation of God's laws) and are thus guilty before God. We are born with a nature in which we will sin.
From the time that we are born, proceed to violate God's laws of righteousness as sinful human beings. Our nature, whether children or older, is to sin because it was 'imputed' to us in the flesh by the fall of Adam. To impute sin in Biblical terms means through the flesh it was passed on to us in birth. Just as Christ's righteousness (sinlessness) is imputed to by Grace through Christ's death and rebirth in the flesh. Before the rebirth in Christ, we are all in a real sense born in sin, in bondage or slavery to transgression against God. The judgment of this is not a wink and a pat on the back, but Death. The only ones not under this judgment of death from birth are those reborn unto new life. There are no exceptions.
- "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in Sin did my mother conceive me."
The only way that any human being could possibly escape this imputed sin that brings death is through the new birth in Christ (Acts 4:12). It cannot be escaped through lack of knowledge (knowledge of God is observable, so that there is no excuse), it cannot be escaped through non-accountability (we are all accountable for sin), it cannot be escaped by good works (there are none good), it cannot be escaped by obedience (we have all transgressed the law), the righteous judgment of God can only be escaped (1st Peter 4:1) through the work of Christ. These aren't speculations, but biblical facts.
- "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,
- (for until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not Imputed when there is no law."
1st Corinthians 15:21-22
Since this is undoubtedly true, then from the womb, we are all sinners under penalty of death. Those people who say babies don't have any sin are lacking serious knowledge of God's laws and truths. Since there are no exceptions to God's law that "the wages of sin is death," there can be no (theorized) non-accountability clause. The only way to be made alive is in Christ. Unlike the laws of men, the laws of God don't bend and aren't subject to unrighteous judges. There are none righteous God says, no not one! He didn't say that there are none righteous except children. Those are the thoughts of men, not of a righteous God. Romans 5:12 says: "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." It doesn't say "all except for children," it says, and it means, all.
- "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
- For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."
When God said in Genesis chapter eighteen that if there were just ten righteous people in Sodom, He wouldn't destroy them, some professing Christians obviously think God was not being honest, because they insist that the children there had to be righteous in God's eyes. But in reality, they were burned in the city right along with the older people (revisionist accounting notwithstanding). God saved only Lot and his two daughters whom (by His sovereign good will and pleasure) 'He had chosen' to save. None of the rest were righteous in God's sight. Did God say get the Children out before I rain fire and brimstone, or did God bring out Lot and his two daughters only? The unpalatable truth is, over 99 percent of the scriptures has to be either ignored, wrested, or tossed aside, in order to hold to the doctrine that Children are somehow automatically accounted righteous before God.
The righteous answer is, only in Christ. Not by being young, but by being chosen from the foundation of the world to be justified in Christ by the new birth. Because man is born of a woman, he has the stain of Adam's original sin, and cannot be accounted pure or justified before God. It is obvious not just from this verse, but all verses of scripture that children are sinful in God's sight. The Problem with some Christians today is that they insist on trying to make their God in "their image," instead of receiving the God of the Bible in His own image. They expect God's ways to be their ways, when God's ways are so far above ours that we can't even get a full handle on it. And so we start formulating doctrines of our own, and assigning them to God. But these vain postulations will not stand the test of scripture.
- "How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a Woman?"
(3.) Accountability! (God's law Requires Judgment for Sins)
The third problem is accountability itself. We are all accountable for our sins, and there are no exceptions made by God. No, not one. Man can make all the exceptions that he wants, but in the end, it means nothing. Anyone who sins is accountable to God for that sin, except Christ be their propitiation for it. And if He is, then that child is not only saved as a child, but as an adult. Meaning, if all children are unaccountable, then all adults are. And if no adult is (apart from Christ) then they weren't unaccountable as children.
There are no exceptions made. There are those who object, what about someone sinning in ignorance of it. But it is clear that even a sin in ignorance is a sin. Sin isn't defined by whether you know it's a sin or not. Sin defined is "the transgression of God's law." Sins in ignorance, they too must be atoned for. They are not cast aside as some unaccountable sin. Sin is sin, and must be atoned for.
- "Behold, all Souls are Mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine: the Soul that sinneth, it shall Die!"
