Age of Accountability ???

A question I have had by several lately relates to the “age of accountability” question, or the more difficult question underlying it, “What happens to infants who die?” This is one of the most difficult questions a Christian (perhaps especially a pastor) must face. Obviously, it is a highly emotionally charged issue, and rightly so. At the heart of this question are doctrines related to the nature of evil, total depravity (or “total inability” as I like to call it), and the goodness of God.

Some clear truths we must establish in the process follows:

1) God is in control of all of life and death (Psalm 139… and thousands of other passages)

2) God is always good (1 Timothy 4:4)

3) Those who love God and are called will experience God’s good in every situation somehow (Romans 8:26-30)

4) God’s ways are beyond man’s understanding (Ecclesiastes 8:14-17)

5) All men are born sinners (Romans 3:9-20,23)

6) Salvation is only through Christ (Romans 3:21-26)

So, what are we left with when it comes to children who die prior to and soon after being born? Baptists seemed to have adopted the particular phrase “age of accountability” in order to deal with this difficult issue. While I hope we can see that there is some evidence to support this phrase, it is NOT in the way that the phrase seems to support, which is basically that up to a certain “age” children are innocent.

Scripture makes plain again and again that we are sinners from birth. So, we can’t say we are “innocent” until a certain age. However, there is some evidence that there is a connection between our sin nature and the expression of that sin nature in willfully disobedient ways (that will be addressed later). The “bottom line” in this issue is that there is no single passage of scripture that gives us an absolutely clear position on whether or not infants who die are in heaven. However, there is more heavily weighted evidence in the scriptures that would give us hope that all infants (pre and post birth) and those who are mentally incapacitated are “saved”.

First of all, I have needed help in understanding this issue. Not being satisfied with a coined phrase from my youth, I wanted to know what did scripture say. What I would like to direct you to are two very important and concise resources to help you understand this issue and decide for yourself. Just remember this, you have to consider the implications of your position on the gospel itself. If you say that God is just too nice to let some go to hell, where (and with whom) does that logic stop? If you say that we are without sin until a certain age, then how do you handle the plethora of scriptures that speak of original sin and our sin nature because of Adam?

May God bless you in your journey. My position is in line with the conclusions in the following articles:

1) Sam Storms of Enjoying God Ministries (HERE)

2) John Piper of Desiring God Ministries (HERE)

3 thoughts on “Age of Accountability ???

  1. This subject is definitely one of the “heavier” ones for believers, because the answer isn’t as clear as we might like it to be…particularly on a matter where the doctrines of man’s total depravity, and God’s sovereignty, goodness and grace seem to collide and leave us at least with some uncertainty, and maybe even some unsatisfying answers.

    I find the greatest peace in remembering that He is truly sovereign, and that He is truly good (…and I am truly neither!). If I really believe that, then the answers to the questions concerning an “age of accountability” or the final destiny of infants recede and are finally no longer the point, because neither my faith nor God’s character depends on those answers.

    No one is “owed” anything by God; absolutely every and any kindness He shows us is entirely of grace. Being that He is both perfectly just and kind, I have to believe that whatever the answer is, that it also is a reflection of His perfect nature and character. This same God who slew His Son for unworthy sinners is also the One who destroyed the entire human race with the exception of Noah and his family. In both instances there is terrible, even astonishing judgement…but there is also incredible and entirely undeserved mercy and grace. Who can fathom either, and yet how can you not praise Him for both?

    I know that could sound to some as if it is a cold and hard application of doctrine to a heart-wrenching question, but for me it is the only place where I can really rest. I tend to be persuaded that God does save infants, but I’m not comfortable being dogamtic on that point, and I don’t ever want to get to the place where my perception of God’s character depends in even the smallest way on Him applying His grace according to my finite and stained sensibilities.

    I have a friend who lost his father not so long ago, and there was question in his mind as to whether or not his father was born again. At the Sunday School class he taught at church, my friend was asked the question of whether or not he thought his father was with Christ. My friend just said this, “My hope isn’t in whether or not my father knew Jesus Christ…my hope is in Christ.” I loved the answer, and knowing my friend as I do, I know that it was his heart. That’s what I want my heart to be.

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  2. John MacArthur’s book, SAFE IN THE ARMS OF GOD addresses this issue and in our opinion is a very valuable resource. We have several personal friends who have had their infants pass away for various reasons and they all say that this book was a huge comfort to them and a great source as they went through and continue to struggle with their loss.

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