One of the things I really enjoy doing with the ministry the Lord has blessed me with is answering questions of believers and unbelievers alike. The questions people have never cease to amaze me; most I have never even considered myself.
This QFTBOC (Questions from the Body of Christ) series are articles from these questions I have received and will be in a question and response format.
If you or someone you know has a question pertaining to the Word of God – theology, difficult passages, eschatology, etc. – I would really like to hear from you.
If I end up using your question, and you would like to have your name and/or place of residence listed on the question in the article, please specify with your submitted question; otherwise, if I use your question, it will be listed as “Anonymous.”
Regardless, I will make every attempt to answer every person’s question(s) in a response to the emails I receive. Depending on volume, it may be a little while until you hear back from me, but my intention is to respond to all inquiries.
Other articles in this series are:
- QFTBOC: Civil Disobedience and Patriotism
- QFTBOC: Memory– Fully Retained or Total Reset?
- QFTBOC: Psalm 91,Protection, & God’s Will
- QFTBOC: God’s Chastisement of His Children
- QFTBOC: What’s Satan’s Problem?
- QFTBOC: Can We Know Another’s Salvation?
- QFTBOC: Childbirth Purification & Christ
- QFTBOC: Biblical Slavery
- QFTBOC: Peter & John at the Palace of the High Priest
- QFTBOC: Living for Christ in a Dark World
- QFTBOC: Family and the Afterlife
- QFTBOC: Judgment and Works
- QFTBOC: Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel
- QFTBOC: Salvation in the Tribulation
(Representative of others)
Is there anything in the scriptures defining the “age of accountability”? The Jews who rejected the good report from Joshua and Caleb concerning going into the promised land from 20 years and up were disqualified by God from ever entering the land. Do you believe that 20 years is the age of accountability, or is it different for everyone based on their mental capacity to believe?
Jim in Illinois
Thank you, Jim, for your excellent question – one I have received from others.
I’d like to begin by offering my personal observations on this subject and suggest some possibilities of where this idea may have sprung from. We’ll conclude by asking some very real and profound questions.
The idea of an ‘Age of Accountability’ is a rather strange notion to me. When I consider where this idea may have originated from, the proposed possibility of the Israelites going into the promised land is a very real likelihood.
The Israeli Generation Banned from the Promised Land
My first observation is that it wasn’t that the next generation didn’t have the wherewithal to understand what the older generation did – in lacking the courage and trusting the Lord to deliver their enemies into their hands – it was that the older generation was responsible for their own unbelief. The leaders of Israel were withheld from going into the promised land, with the next generation being the people who would do so.
Even though we are dealing with “generations” and not the idea of an ‘Age of Accountability,’ per se, it does appear that this is one instance where this idea may have originated.
It should be noted that for the Jewish people, based on just this situation (Numbers 14:26-35), the age of 20 is known to them as “the age of moral responsibility.” This is probably a root of the so-called ‘Age of Accountability’ notion.
The Bar Mitzvah and the Bat Mitzvah
Another possibility for this idea of an ‘Age of Accountability’ is the Jewish bar mitzvah for 13-year-old boys and the bat mitzvah for 12-year-old girls – known as “the age of majority” and “the age of physical maturity.”
It should be noted that this does not denote sudden “adulthood” for either the 12-year-old girl or the 13-year-old boy, only that the process has begun, each having some adulthood responsibilities and, yet, still recognized as a child.
David’s Confession of His Dead Son
Additionally, the remarks of David concerning the death of his and Bathsheba’s son, who was conceived in adultery, has probably played a role in this idea of an ‘Age of Accountability’ with the death of an infant evidently guaranteeing their salvation.
“But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23).
A Moral Dilemma?
Now, I have no Scriptural reason not to accept that an infant or young child, or even a youth, will most likely be in the presence of the Lord if they were to die at that age. For me, personally, I always go to the fact that God is a righteous judge and will judge righteously, independent of what I consider righteousness to be – God is righteousness. But the dilemma that one faces with this thought process is the reaction of the world when we speak of this issue in this way.
The unsaved person, upon hearing this, would inevitably say, “See! I actually did my child a favor when I had an abortion!” While we recognize the faulty thinking of such a statement, it’s a rather daunting task in trying to explain to them where they are going wrong when we just got done saying that all infants are saved upon death – no matter how true of a statement it may be.
So, saint, I urge you to be wise when discussing this subject with unbelievers.
Problems With the ‘Age of Accountability’
But here’s the first problem with all of this: As noted, everyone matures at different times, and then you have to consider those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Just these facts alone show us that there can’t be a set ‘Age of Accountability’ and would therefore render the idea null and void.
Yet, there’s even more for us to consider on this topic, and that is God’s omniscience.
For example, before I gave my life to Christ at the age of 16, I was first a self-professing atheist, then I graduated into experimenting with the occult, Satanism, and the New Age. If I would have died before I gave my life to Christ, would I have been condemned? God, in His omniscience, would know that if I had lived longer, I would have accepted His free gift of salvation. Wouldn’t that mean that even though I would have rejected Him when I had died, I would have been – had I lived longer – saved?
The same applies to my wife. She didn’t accept Christ until she was in her 30s.
So, do you see the rub here? The scenario could also be reversed.
