Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Age Of Accountability

Just last night, I was at a men's event at my church and the question of the "age" or "level" of accountability came up yet again with a brother. What perfect timing to go into the MacArthur Q and A archives!

What is the Scriptural basis for the "Age of Accountability" in regards to children's salvation?

I think the best way to answer that is to say this: There is no "Age of Accountability" identified in Scripture, as such. There is nothing in the Bible that says, "Here is the 'age' and from here on you are responsible!" I think the reason for that is because children mature at different paces. That would be true from culture to culture, and from age to age in history. So the Lord in His wisdom, didn't identify a specific moment. God knows when that soul is accountable. God knows when real rejection has taken place; when the love of sin exists in the heart. When enmity with God is conscience and willful. God alones knows when that takes place.

Also, it is important to say this: There is no indication, anywhere in Scripture, of the salvation of a child. There is no illustration of it. Jesus never had an encounter with a child and lead him to faith. He encounter a lot of people; preached to a lot of crowds, and a lot of people believed, but there is never any indication about a child believing. So consequently, we have to assume, then, that a saving commitment to Jesus Christ comes only after a child has reached the conscience reality of rejection, and the conscience awareness of iniquity. As to when that is, as I say, it varies from child to child.

The Jews, as you well remember, had identified about the age of twelve, and that's, you remember, when Jesus was taken by His parents to Jerusalem for the Passover and the Feast, and there He was in the temple questioning the doctors. I think you have a good illustration there; if Scripture says anything, it sets that one illustration, and Jesus was asking the kinds of questions that were actually profound questions to the doctors. We can assume then that was the age at which those kinds of questions begin to be personal. So I have always felt that somewhere around that period of time, the transition from childhood to adulthood takes place. It's probably not totally disassociated from puberty, where there is a consciousness of one's own impulses, feelings, drives, desires, and therefore sinful attitudes and passions, and whatever else that starts to emerge.

Now, as to how you deal with that--I was just talking to a parent about that the other day--I believe that it is absolutely essential, all the way along with the child, that every time they desire to make a commitment to Jesus Christ, at whatever age they're at, you encourage them to do that. Because you don't know, we can't know, when that is a saving commitment. I mean, if I go into a class over here of five or six-year-olds or seven or eight-year-olds, and tell them the story of Jesus, and ask how many want to ask Jesus into their heart, they will all say we do, because the story of Jesus is compelling, because that's what you want from them, and if they love you and you are their mom and dad, then obviously that's what's going to happen. So, when a child, say at the age of six or seven, or whatever it might be, says, "I want to invite Christ into my life," then you need to encourage them to do that. Everyone of those, I see as a step towards God. At what point that becomes saving faith--God knows--I don't know.

But, I also believe, that up until that point of real saving faith, God in His mercy, would save that child, should that child die. I have been doing some study on that very issue, because when I was at a conference recently, and that question was asked of a panel, of very astute theologians--no one gave an adequate answer. And I thought, "How can we have theologians who don't know the answer to that question," "What about the children before the age of accountability, when they die, do they go to heaven?" I think the answer is "yes," and I think it is a strong "YES," based upon the confidence of David who said, when his little baby died, "He cannot come to me, but I shall go to him." And David knew where he was going; David knew where he was going to heaven--he knew that. There wasn't any question in his mind about that, and when he said, "I shall go to him," in those words was the anticipation, and the hope and the joy of reunion. Now, some people have said, "Well, all he meant was, 'I am going to be buried next to him.'" There wouldn't be any reason to say, "He can't come to me, but, Oh I'm so glad I am going to be buried next to him!" There would be no joy in that; that wouldn't satisfy anything. So I think at that point, he was expressing the confidence that he was going to heaven, he knew that, and that's exactly where he would find his son, who had died before the age of accountability.

Another interesting thing that occurs numerous times in the Old Testament, is that children are referred to, and those children who die, as well, are referred to as "innocent," and the Hebrew word that is used for "innocent" is used numerous times in the Old Testament, refer to "not being guilty"--literally, "being taken to court and found 'not guilty.'" In fact, you remember, that it refers to the babies that were passed through the fire to Moloch [false god] as the "innocents", so I believe that God, prior to the "Age of Accountability" treats them as "innocent." It doesn't mean that they are no fallen; doesn't mean that they are not sinful--it does mean that God mercifully treats them as "innocent" in spite of that, and He has to exercise grace to do that, just as He exercises grace to save those who believe.

But, that "Age of Accountability" is not clearly identified. I just think it's up to parents; every time a child wants to respond and open the heart to Christ--you need to encourage that, all the way along, until they come to that point where it is genuine, and the Lord knows that, and you may not know that.