There are no "sins in ignorance that are unaccountable." It must be atoned for just as any other sin, no matter if it is in ignorance or willfully. Just as our legal system would say today, "ignorance of the law is no excuse", likewise, ignorance of God's law is also no excuse. Mercifully, we have Christ our high Priest today who atones for "all" our sins, whether sins in ignorance or sins that are known to us. Those who claim that a child's sins in ignorance are unaccountable, don't really know God's law nor understand His righteousness at all. Indeed, that is precisely why we all need a Saviour in the first place. Because "all" sins have to be atoned for.
- And the Priest shall make atonement for the Soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the lord, to make atonement for him. and it shall be forgiven him."
It's curious how the proponents of an age of accountability make different rules for people at different times in their life. While on the one hand most claim you must accept Christ in order to be saved, on the other hand they do a 180 degree turn and say, but some don't need to do so, depending on their age. But how accepting Christ can be both a "requirement" for salvation, and yet not be required for salvation by some, is a mystery that they cannot coherently explain. If judgment is required for sin (and it is) then nothing short of judgment will do. And if children cannot accept Christ, and yet are saved from their sins apart from that, then either accepting Christ is 'a doctrine of men and was never a requirement for salvation' in the first place, or it is required and newborn babies are never saved. There is no other option. But we can sing praises to the unchangeable God that it was never a requirement, all are saved by Grace. And we should be thankful that God has the Sovereign right to have mercy and compassion on whoever he wants, regardless of if they can think straight, hear, talk, walk, or understand. Accepting has nothing to do with it. For God doesn't ask children nor adults, He chooses them. God's law requires judgment for sin, so we can be sure that babies who are saved have had their sins forgiven the exact same way we do. Not by being innocent or good, not by accepting or saying the sinner's prayer, but by God's Sovereign Grace! ..Unmerited favor!
(4.) The way of Salvation!
Knowing that God's law "requires" judgment of all, we know that salvation of all people can only come by Christ. Therefore, the fourth problem of this age of accountability doctrine is the inconsistency in the way that salvation is obtained. We're all saved the same way, and yet this doctrines purports that all children are temporarily saved a different way. Of course, that's Ludicrous! They are not saved by Age, by understanding, by comprehension, or by being born unaccountable to sin, they are saved just as God says. By Grace, through faith, a gift of God. An unmerited gift. It was not by works or non works, but by Grace. And since newborn babies cannot "accept" by their own free will, the Father must (as with us all) not only call, but choose, sanctify, and justify them, making eternally righteous. All by his sovereign good will and pleasure (as he said), not our own.
So either God gave that baby the faith of eternal salvation, or that baby is not saved. But one thing is for sure, a newborn baby cannot have that faith of its own free will, nor can he have temporary faith that will disappear when he reaches a certain age. Faith is all of God, whether we understand it or not. It is the same as with everyone who becomes saved. We simply cannot have two different methods of salvation.
- "for by Grace are ye Saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God:
- not of works, lest any man should boast."
So how would a pre-born or newborn baby "believe" or "have faith" to be unaccountable or sinless except by the faithfulness of Christ? This is the inconsistency of obtaining salvation by the age standard rather than by Biblical standards. One of these have got to be wrong. And so again, we know conclusively that there is no requirement to (by free will) accept or (by free will) have faith or (by free will) believe, because that would exclude all newborns. But the truth is much more biblical. And that is that like with Lazarus, God not only called him from the dead, He gave him the ability to respond, the legs to get up from the grave and the strength or power to come forth. Lazarus didn't have any ability to come of his own free will. He was dead! Likewise all unsaved (children and otherwise) are dead in trespass and sins. We cannot be raised up by our own free will, but by the sovereign will of God in Christ, according to His election. He Called, He Chose, He drew, He Sanctified, He Justified, He Glorified. We can but give thanks for the gift and Glory to His name.
- "for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting Life."
(5.) Baby Security Inevitably Means Adult Security!
The fifth problem of the doctrine of "age of accountability" and the idea that all babies are saved, is perseverance. If all babies are saved, then All grown people would be saved, because there cannot be a loss of everlasting l, which salvation is. Once an individual is saved, he can never lose that salvation, else it clearly becomes a salvation based on our continued merit. You see, this is the impossibility of this doctrine and how it is incompatible with eternal security or being sealed unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30) by the Spirit. No one is sealed, secured or saved of God temporarily, so if all babies were saved in their youth, then when they grow up they all would still be saved. Which of course would mean there are no unsaved people in the entire world since all were once babies. Did God provide for these babies in the everlasting waters of salvation wherein He says they'll never thirst again, and then they reach the age of 12 it's all just a lie and they thirst again because they are now mysteriously not saved? Again, that is the ridiculousness of this doctrine, and the twisted logic of this plan by some to expunge the sin of children. If all babies are redeemed, that means they become unredeemed at some point, and then some become redeemed yet again later on in life. Like Alice in wonderland, it just keeps getting curious-er and curious-er. And the reason is because there is no age of accountability.