Let’s say that someone in their 30s, who is a self-professing Christian, dies. But God, in His omniscience, knows that had that person lived longer, they would have publicly rejected the salvation they once professed – being, obviously, a false convert – and would, in reality, be unsaved. Just the fact that the person was a false convert before they died – something other people can’t or couldn’t see – would render this person unsaved.
And what about the infamous Adolf Hitler. If Hitler had died as a child, would he have been saved and ushered into heaven? Wouldn’t God, in His sovereignty and foreknowledge of knowing what Hitler would have become had he lived, disqualify him from salvation as a child who died young?
I honestly really don’t know. Does anyone? But thankfully, we know the One who does know!
Christ and the Little Children
Some may mistake the following passage as teaching that children are saved:
“And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2-3).
The first item that must be pointed out is that the context of Christ’s teaching is that He is responding to a question from His disciples.
“At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1).
The disciples’ question had an element of pride, and this is why Jesus called a little child “and set him in the midst of them.” What was Messiah’s response?
“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).
One chapter later, we have another account of little children to look at as well.
“Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence” (Matthew 19:13-15). (emphasis mine)
When the Lord said of the little children, “… for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” did He mean that all children who die young will be in the kingdom? Maybe. But I suggest that there’s more to it than that.
The key to the passage is Christ’s statement, “… forbid them not, to come unto me.” These are those “of such is the kingdom of heaven” – those that come to Jesus!
The real lesson, I believe, is that little children so often come to Christ when presented with the gospel in a clear and simple way. After all, the gospel is simple: We are all sinners in desperate need of a Savior.
Children instinctively know they do bad things and understand that there is good and evil, that there is a right and a wrong, and that they often choose to do wrong. As parents and grandparents, we should all honestly acknowledge that children are quite aware of their shortcomings – especially when they get caught! Very soon after a child learns to say “Mommy” and “Daddy,” one of the next words out of their mouth is, “Mine!”
“Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right” (Proverbs 20:11).
When children hear the gospel, they don’t hear the good news as skeptics like many adults do. Children are the most receptive to the gospel because they haven’t been influenced by the world and the world system, and haven’t developed a hardened heart through the trials and difficulties of life as so many adults have. Children often readily admit the sin that is in them, something an adult has difficulty with in their pride. This is why children often eagerly accept the gospel.
We see this same thought of these little ones coming to Christ – as we go back to Matthew 18 – when Jesus said:
“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea…. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 18:6, 10). (emphasis mine)
This is another reason that adults should come to Christ as little children. They not only need humility, they need to see their shortcomings, sins, and wickedness for what they are – an offense to a holy Creator.
A child is not self-sufficient and entirely dependent on others, thus, has a much easier time admitting their need for salvation. Christ wants adults to come to Him with a child’s heart, not rest in their perceived self-sufficiency, and put their faith and trust in Him.
But in all of this, we still don’t see Scriptural evidence of children being automatically saved. This seems to point to an “only God knows” situation.
What About the Rapture?
I’ve heard it said that many believe that children will be raptured when the event occurs. While I don’t necessarily doubt this possibility – and we seem to lack any Scriptural support for this claim – I would have to ask: What’s the cut-off age?
This would seem to be another reason why the church is fixated on the so-called ‘Age of Accountability’ – yet we just don’t know for sure whether this will be the case or not.
We do know, though, that children will be born in the Tribulation, for our Lord Himself said, concerning the Abomination of Desolation:
“When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!” (Matthew 24:15-19). (emphasis mine)
The logical question for me would be: If children are to be born in the Tribulation, why wouldn’t the Lord leave the children behind at the rapture of the church to also go through the Tribulation? Honestly, I don’t know. Do you? Does anybody?
Thank you to Jim and the many others who have written to me on this profound and elusive subject matter.
This has been one of those unique articles where I think we have developed many unanswered new questions in our attempt to answer the original question put forth.
All of this, as so much of life truly is, is really all about God’s omniscience.
This is the bottom line of what I think we can infer from this exercise:
- The idea of an ‘Age of Accountability’ appears to be just a man-made notion and has no Scriptural support.
- Only God knows if someone is truly saved while they are alive and, therefore, only He can know if someone is truly saved if they die an “untimely death.” (For more on this subject, please see QFTBOC: Can We Know Another’s Salvation?)
- We have to let God be God in this and other matters that are too far beyond what we can know and comprehend.
One truth that I have learned in my walk with the Lord is that it’s so much easier today for me to let God be God than it was for me when I was a babe in Christ. When we first come to the Lord, we seem to demand answers to all of our questions and find ourselves, at times, disgruntled and disillusioned when we can’t find them.
Oftentimes, when I just let go and let God be God, this can be found to be a relief to my mind; for truly there are many things that are just too wonderful for me when I consider the countless mysteries of God.
“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it” (Psalm 139:6).
“Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me” (Psalm 131:1).
Love, grace, mercy, and shalom in Messiah Yeshua, and Maranatha!
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➢ If you have not given your life to Jesus Christ and are seeking answers about God, Jesus Christ, the gospel, and salvation, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
➢ I am still taking questions for the Questions from the Body of Christ series. If you or someone you know has a question pertaining to the Word of God – theology, difficult passages, eschatology, etc. – I would really like to hear from you.