The Age of Accountability

Once Upon a Time

1) Early one Thursday afternoon an automobile rammed into a telephone pole. The driver, 17 year old Maria Ramiriz, was killed instantly. Her 3 year old sister, Tricia, died on the way to the hospital.   3) But what about Maria? With a deep ache in his heart, Jaime remembered Maria's words as she firmly rejected the reality of Jesus Christ.

2) That same day the heartbroken parents, Jaime and Consuela, met with their Pastor...

  • Seeking to comfort them the Pastor said, "Maria and Tricia are with Jesus now. They are filled with joy and you will see them again one day."
  • "Yes, I know," Consuela said, her face streaked with tears.
  • Jaime stroked his wife's hair and murmured, "Yes they're in heaven now," but he wasn't really certain.
  • Perhaps Tricia was with the Lord, Jaime pondered, hoping against hope he was right. After all, Tricia was just a child.
  • 4) "Daddy, resurrection from the grave is only a myth," Maria had said. "When you're dead, you're dead. I'd like to please you by saying I believe in Jesus, but you taught me never to lie. All I can do is promise you that if I ever change my mind, you'll be the first to know."
  • Jaime hadn't pressed the issue. Maria was young. Plenty of time, Jaime had decided. He would try again some other day.
  • But now there was no time. Maria was gone and Jaime realized bitterly that he had failed his daughter and his Savior.
  • "Too late," Jaime moaned inwardly, hiding his despair from his wife. "God forgive me, I am too late!"

Good News and Bad News

Did 3-year-old Tricia go to heaven? Did 17-year-old Maria?

To arrive at Biblical answers to these questions, we must look at some good news and some bad news.

The good news comes later in this essay. It may surprise you!
But first comes a whole bunch of
bad news.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? (1 Cor 6.9a)


Bad news about who can go to heaven

1 Cor 6.9 says that unrighteous people will not inherit God's kingdom. Putting it bluntly, *unredeemed* sinners do NOT go to heaven.

But was little Tricia a sinner? After all, she was only 3 years old. And what about Maria? For that matter, what about you and what about me? Are we sinners?

Bad news about human nature

Were teen-ager Maria and little Tricia sinners when they died? Bad news -- the Bible says, "Yes!"

  • According to the verses quoted alongside, ALL people are sinners by nature, even a brand new infant who has never sinned.
  • Consider -- a tiger shark kills for food simply because it is a tiger shark's nature to do so. Moreover, a newly spawned tiger shark is a killer by nature even though it has not yet killed.
  • By the same token, Psalms 51.5 and 58.3 show that a newly born human is a sinner by nature even though that baby has not yet sinned.
  • A child needs to be taught to tell the truth, whereas a child need not be taught to lie. Lying comes naturally to a sinner.
  • A sinner isn't a sinner because he sins. A sinner sins because he IS a sinner.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. (Ps 51:5)

The wicked are estranged from the womb;
They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies. (Ps 58.3)

all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3.23)

Bad news about human responsibility


Does God hold each of us responsible for our sins? More bad news -- the Bible again says, "Yes!"

  • Psalm 51.4 says that all sins are an offense against God Himself. For example, when we lie to someone, we have also lied to God.
  • Moreover, the Bible clearly states that each of us must one day stand before God and be judged for our sins.

But will God judge the sins of little kids who are as young or even younger than little Tricia? I'm glad you asked because now (at last!) we can begin to set the stage for some good news.

  Against You (God), You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge. (Ps 51.4)
So then
each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Rom 14.12)

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the
judgment. (Heb 9.27)

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life.
The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (Rev 20.12)

Setting the stage for good news


There is a theory known as "the age of accountability."

  • "Age of accountability" denotes that age at which a person becomes mature enough to be held responsible by God for his or her sins.
  • According to this theory, someone who dies BEFORE attaining the age of accountability will go to heaven, even though he or she has not received Jesus as Savior.

Take the example of an infant who dies within minutes after being born.

  • It seems reasonable to assume that God would not condemn an "innocent baby" as being guilty of sin.
  • Reasonable perhaps, but is there any Biblical basis for such an assumption?
  • Moreover, until what age does this presumed status of "innocence" continue? Does it extend to Tricia, aged 3? Further, could it possibly extend to 17 year old Maria?

The remaining paragraphs of this essay will seek Biblical answers to those questions.

(God said:) "Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it." (Deu 1.39)

before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings. (Isa 7.16)

Good news -- the Bible recognizes a difference

At last dawn breaks over the gloom of all the bad news we have looked at thus far...

  • Both Deuteronomy 1.39 and Isaiah 7.16 acknowledge that children "have no knowledge of good and evil" and do not have the maturity to "know to refuse evil and choose the good."
  • But WHO is a "child" according to the Bible?

Read on!


Prelude to More Good News

(God said:)
"Because all these men who have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded My voice, they certainly shall not see the land of which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who rejected Me see it."
Num 14.22-23

(God said:)
"According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection. I the Lord have spoken this; I will surely do so to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die."
Num 14.34-35

A Bit of Bible History

The books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers tell us about ancient days when the Jews were enslaved in Egypt and prayed to God to free them.