Others try and circumvent scripture by saying, child salvation only lasts until they reach a certain age or accountability, and then their salvation simply disappears? But God's word doesn't teach anything about vanishing salvation at age 4, 7, or 12. God's word says the Lord is both the author (starter) and finisher of our faith. God's word declares that once He is with us, He is always with us and will never (Hebrews 13:5) leave us. So then, how does God leave a child after he reaches a certain age when His word speaks of sinlessness being eternal life, not temporary life dependant on our works or age. God says no one can pluck them out of His hand. What do we then retort--that this is all wrong?
Do we claim "that's not true what God says about them never perishing and having eternal life?" Does never perish now change to, "they just might?" If all children were indeed under God's Salvation, then Christ would never leave them, they would never perish and they would have everlasting life that no one could pluck them out of His hand. And that would mean every man woman and child in the world (we were all once children) would be saved and never perish. Again, the obvious foolishness of an age of accountability.
- "And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand."
In all points, the doctrine of the age of accountability is both inconsistent with everything that the Bible has to say about man and his fallen state, and incompatible with God's sovereign right and lawfulness in saving by Grace. We are all accountable by birth, not by age. And if some were not accountable, then none would be accountable. For our God is a righteous God whose idea of righteousness is far above that of man's perceptions. Notice in Ephesians 2:3:
"We . . . were by nature the children of wrath."
That scriptures tells us that 'by nature' we are children under God's Wrath. We were always accountable for sin and therefore all under condemnation. Moreover, another thing that should not be lost in the rationalization of this is divine election.
In Romans chapter 9:8-16 Rebecca had twins in her womb. And though the children had not yet been born, "having done neither good or evil," God called saying which one would be chosen. As it is written in verse 13,(Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated). And in verse 15 it says as God had said unto Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. In verse 16 it says So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. Shall we argue with God wagging a finger claiming it is unrighteous of Him to call Esau hated even before he was born? God forbid!
- "For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil.."
Is there an age of accountability? Yes, the minute we come from the womb is when all mankind becomes accountable. Sin is not determined by age. It is not for us to question or judge the Maker of us all about what seems or appears righteous to us. Is the wages of sin death? Yes. Have all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God? Yes. Are all subject to death who are not washed clean in the blood of the Lamb? Yes. Is God Sovereign? Yes. Is there unrighteousness with God? God Forbid! Therefore, God has the sovereign right to save whosoever He will, regardless of who, what age, how evil, what they did or didn't do, or their level of understanding. That is indeed what Sovereignty means!
There is no age where accountability begins unless it is at CONCEPTION. The Bible nowhere teaches the humanistic doctrine called "The Age Of Accountability." It is not something read from the scriptures, it is something "read into" the scriptures. The truth is, there simply is no period of time in which God allows people to sin with impunity until they reach a certain age. Or to put it another way, the only grace period from sin that any man, woman or child will ever have is in Christ Jesus. And you are either saved, or you are not.
Sure, many can and do have strong disagree with this, but they do not have any Bible verses to "soundly" back up their belief that a person has to be old enough to realize that he is a sinner or be able to understand God's Salvation before he has real sin. The fact is, there is one way of salvation, one name whereby we must be Saved, and one Salvation plan for all. Whether Jew or Greek, Baby or Elder, Man or Woman, White or Black, we are all saved by grace through the faith of Christ. The new and popular doctrines are nothing more than refined excuses to hold on to faulty doctrines such as, "we must accept Christ" and "we must choose him" and "we must have free will" and "we must sign the check," we, we, we, we! If they would take their eyes off "we," and put them on the Lord, they would see the truth revealed in Grace. But this is the, "I want some credit of my own salvation, generation." And in order to have that credit or boasting for coming when those other sinners didn't, they must have a doctrine where they, of themselves, freely came to accept Christ. Which of course meant that a new doctrine had to be invented for babies who can't accept Christ. ..Else the children must be Saved by Grace Alone. Truth inspires Change.
Copyright 1998 Tony WarrenFeel free to duplicate, display or distribute this publication to anyone who would like a copy, as long as the above copyright notice remains intact and there are no changes made to the article. This publication can be distributed only in it's original form, unedited, and without cost.
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