Question: “I’ve heard the phrase “age of accountability” used often in some denominations with James 4:17 as the scripture support. I know there is no specific age mentioned in the bible but is there a point in every person’s life where they reach an understanding of good and bad (sin) and now because of that knowledge become accountable to God. Some will also use that verse along with II Samuel 12:23 to support children dying before reaching that “age” will go to heaven. How can this best be explained biblically and in a way that makes the gospel clear? Knowing we are born in sin, are sinners separated from God, and will die and spend eternity in hell if we haven’t trusted Christ as Savior – how can one best minister to someone who has lost a young child? Thanks for your ministry! I look forward to hearing your answer.”
Answer: Excellent question. I want to be direct with my answer. There isn’t any support in the Bible for a specific age of accountability. Jewish customs viewed a child’s 13th birthday as the age where they became an adult. Some surmise that is the age of accountability but there isn’t biblical support for that view. Others point to David’s comments in 2 Samuel 12:21-23. I think this is a good case to prove that babies who die will be in Heaven because David clearly says that he will go to him. Psalms 23:6 tells us that David will be in Heaven, so the child he lost is there, too. I think that makes a solid case for infants and toddlers, but it still doesn’t give us a specific age. In situations like this, I go to what is already clearly known for clarity on the answer. Here are some things we do know.
- God does not want anyone to perish – 2 Peter 3:9
- God wants all men to be saved – 1 Timothy 2:3-4
- There are serious consequences for deceiving a child – Mark 9:42
- God is loving, holy, merciful, just, and gracious – John 3:16-18
Is it possible that God will apply Christ’s payment for sin to those who cannot believe, like children or those with a mental disability? I believe it is possible, but I am not dogmatic on that view. I am dogmatic on this: preach the gospel to your children as soon as they can be disciplined. If they know the difference between right (righteousness) and wrong (sin) well enough to choose sin, then they can begin to understand what Jesus did for them.
I believe the best way to minister to someone who has lost a child is with the truth. God will not do anything that is immoral or wrong. Romans 1:20 clearly states that no one will have a valid excuse before God. No one will be able to look at God and rightfully condemn him.
I lean towards the belief that God will be merciful to those who do not have the ability to properly believe on Jesus for salvation. This includes children and the mentally disabled. However, to those reading this with young children, please do not delay teaching the gospel to your kids. Many of them can understand their sin and can believe on Jesus finished work for salvation. I hope this gives a satisfactory answer to your question.