What is “Age of Accountability”
This concept holds that infants, rather young children, and the mentally handicap are under grace and will inherit eternal life if they were to die. (The age and mental capabilities determining this point are thus subjective and indeterminable–although some will supply an objective age).
False or Inadequate Explanations
These false views are not really involved in the purpose of this article, thus, I am not going to much time on their claims nor why they are incorrect views. I am simply going to list these alternative ideas so to give a better understanding of the true view as by comparison with these false views.
A rather popular idea among sacramentalists is that original sin is wiped away by the sacrament of baptism. Thus if a baby dies before being baptized the child will go to hell, but if baptized before death he, the child will go to heaven as a result of baptism. This is a false, man-made tradition that is nowhere taught in the Bible. Baptism is that which believers do in obedience to God’s commandment. It is done after salvation and is a symbol of our baptism in death and resurrection with Christ (Romans 6:4).
Another view is that in God sovereignty He knows the “what would be” future of those babies that die. In other words, God knows if a baby would have accepted Jesus as savior had he not died in infancy and grown to be an adult. However, this is simply illogical. Yes, God is sovereign, and He knows the past, present, and future, but the future of that baby is death. God knew the baby would die, and thus any decision for God to save the child would be based on that knowledge. God does not base His will off of the theoretical. He is not a God of “What if?”
A very popular view is simply that babies are not sinful for they have not sinned. They will argue that babies are born with only an inclination towards sin. However this clearly contrasts Psalm 51:5 and Romans 5:12-19.
Romans 7:9 Concerning an “Age of Accountability
Romans 7:9 – I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.
We see an immediate contrast here in verse 9 between the words “alive” and “died.” One might wrongly assume from Paul’s words that what Paul was saying here is that he prior to the Law he was not a sinner. But it is biblically indisputable that man is born or conceived with a sin nature, in sin (Psalm 51:5), being sinful, as a sinner. Every man is also without excuse (Romans 1:20). With an understanding of the surrounding context and verses, we can grasp what Paul is saying. Paul is essentially referring to the law as our guardian (Galatians 3:24-25). What that means is that the law showed and revealed to us our sin. He is not saying he wouldn’t have sinned if God had not made a law; he is saying he would not have known his sin without the law. This is seen in verse 7 where Paul says, “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” God’s character is eternal, thus the law in its essence is eternal.
Therefore the ever so difficult question remains, “How can a sinful being, despite being only an infant or mentally handicap, be accepted by exception (lack of faith) into salvation as belief in ‘age of accountability’ holds to?”
First of all, it is helpful to look at justification and being made righteous. When one is saved, he is not made righteous but declared righteous. So, when one argues that an infant and mentally handicapped are exempt either because they simply are mentally unable to make these moral decisions or are unable to make a decision of faith or “unfaith” in God, he is wrong for the infant and mentally handicapped are still born sinners and are without excuse. However, the argument can be made that despite still being sinners (which Christians still are post-salvation), the infant and mentally handicapped can be declared righteous even without an act of faith, but only by God’s grace. This argument alone is not supported well biblically whatsoever, however, with verse 9, it can be allowed for. That is, if Paul was alive apart from the law,” this may be saying (although obviously not in context) that infants and mentally handicapped are “apart from the law” (for they are unable to make these types of decisions) and are thus “alive.” “But when the commandment came” could then be holding the concept of when one becomes accountable. Thus, it is possible, although not dogmatic, for one to conclude that those mentally unable to make a decision of faith are under God’s declaration of righteousness and under His grace.
This argument is scripturally compatible in that it does not contrast the fact that man is without excuse, even those who have never heard the gospel.
Faith is not ultimately what saves; God’s grace is. Faith is simply the means to salvation by grace, not that which actually saves (for one could believe all he wanted, but it would be hopeless apart from grace). Thus, in light of this, one might find it permissible to say that an exception could be made for grace to save those unable to have faith. In addition, many will argue that lack of faith, “unbelief,” is not simply a passive idea, but that it is actively rejecting Christ in disobedience. Such infants are then argued incapable of doing this disobedience.
Deuteronomy 1:39 and Isaiah 7:16 seem to indicate an “age of unaccountability” for lack of knowing good and evil.
2 Samuel 12:21-23 seems to indicate that David’s son that died out of sin with Bathsheba was under God’s grace in salvation in that David no longer mourned for it once it had died and because David mentions that he “shall go to him.”
Another argument is eschatological. In the end, the unsaved will be judged by their works (Revelation 20:12-13). Many will argue that infants are not able to do such works.
First, no one is innocent. Even infants and the mentally handicapped lack innocence and are guilty, dead, and depraved. One does not inherit depravity, spiritual death, guilt, or sinfulness when he commits his first sin, but rather, when he is conceived. Everyone is conceived having the problem of Adam’s original sin imputed on himself.
Second, one becomes accountable when he becomes a transgressor, when he is able to make moral decisions and in depravity his inevitably do what he wants–sin (reference Romans 5:13-14).
Thirdly, throughout this article I have spoken incorrectly by using the term “Age of Accountability,” (but I did so as to speak with the popular term). This concept, when taken biblically, should not be viewed as an age, but rather the moment one begins to be accountable for his sins. It is the point at which one transgresses the law, that is to say, the point at which one first acts out in his depraved nature in opposition to the law. It is also important to note that we commit sin because of our nature, not that we obtain our nature through the personal committal of sin. In addition, no one is ever exempt from accountability. We are all and always accountable to God.
Fourthly, when infants and mentally handicapped die and go to heaven (assuming this “age of accountability” is Biblical), we must understand that it is not because they somehow deserve it, but only because of the grace of God.
* Originally posted on former blog, I’m Calling Us Out.