  • God responded by sending Moses to lead the Jews out of Egypt and take them to the land of Canaan (modern day Israel). Canaan was the land that God had promised to give to them.
  • Empowered by God's miracles, Moses succeeded in freeing the Jews.
  • After a long journey through the wilderness, the Jews finally arrived at the border of Canaan. Then they sent spies to find out the size and strength of the armies they would have to defeat in order to possess Canaan.
  • The spies returned with the news that their enemies were numerous and heavily armed. (continued in next column ->)
  • When the Jews heard this, they became afraid. They refused to believe that God would give them victory. In short, they rebelled against God and refused to obey Him.
  • In judgment for this rebellion, God ordained that the Jews would not be permitted to enter Canaan (Num 14.22-23), but would instead wander for 40 years in the wilderness until they became old and died (Num 14.34-35).
  • IMPORTANT EXCEPTION! God didn't say that ALL the Jews were doomed to die in the wilderness. No, God made an exception for a certain group of the Jews. This group would NOT die. They would live to see the Promised Land!

The basis for God's exception forms the basis for the rest of the good news.

God sets a precedent!

As summarized above, the Jews rebelled against God at the border of Canaan.

  • God's judgment for this sin was that the Jews would wander in the wilderness for 40 years.
  • During that 40 years of wandering, ONLY those Jews who were aged 20 years and older would die (Num 14.29).
  • In other words, the Jews who were 19 years old or younger were NOT held responsible for the rebellion. God permitted all of them to enter the Promised Land..
  • Deuteronomy 1.39 refers back to the same rebellion, and describes those aged 19 and younger as "little ones and children... who have no knowledge of good and evil."
  (God said:) "The carcasses of you who have murmured against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above." (Num 14.29)

your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there [to the Promised Land]; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it. (Deu 1.39)

Everyone included among those who are numbered, from
twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the Lord. (Exod 30.14)

The Age of Accountability
as Defined by God

  • Preceeding paragraphs have shown that God's Bible says children are not fully capable of distinguishing between good and evil (Deu 1.39, Isa 7.16).
  • Numbers 14.29 and Deuteronomy 1.39 establish the precedent that God will NOT hold children responsible when He brings judgment for sin.
  • What is a "child?" By inference from Numbers 14.29, a "child" is a person who is aged 19 or younger.
  • CONCLUSION: Only those persons age 20 and older are held accountable for sin.

...those who do not know God, and... those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ... shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, (2 Thes 1.8b-9

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved... (Acts 16.31a)

...the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6.23b)

Significance of the age of accountability

A person attains the "age of accountability" on his or her 20th birthday.

  • At age 20 and older, a person who dies without having obeyed the gospel will undergo everlasting destruction from the presence of God.
  • As defined in Acts 16.31a, obedience to the gospel is simple. Merely "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved."

A Message for Those Who Have Lost a Beloved Child

1) Those of you who have lost a child will be comforted by the Bible passages set forth in preceeding paragraphs.  

2) Yes, your child is truly with the Lord in heaven.
Yes, your child is
eternally free & healthy & happy.
Yes, you WILL see your beloved child again some day!
What a joyous reunion that will be!

3) You may have a question...
In Heaven, will my child remain a child forever?

By the same token...
Will a person who dies at an advanced age be eternally old?


4)The Bible does not answer these questions. However, consider this. When God created Adam and Eve they were neither infants nor "senior citizens."

  • I believe Adam & Eve were created with an *apparent age* of people who are at the peak of life, namely about 20 years old.
  • Further, I believe that their apparent ages would constitute the "standard" of how every human being would appear had sin and aging not entered the world.
  • Accordingly, it is my firm belief that all Christians will be resurrected (1 Thes 4.13-18) to bodies which have an apparent age corresponding to "the peak of human life." And they shall remain thus for all eternity!

A Message for Those with Living Children

Parents with living children might take the preceeding paragraphs to mean that your child cannot be saved until he or she attains 20 years of age or older. Such a view would be absolutely INCORRECT.

God has exempted children from judgment, NOT from blessing.

There are many Bible verses which prove that children CAN receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. I have listed just a few in the panel alongside.

  In Mt 18.6 the Lord Jesus Himself spoke of little children who believe in Him.

Matthew 21:15 speaks of children who worshiped Jesus, crying out to Him, "Hosanna to the Son of David!"

2 Tim 3.15 says, "...from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."

Eph 6:4 commands parents to raise children "in the training and admonition of the Lord."

Prov 22.6 says, " Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

1 Sam 2.18 shows that, even as a small child, Samuel ministered unto God in His temple. In fact, Samuel served God from the time he was weaned from breast feeding. In those days, a child was weaned at around 3 to 4 years of age.

A Message for Those Aged 19 and Younger
Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Cor 6.2b)

Youngster, please listen to the words of an old man, for I once was young as you are.

  • I didn't become a Christian until I was 47 years old.
  • Oh how I regret all those lost and wasted years. How greatly I miss the joy I could have known if I had chosen to walk with Jesus even from my childhood.
  • My Mom was a Christian. She died a few years before I was saved. So most of all I miss the wonderful relationship I could have had with my Mom if I, too, had known the Lord as my Savior while she lived.
  • Alas, there is NO way I can recapture those lost years. They are gone forever.
  • In the name of God, don't make the mistake of delaying your own decision for Jesus Christ, as I did.
  • If you do delay, then one day you too will look back on wasted years and weep. Today is the day of salvation!

To read Biblebell's reply to a Visitor's questions as to why God did not spare the children who died when He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah ---
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